What's cooking in chemistry? How leading chemists succeed in the kitchen

What’s cooking in chemistry? How leading chemists succeed in the kitchen 

Hubertus Bell  et al 

Weinheim, Germany, Wiley-VCH 2009 | 229pp | ?12.99 (SB) 

ISBN 9783527326211 

Reviewed by Hamish Kidd 


It has long been said that chemists tend to be good cooks, or at least have a keen appreciation of good cuisine. Perhaps this is because chemists understand the importance of ’reaction conditions’ and the physical chemistry involved in cooking processes. Or they just enjoy eating. 

This book, first published in hardback in 2003, can be enjoyed at a variety of levels. We are given career profiles of 60 world-famous chemists, followed by one-page scientific sketches of the chemistry that is the basis of their success. These are well written with figures and reaction sequences that enable readers to grasp the highlights of each career; references to seminal papers allow interested readers to dig deeper. 

Each of the chemists was asked to provide a favourite recipe. Most chose dishes that either reflect their roots or remind them of places they have visited during their travels. One contributor, however, supplied two recipes which he says were inspired by excellent dishes eaten at conferences he had attended. I, on the other hand, have an abiding memory of an awful meal which I endured in Luxembourg along with many of the world’s leading experts on nutrition and food science! 

The recipes featured range from Ronald Breslow’s veal and sausage stew and Dieter Hoppe’s sweet and sour mushroom salad to Steven Ley’s low-calorie, ’chemical-free’ risotto and Bob Grubbs’ pecan pie. It is surprising that, in the light of K C Nicolaou’s multistep syntheses of molecules like taxol and brevetoxin A, that he should chose the one-step synthesis of fish and chips. Each recipe is given in sufficient detail to allow the reader to cook the dish for themselves. 

This book should be enjoyed by those who like to read while they are cooking, or cook while they are reading. It shows that famous chemists have lives outside the lab, appreciate the good things of life, and have highly tuned taste buds. 

I would recommend a meal consisting of the Erick Carriera starter, followed by a main course from Reinhard Hoffmann, before finishing up with Peter Wipf’s dessert. Bon app?tit!