№ 000A: The Foundation of Cooking For One Geek

I am a geek, and proud of it.

That means that I’ve spent most of my life operating as if things such as sleeping, eating, and cooking were tasks to be minimized, because they took away productive hours that could instead be spent researching, writing, testing, and building.

Cooking, in particular, seemed the least productive of the necessities, because it takes so much longer than eating. It is also the most perplexing of those necessities—so I avoided it. Frozen and fast food ruled, with a decent mixture of nicer restaurant food.

The skills I developed were elsewhere; I taught myself AutoCAD, and parlayed that into a decade-long run as the technical editor of the leading CAD magazine, where I built my own test lab and taught myself how to run it. PMs either loved or hated me, because I routinely asked questions they knew were good but hadn’t a clue what the answer was. (One type picked my brain during briefings; the other tried to muzzle me in public forums.) And I loved gadgets—co-workers were routinely amazed by how many cool tools I could produce from my pockets, belt, or backpack, Mary Poppins style.

Cooking should have been an easy skill to add, especially with my love of gadgets (they don’t get any better than a whipping siphon!), but still it confounded me, as historically cooking is taught using vague, undefined (or worse, contrarily defined), artistic-leaning techniques (medium-high heat, a pinch of salt, cook until browned—which Pantone number is that?). An anathema to a geek who thrives on accuracy and is troubled by things that the domain experts refuse to describe in ways that can be replicated unless you have already spent years mastering the basic techniques.

And then I discovered Cook’s Illustrated, which reviewed kitchen gadgets, food, and techniques as thoroughly and as harshly as I did computer technology. I yearned for each quarterly issue, to see what new technique or tool would catch my interest. The magazine influenced how I tested and wrote product reviews. I had a favorite test cook, whose byline I would search out and read first each issue (not knowing he was an architect who probably modeled better in AutoCAD than I). Then Good Eats happened, and I was mesmerized.

Yet I was still an armchair cook, never actually trying a CI or AB recipe. And then this tidal wave of geek Internet foodies happened. Alton started tweeting. Kenji moved to the city I was born in and wrote a book. I discovered Dave Arnold, Meathead Goldwyn, and Harold McGee.

Yet all of these great geek cooks still left me frustrated by what wasn’t taught and what wasn’t known. What temperatures are low, medium, medium-high, and high? Which spatula is best for scrambled eggs? Most have a philosophy contrary to my deep-seated need for perfection and having the perfect tool, by insisting that you should eschew single-taskers and learn how to do more with fewer tools. As I tried to live by that motto, I realized it went counter to a key technological purpose—for automation and tools to make it easier for us to accomplish tasks. The more skills and techniques you have to learn in order to cook with less-than-ideal tools, the more frustrating the experience is, and the more people avoid doing that task, or learning how to do it better.

So I decided to do what I do best, and teach myself to cook, starting at first principles. Read as much as I could, test, experiment, and figure out what little and big things the experts ignore or haven’t figured out yet, and figure out how to tell which experts to trust (and which to ignore) in the process.

I wasn’t too far along in this process before realizing what I was figuring out was worth teaching to more than just a few people over my shoulder, and went looking for a niche and a name that would make doing yet another food blog not boring and redundant.

Nobody else is teaching us single geeks how to cook for the first time—the recipes are generally meant for 4+ people instead of just for yourself, collecting of multiple specialized tools is eschewed, and we are still tortured by measurements that use vulgar fractions and way too many volume measurements for things that compact. I experimented with dozens of names, but the only appropriate one quickly bubbled to the top: Cooking For One Geek (CFOG).

CFOG is designed not just for the single geek. Maybe you want to cook like a geek for a geek so you can make him or her no longer single. Maybe you want to understand your geeky SO a little better. Or maybe you want to master your cooking tools to the point that the artistic side of cooking becomes easier. We’re going to do that right here.

So here’s what this brand is all about:

  • Safety fist. Before I start teaching cooking, I’m going to teach you everything no other cooking blog, book, or show has taught you about not cutting, burning, and poisoning yourself and others.
  • Teaching from scratch, assuming that you know nothing about how to cook, or want to re-learn how to cook using only modern methods, with whatever technology can be used to improve quality, repeatability, and ease of execution.
  • Collecting the right tools. CFOG will be a turnkey process. Whenever a technique or recipe calls for a cooking utensil, pot, pan, or tray, that episode will either test and review products, or reference a previous episode’s products. As we progress, you and I will build up an awesome geek kitchen, and you will know how to use each and every thing in it.
  • Episode Numbering Scheme. Because I want episodes to sort in the correct order, I’m using leading zeros. Because I want both chronological and topic-based sorting, I’m going to use numbers for topics and letter suffixes for sequence. Because I expect to do more than a hundred different topics, the numbering will use three digits. Because I’m a geek, I will start counting from zero. The philosophical and background posts such as this will thus be 000.
  • Topic 000 will be about CFOG’s philosophy and standards. For instance, № 000B is about the Metric system and how I’ll be using it from now on.
  • Topic 001 will be kitchen safety—everything from avoiding cuts to suppressing smoke.
  • Topic 002 will be all about cleaning.
  • Topic 003 will be all about knives etc.
  • Topic 004 will be all about prep tools—measuring cups & spoons, scales, mixers, and mixing utensils.
  • Topic 005 will be all about pans.
  • Topic 006 will be all about pots.
  • Topic 007 will be all about very cool gadgets. 007Q will be worth waiting for.
  • Topic 008 will be all about cook tops (all types of burners).
  • Topic 009 will be all about ovens.
  • Topic 010 will be the first cooking topic—probably eggs.

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