McGee, Harold 1951–

views updated

McGee, Harold 1951–

PERSONAL: Born October 3, 1951, in Cambridge, MA; son of Charles G. and Louise McGee; married Sharon R. Long, 1979. Education: California Institute of Technology, B.S., 1973; Yale University, Ph.D., 1978.

ADDRESSES: E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Yale University, New Haven, CT, instructor in English literature, 1977–79; freelance writer in Somerville, MA, 1979–81; freelance science writer in Palo Alto, CA, 1981–. Occasional guest on National Public Radio's news program "All Things Considered."


On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984, revised edition, 2004, published as McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2004.

The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore, North Point Press (San Francisco, CA), 1990, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1992.

Contributor of articles to New York Times, Nature, Food and Wine, Fine Cooking, and Physics Today.

SIDELIGHTS: Harold McGee is a science and cooking writer whose two books, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen and The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore, have become popular with both amateur and professional cooks alike, and have stayed in print for over two decades. Writing in the Smithsonian, David M. Schwartz commented: "McGee, whose career defies conventional description, can best be described as 'Mr. Wizard of the Kitchen.' His modus operandi is to take a healthy measure of objective science, fold it into homely kitchen lore, then whisk vigorously. Following this recipe, he has demystified cooking phenomena, debunked kitchen myths, tracked down the origins of culinary lore and improved upon standard cooking techniques." While On Food and Cooking is, according to Schwartz, "an authoritative rendering of the technical literature on food science in a highly digestible form," The Curious Cook is "a more personal, lighthearted account of McGee's own adventures as a kitchen sleuth."

Published in 1984, On Food and Cooking "swept readers and cooks into the everyday magic of the kitchen: it became an overnight classic," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. William Skidelsky, writing in the New Statesman, observed that the first edition "laid the foundation for the incursion of the laboratory into the kitchen." Booklist contributor Mark Knoblauch noted that the 1984 edition "reigned as the standard authority on gastronomical science" for two decades. In 2004, McGee updated the work, adding new science and new understanding of such things as taste and flavor. As McGee told Publishers Weekly contributor Mandy Davis: "Our understanding of flavor and our perception of flavor is light years ahead of where it was 20 years ago. Back then, there were all these wacky ideas about our smell and taste buds and what certain combinations and permutations did—it was very theoretical."

The resulting update was "a stunning masterpiece that combines science, linguistics, history, poetry and, of course, gastronomy," as the Publishers Weekly critic noted. Similarly, Knoblauch found it an "intriguing, involving story of what we eat." British chef Heston Blumenthal, reviewing the book's British edition in Caterer & Hotelkeeper, felt "McGee's great skill in the book has been to present highly technical food science information in a readable form." Reviewing that same edition, Skidelsky labeled the book "absorbing," and further commented that "McGee has a knack for bringing the interactions of particles to life."



Booklist, November 15, 2004, Mark Knoblauch, review of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, p. 540.

Caterer & Hotelkeeper, November 25, 2004, Heston Blumenthal, review of McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History And Culture, p. 63.

Library Journal, January 1, 2005, Andrea R. Dietze, review of On Food and Cooking, p. 140.

New Statesman, February 21, 2005, William Skidelsky, "Food: What Happens to Eggs When You Heat Them Is Simply Magic," p. 56.

Publishers Weekly, November 22, 2004, review of On Food and Cooking, p. 53, and Mandy Davis, "Poetry and Science in the Kitchen," p. 54.

Smithsonian, December, 1992, David M. Schwartz, "Serving Up Science for Everyday Cooks and Gourmets Alike," p. 110.


Curious Cook Web site, (September 29, 2006), "About Harold McGee."

About this article

McGee, Harold 1951–

Updated About content Print Article