I had assumed that Michael Pollan’s new book Cooked would be well told but precious: a Berkeley academic, albeit a food interested one, learning how to get his hands dirty with the supervision of celebrity chefs.
But it turns out that’s not most of it: Pollan really did some work in the kitchen, and basement brewery, and front lawn hog pit, and it shows. His terrific story-telling skills merge with his ability to do enough culinary work so that real skill begins to show between his fingers and the lines.
You only acquire skill if you really invest in smearing every single cabbage leaf with ginger-garlic paste for kim-chi, on your knees; if you know the value of burning down oak for grilling embers but don’t apologize for using a little charcoal if it gets you a little more sleep; if you feel and understand the give and take of bread dough as you go.
If you love food, want to know the basics of how to cook through round-the-world story-telling, and are curious about dipping your finger and then hand in, Pollan is your guy. I loved reading this book, as it reminded me of my own trials by fire at the Frontera Grill/Topolobampo, where cases of onions and gallons of mole and four years later, I began to feel like I could cook.
Eating on the Wild Side: Jo Robinson is a journalist who has been interested in food, chemistry, history and gender a long time. She spent 10 years doing the research and read 6000 studies (in contrast, ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine only took me 3 years and 3000 studies 😉 ).
She is down to earth, and interested in earthiness, but is happy to call lettuce “heavy breathers” (because they have a high respiratory rate and don’t die when you pick them..and because “they burn up their antioxidants and sugar faster than many other veggies”). She has researched the plants which have been ignored because of domestic demands and is championing phytonutrients as hidden super ingredients. She doesn’t overpromise health benefits, but she does love the allure of a secret right under our nose: “herbs are wild plants in disguise, and they’re just as good for us.”
I am so happy that Eating on the Wild Side is getting real attention: it just shows that if you present healthy food and messages in sexy ways, people will want to know about it…and if they end up eating darker lettuce, or cooking their berries to increase flavor and antioxidants, or putting a list of “Eat Me First” foods on their fridge (artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, kale, leeks, lettuce, and spinach), then we are one step closer to a healthier, heartier country. Gotta love it.