Brain Pickings

5 Cross-Disciplinary Cookbooks

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What Dracula, liquid nitrogen and hackers have to do with IKEA furniture.

Cookbooks are no longer the fascination of foodies alone. After featuring the designerly The Geometry of Pasta, we began noticing the deluge of incredibly exciting and cross-disciplinary treats disguised as cookbooks being released this season, spanning domains as diverse as art, molecular science, travel photography, hisotry, classical literature, and geek culture. Here are 5 of our favorite new cookbooks inspired by more than just food.

RECIPE FOR MURDER

From culinary journalist Estérelle Payany comes Recipe for Murder: Frightfully Good Food Inspired by Fiction — an absolutely delightful anthology of signature recipes delivered by 32 of literature’s greatest hero-villains.

The book features original artwork by illustrator Jean-François Martin, whose work has graced the pages of The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, The Los Angeles Times, and a slew of other beacons of modern journalism.

From caramel apples from Snow White’s stepmother to The Big Bad Wolf’s pig-in-the-blanket special to Brutus’ Caesar salad, this scrumptious gem of a book, fresh out of the Flammarion & Rizzoli publishing oven, delivers unexpected home-style recipes by way of your favorite fairy tales and literary classics.

Images © Jean-François Martin; courtesy of Flammarion & Rizzoli via Artslope

via @AmritRichmond

COOKING FOR GEEKS

If curiosity is your favorite ingredient and you’re more interested in the science of what happens to food beyond the blind following of recipe instructions, then Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food is your new favorite pastime. Part science book, part playground for culinary experimentation, the book offers more than 400 pages of recipes, tips and — our favorite part — interviews with some of today’s most iconic geeks across all disciplines: Writers, hackers, food scientists, knife experts, chefs, researchers and more.

Not surprisingly, this treat comes from an author with a fittingly cross-disciplinary background and indiscriminate curiosity — Jeff Potter, who studied computer science and visual art at Brown University, has used cooking with friends as a sanity anchor throughout his prolific career as an entrepreneur.

THAI STREET FOOD

Thai Street Food from scholar David Thompson takes us on an exciting journey into one of the Far East’s most widely adored cuisines with recipes that are both authentic and approachable.

It also doesn’t hurt that the book features some of the best food photography we’ve seen in years, making it as much a self-standing photography coffeetable book as it is a practical cookbook.

OAXACA AL GUSTO

Legendary British writer and researcher Diana Kennedy may be best-known as the Julia Childs of Mexican cuisine and in her latest book offers an ambitious exploration of one of the world’s most colorful cuisines. Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy features over 300 rare recipes and exclusive photographs of Oxaca’s little-known yet outstanding foods and their preparation, often guarded for centuries in family recipe books.

Among the highlights is a special chapter devoted to the three pillars of the Oaxacan regional cuisines — chocolate, corn, and chiles.

MODERNIST CUISINE

Nathan Myhrvold may be better-known as Microsoft’s former Chief Technology Officer, who studied quantum science alongside legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, but his true passion lies at the intersection of science and food. Myhrvold trained as a chef at LaVarenne in Burgundy, France, and has spent the past three years in a laboratory in Bellevue, Washington, perfecting — with his seven full-time chefs — the elaborate cooking techniques of gastronomy’s recent mega-obsession: molecular cuisine.

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking is the pinnacle of his experimentation, a 2,400-page, six-volume behemoth with over 1,000 recipes that transform the kitchen into a lab. Needless to say, expectations for the ambitious undertaking have been gargantuan, which made gastronomers all the more unsettled by the recent announcement that due to packaging concerns, the book — which weighs over 48 pounds — won’t be available until March, nearly four months past the publication date originally promised.

Modernist Cuisine isn’t for everyone — besides the hardcore foray into ingredients like methylcellulose and agar approached with cooking techniques that involve liquid nitrogen and rotary evaporators, the book comes with a hefty $625 price tag. (Though Amazon is currently running a preorder discount of 20%, which clocks in at the non-negligible sum of $125 in savings.)

BONUS

Granted, this book isn’t for sale yet, but it’s too cool for us not to mention — IKEA has recently partnered with legendary art photographer Carl Kleiner to produce Hembakat är Bäst (Homemade Is Best), a new baking book featuring absurdly beautiful, artful photographs of deconstructed ingredients accompanying the recipes. Arranged by color and touched with the magical art direction wand of brilliant minimalism, the ingredients are photographed before their preparation into pastries, presenting a peculiar retroappreciative approach to food as art.

No word yet on when and where the book will be available, but it’s now firmly planted on our to-hunt-down-and-devour list.

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