Authors: Chef Oliver Said and Chef Mike C.

Publisher: Da Capo-Lifelong, A Member of the Perseus Books Group – 442 pages

Book Review by:  Laxmi Chaandi

This is an unconventional book on cooking. Many books are for the most part, simply collections of recipes for making different dishes. While this book has more than a thousand photos and illustrations with step-by-step cooking instructions, the authors’ unique approach is teaching you cooking by technique, by also imparting some of their unique tips and tricks to you, with their goal being to “transform you from a normal human being into a super home chef.”

If you read a recipe for making a particular dish, that will enable you to make that one dish. But when you learn the techniques of cooking covered in Kitchen on Fire! you become “a master in the kitchen” as written on the back cover of this book. Knowing cooking techniques enables you to make a whole range of tasty dishes from different foods and ingredients.

The chefs teach you the methodology of cooking, the alchemy of food, various food preparation methods and techniques (such as proper weighing and measuring, for example), basic food science, applying different amounts of heat to different foods does to them (such as why vegetables basically need less heat than meats do to make them edible, for example) and much more, for you to become versatile in cooking many foods and eventually creating your own unique dishes that your family and friends will love.

Imagine the difference between memorizing multiplication tables on the one hand and learning to multiply, on the other. You use your head by constantly practicing multiplication hundreds, and eventually thousands of times. But memorizing multiplying tables can only take you only so far. Can you multiply 3959 by 5445 in your head?

But then you learn multiplication through a different technique. That technique is your tool that works and you get better with more practice. You learn to do other functions in math and over much learning and practice you get good at solving complex problems when confronted with them. You enjoy it so much that you become a whiz at math. You decide to become a math teacher because you love the subject and want to help others learn it. So that’s what you become – a math teacher.

Another example is writing. Choose the type of writing you want to master. For example, narrative writing, which includes writing the novel. You read a few award-winning novels, then more and more. Take lessons on the structure and characteristics of what makes a good novel from award-winning novelists who have also helped produce other novelists, some of whom may have won awards themselves. Learn and practice, then practice writing novels that win acclaim, and you’re on your way to success.

The comparisons between math and novel writing on the one hand and cooking on the other hand are not ideal ones, but all these involve creativity and engaging your mind to develop this faculty further. I’m sure you get the idea. It takes knowing what makes for good writing and what makes for good cooking to become good at them.

Kitchen on Fire! is an award-winning book. Chef Oliver Said is one of the most respected culinary personalities in the San Francisco Bay area. He is the former co-owner of the Cesar Tapas Bar. Chef Mike C is an honors graduate from the California Culinary Academy and was host of the long-running TV series Organic Living with the Hippy Gourmet.

The two chefs are founders of the highly-acclaimed Kitchen on Fire!  culinary school in Berkeley, California, which was founded in 2006 and has trained thousands of home chefs to master cooking in an innovative and uniquely different way.

Among a range of tasks, you learn knife skills, such as the proper ways to cut and chop. You learn the right ways to braise, steam and stew. How to correctly fry, sauté, stir-fry and sear?  What about how to properly broil, grill or roast different foods? What condiments, dips and sauces to use for which dishes? These questions and many others are answered in this useful, large 442-page book

How to cook certain types of grains and pastas? How to make batter and different kinds of bread? What are some time-saving ways to cook certain dishes? For example, when you learn to make stock or thick liquids and freeze them for later use, you save time in preparing certain foods, such as chicken or fish for example.

Another way to save time is to learn to make different types of soups. Depending on what you put into a soup, it can be an appetizer or an entrée. Making soups and keeping them in the fridge is another way to save time and be ready for the next meal. Poaching is another way to prepare a dish. This is done by submerging food (such as pieces of chicken or fish) in a thick, flavorful dish and then slowly cooking them, just below a simmer.

So if you want to equip yourself with the right knowledge, skills and most important of all, the techniques to cook creatively, this is the book you need.