‘The Flavor Equation’ by Nik Sharma sums up taste with style and science

CLEVELAND, Ohio — What do you know about umami synergism? The Malliard reaction? How about the dhungar method? Nik Sharma’s “The Flavor Equation” expertly explains all these…..and much much much more. Journalism 101 says never write in absolutes. But I’m willing to bet my non-existent ranch that there’s not another cookbook in the last five years that comes close to containing the vast amount of knowledge on the science and practice of enhancing the flavor of everything we cook.

Just check out the end papers of the book. There’s more information in these two flow charts (the complete guide to making nut and seed butters/how to develop flavor in unsweetened coconut) than there is in many entire cookbooks. And inside there are Venn diagrams, pie charts, bar graphs, and other tricks of his former science trade that help make his considerable and well-considered ideas easy to digest. They’re all there to help make Sharma’s point that, for him, flavor is a great big group hug. It encompasses the usual elements of taste — sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami — and adds sight, scent, texture, sound, and even emotion to make up the entire experience of a dish.

Sharma leans partly on his past as a molecular biologist, partly on the food culture of his native Mumbai, India, and quite a bit on his seemingly insatiable culinary curiosity for this big luxe book, the follow-up to his first, the award-winning “Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food” and his equally celebrated food blog, A Brown Table.

The complete title of this tome is “The Flavor Equation The Science of Great Cooking Explained + More Than 100 Essential Recipes”. Whether the recipes are all essential is arguable. I’m not so sure I’ll be turning out Peppermint Marshmallows, Pomegranate and Poppy Seed Wings, and “Pizza” Toast on a regular rotation. But that’s not to say that the book is short on wildly creative irresistible food.

The siren song of his Warm Kale, White Bean + Mushroom Salad with Chilli Tahini, Coffee-Spiced Steak with Burnt Kacumber Salad, Gingerbread Cake with Date Syrup Bourbon Sauce, and Polenta Kheer, among many others, will not be denied. Then there’s Sharma’s signature photographs. Shimmering dishes of saturated color emerging from quietly dark backgrounds and almost hallucinogenic close-ups of ingredients and elements that make us reconsider exactly what we’re looking at add a glamorous sheen and extra intrigue to the look of the book.

As the holiday season falls on us with a sequestering thud this year, “The Flavor Equation” may be the perfect gift to lift the spirits of some dedicated cooks in your life. There’s a full winter’s worth of valuable knowledge for science-minded culinarians to absorb, and a great many inspiring recipes for generalists to mull over as the snow drifts, all in anticipation of what will hopefully be a spring of gathering together again.

The Flavor Equation The Science of Great Cooking Explained + More Than 100 Essential Recipes

Nik Sharma Chronicle Books $35.00 2020

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Ever taste Rocky Mountain-style BBQ? Meridian restaurant opens today. Boise is next.

In the mood for smoked brisket tacos? Mini barbecue pork sliders?

Or craving a multi-meat-piled Caveman burger that redefines the word “whopper”?

Utah-based R&R Barbeque has arrived to feed those carnivorous urges. The new Meridian restaurant opens at 11 a.m. Monday at 3680 E. Fairview Ave. It’s in the former Corner Bakery Cafe spot at The Village at Meridian.

R&R BBQ combines fast-casual convenience with a slow-smoked menu. And the chain is aiming to do more than just integrate itself into the local restaurant community, marketing manager Nadine De La Fuente says.

“We’re trying to make a splash. We’re excited,” De La Fuente explains in a phone interview. “We’ve been in the business for a while, and we’ve spent a lot of time perfecting our recipes and our food. We’ve kind of coined the term ‘Rocky Mountain barbecue,’ and that’s what we’re trying to bring to Idaho.”

The first R&R restaurant opened in 2011, debuting in downtown Salt Lake City before growing into eight Utah locations. The Idaho store is R&R’s first out-of-state expansion, but it won’t be the last. R&R also plans to open at 150 N. 8th St. in downtown Boise on the second floor of the Main + Marketplace building That’s coming in the second quarter of 2021.

So what exactly is “Rocky Mountain ’cue”? (No, it’s not meat marinated in Coors Light … .)

“Our style is unique to us,” De La Fuente says. “We’ve kind of taken a little bit of everything that we like from other barbecue styles and made it into our own.”

It can be certified Angus beef brisket or smoked chicken (try the boneless thigh). Or “Friggen’ Hot” wings and smoked bacon-wrapped meatloaf. It can be sides ranging from large onion rings breaded in-house to fried okra and hush puppies made from scratch.

And, of course, there’s that hedonistic Caveman burger ($12.99): 1/3 pound of smoked beef with smoked sausage, smoked pulled pork, fried jalapenos and melted Jack cheese, slathered in sweet barbecue sauce.

R&R BBQ was founded by California-raised twins who racked up awards on the barbecue circuit going brick-and-mortar. They announced their retirement this year, but growth plans for R&R already were cooking. The fast-casual brand has the financial backing of Savory Fund, a newly created, $90 million investment force. Savory also powers Utah-based Mo’ Bettahs Hawaiian Style Food, which opened in Meridian last year.

R&R BBQ in Meridian is about 4,000 square feet and offers seated dining. Online ordering and takeout also are available. Delivery won’t be available immediately, but it’s planned soon through third-party services such as DoorDash.

And if you’re normally not a fan of traditional slab-of-meat barbecue? You still might want to strap on a bib and give R&R a go. The restaurant’s brisket is “incredible,” Fuentes says — even if it’s not her go-to menu item.

“This is really surprising,” she says, “but the pulled pork tacos are my favorite. I’ve never thought to get tacos at a barbecue spot, but the first time

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