Chefs Olivier Said and Mike C. bring their significant experience in cooking and teaching to the average home cook through Kitchen on Fire!: Mastering the Art of Cooking in 12 Weeks (or Less). This is the book version of their popular culinary course by the same name. Given its origins in a cooking class, this is not the typical recipe-driven cookbook but more in the way of an instruction manual to the culinary arts.
The authors teach cooking technique rather than specific recipes, reasoning that this frees the home cook to whip up something delicious from the three ingredients found in the refrigerator at the end of a long day. This is a fully illustrated book, with step-by-step (albeit small-sized) color photos showing each of the techniques in detail. The book covers a range of topics, from knife skills and mise en place to braising and steaming, roasting and broiling. There are useful hints on purchasing kitchen tools, storing food, and numerous other relevant topics. Although a few recipes are included, these are envisioned as homework exercises to help the reader practice and perfect their techniques.
My favorite section is the one on the science of cooking, discussing everything from the dissociation of sodium chloride (table salt) into sodium and chloride ions to the denaturing of proteins and the chemistry of the Maillard reaction. Numerous line drawings illustrate useful concepts for the home cook, even one with no background in science. The authors clearly have a passion and knack for communicating what they know to a general audience. The light, irreverent tone of the book is a nice touch, too. Kitchen on Fire! is highly recommended for anyone who wants to become a better cook and learn just how the professionals do it.