A while ago, in the used bookstore in Mountain View, I saw a magical book. It looked to have been published in the 1950s and it was a cookbook, but not just any cookbook. Instead
of a list of recipes it laid out these sort of design patterns for
food. I thought this was a great idea and I think it's the basic
concept you need to easily teach cooking to computer geeks. To cook
food you need to have the techniques and you need to have a mental map
of food textures and flavors so that you can pick ingredients that go
with each other and with the techniques you're using. Patterns work
for both skills.
This is, incidentally, the best thing about Alton Brown's style of cooking pedagogy; he shows you the makeup of dishes, how to analyze them, and the connections between them. One of the best examples of this is that in some episode or other of Good Eats
he points out that a cheesecake is structurally a custard, not a cake. It
needs to be cooked in a hot bath, not just baked in a pan just because it has 'cake' in its name.
Anyway, for some reason I didn't buy that book! It cost $10 and I
guess I decided it wasn't worth it. Later I changed my mind, but the
last time I went to that bookstore it was gone.
Today I idly searched Bookfinder for "cooking
patterns" and I found it! I don't remember the (long, unwieldy) title
and I can't search for it anymore because I bought it and there
are no other listed copies, but by a fortunate confluence of minds the
author put "patterns" in the title so I was able to find it. And at
about the same price it was being offered at the used bookstore! The
$3.00 extra I'm paying to have it shipped to me I will chalk up as a
"lesson learned" surcharge. The relevant lesson, of course, is: never
take chances! Buy EVERY BOOK!
If I ever write a cookbook (which I might) it's going to be a synthesis of this cookbook I've got coming to me in the mail and Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For The Food. It'll be organized around the principles of recipe schemas and recipe
transformations based on ingredient or technique. If you can make x,
you can make y by applying a transformation. You can start slow,
gradually build a repertoire you're comfortable with, but always keep
experimenting within the bounds of the known if you don't want to
learn a whole new skill to make something different.
I think cooking should be more like quantum chemistry and less like
high school chemistry. There's always going to be a subjective
element, but I think it can be factored out and that you can learn even from reading about transformations that involve stuff you don't like.