Coffee-table cookbooks put the sizzle before the steak, devoting half of their pages to glossy color photographs of gorgeous food home cooks can never quite match.

Not "Cooking for Geeks." Written by Jeff Potter, a former software engineer turned food writer, it has no color photographs at all. Potter skipped the food porn and went straight for the nerd bait.

"We geeks are fascinated by how things work," it starts, "and most of us eat, too." So in a cookbook that covers everything from eggs and pancakes to duck confit sugo and seared tuna with cumin, readers get the hows and whys of the individual chemical reactions used to create the dishes, and not just what to put in them.

Why are octopus and squid either quickly seared or cooked for an hour? If you really want to know, "Cooking for Geeks" will tell you.

It's the collagen, ropelike molecules that twist up under heat, but dissolve over time, especially in an acid environment. Tomato sauce, for instance.

Readers are instructed to brown short ribs of beef before braising — after pages detailing how applying heat to food denatures proteins, creates caramelization and sparks the Maillard reaction, the scientific name for "browning."

This is a cookbook for people who like to read charts and tables. A discussion of seasonality is backed up with a graph highlighting the difference between Massachusetts and California residents' Google search volumes for the terms "tomato" and "peach."

Potter peppers his book with food lovers and experts that Internet food fans may recognize, like Mythbusters' Adam Savage, who talks about food experiments and tenderizing steak with dynamite.

There's science expert Harold McGee on solving food mysteries, David Lebovitz on American cooking, and for teh lulz (netspeak translation: for giggles), Web comic xkcd on converting metric measurements. "Cooking for Geeks" is "Joy of Cooking" for hackers.

It's for people who need more than pretty pictures to inspire them to cook.

After all, information is power, and learning how to cook gives you control over the sensations, origins and intent of the food you serve yourself and others.

It's a cookbook-texbook hybrid with style, seasoned with a dose of tech-savvy fun.

If you think making ice cream would be cool, but a working ice cream maker built of Lego blocks is even cooler, "Cooking for Geeks" has you covered.



>Cooking for Geeks

By Jeff Potter


413 pages, $35