At the end of your busy workday, do you leave your engineering mindset at the door to your cubicle? Or does it follow you home and change the way you approach even the most basic day-to-day activities? Like cooking.
Your average hungry man might think in terms of boiling, braising, or baking. But engineers, even those who don't know the difference between filet mignon and Filet-O-Fish, know that cooking really boils down to heat transfer and chemistry.
The connection between cooking and engineering doesn't stop there. Michael Chu, a computer hardware engineer who runs a website called Cooking For Engineers, points out that both endeavors share a similar route to success. "Good engineers have to be flexible and creative to work with the resources they have," he says. "That's true for cooking as well."
Chu launched www.cookingforengineers.com last year after a bad Palm Pilot sync erased all but one of the recipes he'd been collecting since his student days. "I lost everything except tuna noodle casserole," he says. "I was bummed for several weeks." He has yet to recreate some of his most prized recipes—like a beef stew that took him more than 14 iterations to perfect.
After losing his personal cookbook, Chu decided that the Web would be a much safer place to manage his expanding culinary content. He initially used Blogger, the free blogging tool, to post his recipes on the Web. But the site quickly evolved from a simple recipe book to something that dives deeper into the analytical side of cooking. "After I got going, I observed that cooking is really the perfect vehicle for an engineering mentality," he says.
He's not the only one who sees this connection. Chu says his site, now running on its own server rather than on the Blogger website, currently drawers about 140,000 unique visitors per month. Some of what they see can be found on a host of other culinary sites. For instance, most food sites have recipes. Chu presents his recipes, however, in a orderly, graphical way that has more in common with an engineering presentation than a cookbook. He has also devised really handy summary tables for each dish. These tables reduce the recipes to their bare bones—ingredients, actions, and times. Think of them as project management timelines for food.
The site's equipment and hardware reviews are where Chu the engineer really emerges. His article about Common Cookware Materials describes pots and pans as objects whose purpose is "to impart energy to ingredients." He goes on to cover thermal conductivity, heat capacity, thermal diffusivity, and reactivity of different cookware materials, which he finally ranks in a chart (see http://rbi.ims.ca/4401-531).
Even in the articles with the most technical depth, though, Chu strikes a nice balance between different types of readers, "I try not to alienate the average reader while still appealing to engineers." The difference between the two audiences? "Most people want to know how to make the food. As engineers, we also want to know why some methods produce better results than others," he explains.
And despite his technical perspective, Chu always doesn't let it overshadow the reason he took up cooking in the first place. "I wanted to eat food that tastes good," he says, adding that technical side of cooking doesn't begin to eliminate the need for experience, intuition and taste. In fact, when asked if being an engineer has made him a better cook, Chu thought for a few seconds and answered, "I don't know if it's made me better, but I can say that being an engineer has made me the cook I am today. I can't really separate the two."
Reach Ogando at firstname.lastname@example.org.