FOR DAN PASHMAN, nothing is insignificant when it comes to how things taste. As host of the food podcast The Sporkful and a couple of Cooking Channel shows, Pashman investigates such culinary conundrums as how to make a taco that holds together, the best way to cut a cake, and why pad thai doesn't work as a takeout dish. Pashman's culinary investigations are goofy and sometimes trivial, but he takes his studies seriously and uses science to back up his explanations—think of them as the Gonzo version of America's Test Kitchen.
Pashman's poured his knowledge and obsessions into a new book, casting himself in the role of a food life coach to help you, as he puts it, Eat More Better. Unfortunately, Pashman's projects don't translate so well to the page.
A big part of the problem is the book's organization: Structured as a university course with a "syllabus" that compares food-related matters to academic disciplines (physical sciences, engineering, cultural studies, and language arts), the book becomes overly dense and muddled. Its content reads like a mishmash of ideas forced together to fit within a given chapter's topic, and it's never clear where Pashman is taking the reader. Eclecticism is fine up to a point, but not when it has readers feeling totally lost.
Pashman also has a fondness for making up concepts—Proximity Effect, Splitter's Dilemma, SATVOR, and the horrid Eatscape—which add an unnecessary heaviness to the writing and made me yearn for the simple prose of Alice Waters or the clarity of Harold McGee.
Which is a shame, because Pashman knows his stuff: He'll steer you right on why you shouldn't grill hot dogs, and the best way to make mac 'n' cheese, but his book asks a reader to also care about optimal potato chip geometry and all-you-can-eat buffet strategy (there are six pages on this).
At times, the instruction is obvious (advice on picnics or eating in the car), at other times silly (the vending-machine decision tree), and occasionally it doesn't work on any level (a discussion of a Yeats poem in relation to the Eatscape). The book probably functions best not as a curriculum to be worked through, but as something to dip in and out of, grabbing what nuggets you can. After all, who doesn't want to know where the first bite of a sandwich should be taken to maximize the eating experience?