Strawberry Sorbet

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Strawberry season has just ended in our area, and we spent the month of June serving this lovely sorbet at the restaurant. Although it will have much better color if you use vine-ripened local berries, even store-bought strawberries will produce an acceptable result.

We make more sorbet than gelato because sorbet is more forgiving with the slow-churn home ice cream makers available, as I’ve written about here and here.

We keep our sorbet-making simple: no sugar syrups, egg whites, or other unnecessary steps; just fruit, sugar, water, lemon, salt, and a blender.

One of the most important aspects of sorbet-making is to include a little lemon juice — not so much as to taste strongly of lemon, but enough to accentuate the natural flavor of the primary fruit. Lemon juice functions in sorbet as salt does in savory foods, allowing the natural flavor to blossom.

Another important aspect of sorbet-making is to monitor the temperature of your freezer. Depending on the setting, ours ranges from -10 degrees to positive 10 degrees, a huge different which will affect the texture of your sorbet or gelato. We make sure the freezer is as cold as possible when freezing the ice cream machine insert, but once the sorbet is churned and moved to the freezer for aging, we try to keep the temperature between 10 and 20 degrees, which is the temperature of gelato freezers in Italy. This will keep the sorbet or gelato from becoming rock hard quickly and will give you a nice half-day window to serve the sorbet. Unless the freezer is warmer than 10 degrees, we keep the sorbet covered.

Strawberry Sorbet (makes 1 quart, about 8 modest servings)

In a blender, process 450 grams strawberries (about a quart) with 300 grams water, 150 grams sugar, 2 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Chill at least 8 hours or preferably overnight, and freeze in an ice cream machine. We like to make ours at 5 pm to serve at 8 pm, but if you keep your freezer between 10 and 20 degrees, you can keep your sorbet at the right temperature for at least half a day.

Couldn’t be easier!

Justin Naylor, chef & farmer at Old Tioga Farm

 

An Interview with Samin Nosrat

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samin

Samin Nosrat is the author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (2017), a longtime cooking teacher, and a former chef in the San Francisco Bay Area. We recently had a chance to chat about her new book, her experiences in the restaurant business, and the importance of careful home cooking. Many thanks to Samin for taking time from her busy schedule to speak with me.

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Justin Naylor: Hi, Samin, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today.

Samin Nosrat: Thank you for caring enough!

JN: In the fifteen years that I’ve been cooking and paying attention to cooking, I have never seen a cookbook that had such an immediate and deep effect and impression. Not only did I want to congratulate you for that success, but I wanted to start by asking if you’ve been at all surprised by the success of the book. Obviously you’ve hit a nerve in a good way, and there was a niche that was clearly needing to be filled. Did you know during the process that you were onto something big, or were you a little surprised as well by just how successful the book has been?

SN: Oh my gosh, thank you for asking this really thoughtful question, and thanks for the nice words. There were a lot of precursors that sort of clued me in to the fact that I was doing something new. I had had the experience, when we sold the book [to publishers] to see what an incredible and almost unprecedented response – in my understanding – that we got from the publishers. That was a wake-up call, at that time.

On the one hand, I knew I was creating something that was different from anything I’d ever seen, because way back when I had the idea I knew that there wasn’t anything like it, and I always kept following that thread. I only wanted to make this thing because it spoke to me, and all along I was very aware that I was making something new. I wasn’t sure for a long time that it would speak to anybody else, but then as more and more high-profile people were piping up that this was interesting – then I thought, I’m onto something. That started with Michael Pollan, and then I got a bunch of residencies, and then we sold the book.

Selling the book was really bananas. It was a huge auction, every publisher we went to wanted it, the money was much more than I ever expected, so that was all very overwhelming. In a big way it was almost unnerving, because they had given me the money and I was like, Oh, God, now I’ve really got to deliver. 

JN: The book probably had been written in your mind, because you had been teaching based on this framework for years, but you only had a proposal at that point?

SN: Exactly. I had the proposal, I had the written curriculum, and I had the vision for it. When we sold it, they gave me a year deadline. And I was like, Oh, I can totally do this in a year. But something in me knew that I couldn’t do it in a year. I wasn’t able to articulate it, but I knew that it was a big project and there was a lot of work to do to distill and refine and connect everything. It was just a lot. So, yes, it’s been really successful and I’m so pleased. You never can guarantee that something will be successful, so I’m really glad that it seems to be not only selling well, but people really seem to be getting what I’m trying to say. And a lot of times, people don’t get what I’m trying to say!

JN: That’s one thing that really interests me as well. What do you think it is about the way it was presented that was so compelling? Let me just add, anecdotally: I have some friends that I’ve been talking to for years about cooking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told them that probably the most important thing they could do is salt more courageously, but with some of them it fell on deaf ears. But I heard from some who bought your book that they really understood now. Obviously, there’s some magic. So I’m just curious if you have any insight – whether it’s the tone of the book, or your voice, the gentle handholding, as opposed to the stern taskmaster approach?

SN: I definitely think it’s some combination of those things. I thought a lot about all of that stuff, and I think the proposal gave us a really great opportunity to put it into practice. It’s many-layered. First of all, I had a lot of years to figure out what it was that I was trying to say. I had a lot of cooks under me who I was constantly trying to teach. Then, by the time I came to work with Michael [Pollan], he really encouraged me to go put it out and make it a curriculum for the public. So, again, I had more and more opportunities to go out and teach people and see what worked for them.

In a [restaurant] kitchen, when you’re under pressure and you’re in a bad mood, and there’s money at stake, maybe I was using a different tone, you know? (Laughter) Then I go out and I’m teaching people who’ve paid to be there and they’re home cooks and I’m trying to be gentle with them. Over time, because I’ve been saying the same stuff for so long, I’ve become familiar enough with the message and I’ve done it with enough different kinds of people that I’ve come to learn what people actually do hear.

A big part of it, too, in terms of the writing, was: I’ve always been a reader, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I make myself a student of things, and I was certainly a student of Michael’s long before I ever knew him, because I read everything that he wrote really closely. One thing I found that he’s so successful at is this: he has this remarkable ability to take really complicated topics and present them in a super clear and non-condescending way to people, so that they all of a sudden can start talking about GMO corn as if it’s in Us Weekly or something. It took me a minute to figure out what his formula was, and I realized what he does every time is he makes himself a student. So when he’s writing something, you’re going on this journey with him.

JN: Absolutely.

SN: He’s having the dumb moments and he’s not embarrassed about showing the dumb moments, so then you trust him. So, actually, in one of my very first attempts of starting to write samples of the book, I tried to be Michael Pollan. And I really quickly realized that that couldn’t work for me because: a) I’m not Michael Pollan; and, b) my job here is to be the authority and to get you to trust me because I know this thing. So, that was like this rub for me – because I thought, how do I do that without talking down to you and being condescending?

I saw what was working in my classes – which was, I was sharing my own ah-ha moments and I was always trying to put myself back in the shoes of that person who didn’t know anything and who was really scared and terrified. By sharing all of the experiences of the million mistakes that I made, by going back to that point in time where I was in the same shoes as you are now, I felt like I could connect to you and speak to you in a way – and then bounce forward into the future where I’m talking to you from this place of confidence, so that I could get you here. I think that was a really important realization for me, that has really impacted the way that I teach.

And also, I am a dweeb. I am a dork. I still always ruin stuff all the time. I don’t think I’m the best cook in the world, and I don’t present myself with that thing, and I think that’s endearing for people to see. Like, I had to go to Food52 a month before the book came out to make these little videos. They had read the book and decided which lessons they wanted to do. One of them was making these buttermilk biscuits, and I hadn’t made them in probably a year since I wrote the recipe, so I was kind of nervous. And then the other one was searing these steaks. My agent was in California and we were flying back to New York together, and I was like, Don’t they know that 90% of my charm is that I mess stuff up, and they’ve chosen two things that I’m really bad at?

JN: I think you’re right, that in this age of social media presence, there is so much posturing and image over substance and unwillingness to show any vulnerability and any humanness. I think that when someone is willing to do that, it’s immediately endearing.

SN: Totally, totally. I spent my whole childhood, my whole adolescence trying to fit in in San Diego, where everyone was, like, blonde and white and good-looking. And it was just this thing where I never fit in. I was this black-brown kid with this funny name, from a family that ate different food. I was not ashamed of my culture or my heritage, but I think I exhausted the need to try to pose. Do you know what I mean?

JN: Absolutely.

SN: And so, I just sort of gave up on that a long time ago. But I do think that that worked. I think that that’s a part of the magic.

I think that a big, big part of the magic is Wendy [MacNaughton, illustrator]. And I think that that’s two-fold. I will take some responsibility for that because it was something that I really pushed for. I knew that it was going to be a risk – or that publishers would look at it as a risk, even though I didn’t think it was risky at all – because books are not illustrated. But I knew it was the right thing for this book. I knew that she was the right person for the book, because not only is she immensely talented and it’s so beautiful, but also she’s really funny. The work has a very whimsical feeling. In order to balance the science and anything that would be task-mastery that I would be doing, I knew that the visual tone that she would set would help, to make it look not  intimidating, to make it look very accessible and fun. So, even though there are words like Maillard reaction in there, there’s a way where it still comes across as something that is pretty approachable, I think. So that was always on my mind.

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JN: You say something as well about not wanting to have these perfect photographs, which would only discourage people from doing their own cooking.

SN: Totally.

JN: A few things have been coming together for me recently. I thought it was so profound that Victor Hazan, husband of the late Marcella Hazan, said recently that – I don’t think he does much Instagram, and I don’t think he used the term “food porn,” which is a term I hate in any case – but he basically said that all of this food photography has been harmful for home cooks. It creates this expectation or standard that is just not something that can be lived up to it many cases.

SN: –Replicated!

JN: And in the guise of promoting food culture and cooking, it actually undermines a healthy food culture and cooking. That was, to me, a pretty profound insight. And it seemed like one that you might share as well, at least to some extent.

SN: Yeah, I definitely share– I don’t think photography is the only culprit. I have to say, I am a huge fan of beautiful food photography. I just recognized pretty early on that it wasn’t the right thing for this book. Maybe it’s not great for people who are super intimidated, in a way. Not to say that images aren’t good–

JN: Of course.

SN: But a food photo is super representational, and it’s capturing something in its most ideal state. What it doesn’t show – what you don’t know when you open Bon Appetit magazine, or a really highly produced cookbook – is that there was a team of multiple stylists there, there was perfect lighting, photographers and photo assistants. Even a lot of people who write cookbooks, they don’t actually – or maybe they’ll cook the food for their own images, but there is a professional food stylist there who knows how to make food look really perfect, for an image to do it. Any time my food is going to be photographed, I always insist on cooking it myself, but I also insist on having a food stylist there, because I don’t know how to make food look photo-perfect.

So it is a little bit of a sham we’re selling, do you know what I mean? It’s a little bit of makeup contouring, or whatever. Yeah, and I’m complicit in it too. Because I think it’s also beautiful to make things – I don’t know, it’s also nice to have things to aspire to and be inspired by. But that’s not the message that I wanted to send in my book. And I do agree with Victor, because I do think it’s much more pervasive than just food photos. The entire food culture, how it’s changed, certainly since I started cooking – I mean, we started cooking at the same time. I was still in college, and I had friends who were, like, You’re doing what?

JN: It wasn’t cool.

SN: Yeah, and my family didn’t understand. I think now if I started cooking at Chez Panisse when I was in college, it would be this amazing thing for my peers and they would be, like, kissing my feet. So times have just changed so much, and the attention of the culture toward cooks and chefs and food has changed so much. Now it’s gone from being not even worth attention to being on this massive pedestal, and I think there’s something really unfortunate about that.

A distinction has yet to be made for the broader public, that what is done in restaurants and what is done for these cookbooks and magazines is somebody’s profession. What we do at home is what we do to survive and to bring joy to our lives and to feed one another. And there’s a difference between those two things. There’s a difference between their aim, there’s a difference between everything.

There’s this amateurism that has been devalued and forgotten about, I think. It’s so complicated, because food is such an important part of everyone’s life. In some ways, I feel like there’s this added layer of complexity added to what I do, because everyone who I encounter has a relationship to the work that I do. Everyone who I encounter – everyone in the world – is an expert in food, because they’re an expert in what they eat and what they know. And so if I were a doctor, or something, you wouldn’t just come up to me and say, Well, I prefer to do surgery like this, you know?

There’s a way where people forget that there are professionals whose job and aim and purpose is something completely different from what you do at home. Then, when you start measuring yourself by those standards, it’s really unfortunate, because you don’t spend ten hours a day for ten years practicing this thing. So you’re not going to be that good. Nobody’s saying to you that that’s okay, and that [perfection] shouldn’t be your goal. My hope is that I can be that person, starting to break down that wall for you.

This is really something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Even within restaurants, there are restaurants that exist for wildly different reasons. And so for all restaurants to be compared on the same sort of plane – you know, there’s a reason you go to a diner that’s totally different from the reason you go to Chez Panisse. Those people who are cooking those foods shouldn’t be compared against each other. That argument, or that point of view, I haven’t seen made to the broader public yet.

JN: Could you describe Chez Panisse for those readers who don’t know it? What drew you to it and why is it so special?

SN: Chez Panisse is an American institution… it was founded by Alice Waters in Berkeley, California in 1971, and it is the epicenter of the local, seasonal, sustainable food movement. Guided by the chef’s whims and what is in peak season at any given moment, the menus change each day. A series of serendipitous events brought me to Chez Panisse, but what kept me there was how utterly inspiring the place is.  I felt lucky every single day I worked there — lucky to work with and learn from some of the best cooks in the world, lucky to be given an aesthetic point of view, lucky to cook and eat on a daily basis the most delicious produce, fish, and meat I’d ever encountered.  I cannot overstate how important my experience at Chez Panisse was, for both my career and my life.

JN: For you, clearly, Chez Panisse has been the seminal influence in your cooking life. For me it’s been writings of Marcella Hazan more than anyone else. I never had a chance to meet her before she passed away, but her writings affect almost everything I do, almost every day. One of the things I find so compelling in her attitude, at least about Italian cooking, and cooking in Italy, is the way in Italy – although this is a little bit of a stereotype, or romaticizing – the best compliment you can give to a restaurant is that it tastes of the home.

SN: Yeah!

JN: Which is almost the exact opposite in this country: we go to restaurants, and if we’re ambitious home cooks, maybe we try to imitate something we had in a restaurant. Whereas in Italy, at least at one time, it was sort of turned around. And so, for me, what I look for in a restaurant is, however elegant, however careful the cooking, I feel like I’m always looking for a restaurant that still captures something of the home – spontenaity, freshness, some significant degree of personality. I understand exactly what you’re saying, that in some ways it’s just unfair to compare, but in another way I hold out this idea that when we learn to cook well, hopefully our cooking begins to resemble or even exceed a lot of American restaurants.

SN: Oh, absolutely. I would one hundred percent [agree].

JN: Talk about things changing – when I learned to cook, obviously there were great restaurants, but a lot of times I would rather eat at home because I felt like I could eat better in some ways. That has changed so much. I’m close to Philadelphia and New York, and the sheer number of places doing beautiful, authentic, wonderful work is just so high.

SN: It is really amazing to see. It’s a renaissance time for restaurants in America, for sure. It’s exciting to me, and inspiring. For probably the first ten or twelve years as a cook I was so interested in eating out. It helped that I had a friend who was really dorky about it. We would go eat out and just decipher and dissect everything that we were eating, and we were really sort of very thoughtful and critical about it. We were total nerds. But at a certain point, I realized I just didn’t have it in me anymore to care. I’m starting to come off of that now. Part of it, also, was the last five years, writing a book – the last thing I wanted to do was go to restaurants, because every restaurant I go to in the Bay Area, I know people, and they would come up to me and be like, How’s your book? And I’m like, Oh my god, I don’t want to talk about it, so I just became a hermit, eating rice and eggs at home.

JN: Why did you decide at one point to turn your attention to home cooking? Obviously, you were working at Chez Panisse, then Eccolo. At what point did you decide not to pursue a career in restaurant kitchens and to do something else?

SN: In 2009, Eccolo closed. I would say it was never a wildly financially successful restaurant, but it  opened in 2004, and by 2008 we were fully in the black. We were holding on. Then when the crash happened, I think it was the last straw. To me it was a great relief to close the restaurant. It wasn’t my restaurant, but I carried it on my back like it was.

JN: You were the executive chef at that point?

SN: I was the equivalent of the chef de cuisine. Chris Lee was the executive chef, he was the boss. But I was for sure running the kitchen, day to day. And Chris is my mentor. He’s the one who taught me how to cook at Chez Panisse, he’s the one I went to and said that thing about salt, fat, acid, and heat and he was like, Yeah, we all know that. He is the one who opened the door for me into restaurants and I will always be indebted to him. I think that sense of responsibility to him is what kept me in the restaurant, but I was pretty miserable. I wasn’t that nice to be around. It was really hard on me emotionally and physically. I never let go of the dream of writing, and I don’t think I really ever had ambitions of being a restaurant chef, or of it being my thing. I sort of knew, after Eccolo, that that would be it for me.

I was really grateful for the off-ramp the closing of the restaurant offered me, and I did go back to Chez Panisse for about a year after that. I was in the kitchen for about a year. In 2011 it was the 40th birthday of Chez Panisse and Alice [Waters] hired me to do a national campaign, so I worked more on the Edible Schoolyard side. I was really grateful for that.

Very consciously, in 2009, I decided I was going to start writing, and I became a tenant in this office that I share still with a bunch of other writers. I really tried very hard to start making writing, if not part of my daily practice – at that time I started trying to go the office about three times a week. It was really scary – not that cooking is so lucrative, but I had a steady paycheck. Then all of a sudden I had no money. But I was really grateful to have a way out.

JN: What did you find the greatest stresses to be in the restaurant kitchen? I don’t think people realize just how personally and, as you said, emotionally destructive restaurant kitchens can be. Families torn apart, drugs, depression, alcohol, everything. There are exceptions, but the restaurant kitchen is a very hard place to be. I’m just curious what some of the stresses were for you.

SN: For me, I absolutely was depressed, and I didn’t really know it. So that’s a big part of it. I was 23 or 24 when I came back from Italy to Eccolo, and then within a year I was pretty much the sous chef – running it, you know? I’ve always been an overachiever, and I was an okay cook – I’d probably been cooking five years by then – but just because you’re a good cook, doesn’t mean you’re a good manager. I think because of the pace of restaurants, there just wasn’t a great deal of investment in my, or in anyone’s – I’m not blaming Eccolo, I think it’s pretty common in restaurants – I just didn’t have the chance to be trained in the best way to be a manager of people. Plus, I was younger than a lot of the people I was in charge of, I was a woman in charge of mostly men. That was a big part of it. I didn’t know how to get through to people, which then just made me angrier, because I have a bad temper. I was really not that fun to be around, I think.

I also think another big part of what was particularly stressful for me was, it wasn’t my restaurant, but I felt like it was. Our main investor, our main source of money — especially when we were not making money — lived in New York. He owned a bunch of other restaurants in New York and other places that were financially successful. He felt like he knew what would make a restaurant work financially, and those things were not fundamentally aligned with many of the ways we believed a restaurant should be run. This seemed like a problem, just going back to the original business union between the investor and Chris. Maybe they just weren’t ideal partners, or they should have clarified – like, Hey, I do think buying organic eggs is important, or something. It was one of those things where they never talked about it at first, and as long as things were okay, it was fine, but then when the financial stresses started – every single one of our purchases, every single one of our actions became scrutinized. All of a sudden it was like, Why are you buying real Parmesan cheese instead of this fake stuff? Or, Why are you buying real maple syrup? And I was like, this is insane that these things are being questioned.

JN: Even being talked about – how can we even be talking about this? Right.

SN: Right. There was this way that we were being forced to give reasons for our most basic actions. I felt like we had never hid it – we come from a philosophy of cooking that’s pretty outspoken about this! So, that was just hard, and I felt very motherly and protective toward the cooks. There was a lot that I held onto and didn’t want to share with people when we were struggling, and that was what was really the hardest for me – not the day-to-day, actual work. I’m a good worker, I’ve always been a good worker. I really enjoyed immersing myself in that. The best things were the things that I think other people would assume were drudgery. Like, I really loved going through all the tomatoes, finding the ones that were becoming overripe, roasting them all, and canning the sauce. All that kind of stuff, I loved. I loved teaching young cooks and interns who came. I loved finding people that we could believe in, and all that kind of stuff. It was just mostly the financial end that was really stressful.

JN: Besides the financial pressures, why do you think the Chez Panisse model hasn’t been adopted more widely? It seems like the farm-to-table model has plateaued with a lot of places, and certainly almost no restaurants are changing menus daily. And as you mentioned, very few restaurants put the time and resources into the staff to make their kitchens true teaching kitchens, as Chez Panisse has done. Why do you think Chez Panisse’s influence has been limited in these ways?

SN: It’s an interesting question, but I’m not surprised. The restaurant business is just so tough that the CP model is essentially untenable outside the magical bubble of 1517 Shattuck [Avenue]. Not everyone shares the same values. And, as much as I am a believer, I also acknowledge that the model has its flaws: the prices aren’t accessible to most people (to be clear, it’s not like anyone is getting rich off of CP — it costs a lot to pay farmers and cooks and dishwashers fairly). So the experience is for the limited few, and not everyone wants to run a restaurant that serves only the wealthy.

What I do think is interesting (or more accurately, disturbing) about the limits of CP’s reach is this: I think Alice has unfairly developed a reputation for being an elitist, when she is anything but, and for being twee. And I believe with all of my heart that if she were a man, and not a tiny woman with dreams in her eyes and a soft voice, things would be totally different. I think she’d be a lot more vocal about claiming her and CP’s place in culinary history if she were a man. I think people would yield it much more readily to her. I think she’d be lauded for holding fast to her ideals instead of being ridiculed for doing so. Dan Barber (who is just one of many chefs who passed through the CP kitchen as a young cook), for example, extols the virtues of sustainable farming practices and speaks in koans about carrots and beets, but I don’t really see folks making fun of him… instead, he’s lauded and rewarded with a Chef’s Table episode.  I need to spend more time considering all of this, but I definitely think misogyny plays a big role in the lack of credit that Alice is given for her work, or the readiness with which lots of folks are willing to write off her influence these days. But the fact of the matter is, her stubbornness, her lack of willingness to compromise, her single-minded vision–all things about which she is given a hard time–are the same qualities that make us bow down at the feet of all of those fancy male chefs, and not much of what is considered fine dining today could exist without the extraordinary amount of trailblazing Alice has done over the past 46 years.

JN: Feel free to disagree with this, or to push back a little bit – this is definitely an extreme view I’ll express. My favorite restaurants, and these are mostly in Italy, are the ones that are still small enough that the owner is the one cooking. Maybe he or she has an assistant, but basically there’s one chef whose personality permeates everything. There’s not an anonymous team of line cooks, etc. This is very different in the US, where someone like Mario Batali starts a wonderful restaurant, and if he’s not doing all the cooking, certainly he’s supervising everything. Then, you know, he’s very successful, he’s no longer there, there are eight restaurants, and now he’s running a company more than cooking. Do you think, even in a restaurant context, can you teach a team of cooks who I’m sure are hard-working, I’m sure they want to please – but can that circumstance produce food that is as memorable and has as much personality as a situation where you have, you know, basically a single chef?

SN: A visionary behind it.

JN: Yeah, and I don’t mean some guy who’s full of himself. One of the chefs I’m thinking of is Bruno Gavagnin of Osteria alla Testiere in Venice. He is one of the most humble chefs I’ve ever met. But I’m absolutely convinced that the reason that his restaurant is just about my favorite place in the world is because he’s there, all the time, doing the cooking, and everything’s perfect. It reflects his personality. It’s a model that, for whatever reason, is rare but exists in Italy. It hardly exists in the US. I’m curious if you think I’m being too much of a purist and a romantic, or if you think that phenomenon is real.

SN: I think that you’re onto something. I would agree with you almost completely. I think I have a couple of exceptions to point out. I do think that it is possible to teach cooks to carry out your vision and to care about it as much as you do. And the only reason I’m able to believe that is because that is what I saw happening and I still see happening at Chez Panisse. In fact, to be completely honest, I think the vision of many of the cooks at Chez Panisse, and certainly the cooking skills – and Alice [Waters] would agree with this – far surpass Alice’s, right?

JN: Sure, absolutely.

SN: But I think what’s been done there is, that place has been created and endless resources have gone into creating it as a pedagogical model. It’s a teaching kitchen. Everybody in that place knows that, and Alice prioritizes that. It permeates the place.

In fact, I remember when – I can’t remember whose goodbye party it was, but it was somebody who had worked there for many years, 20 or 25 years. We were having a goodbye party and this guy, Steve, who had been the cafe maître d’ since they opened,  got up to give a toast and he said Chez Panisse is structured like a pyramid. The guests are on the bottom, the people who work here are on the middle, but the cooks are at the top. This restaurant exists for its cooks. There aren’t any other restaurants that I know of that exist for their cooks. That was part of what was hard for us at Eccolo: we were trying to replicate that Chez Panisse model without endless resources.

So, I do think it can happen. I think it’s extraordinarily expensive and labor-intensive and requires a lot of patience and a lot of vision, which is why it doesn’t happen. So, there’s that. Then I will say that another place that came to mind for me, actually, is this restaurant in Oakland called Camino. Russ [Russell Moore], who was one of my teachers at Chez Panisse, opened it. Russ is still at the grill every single night, which I wish for his sake – he’s got to be over 50 by now – that he didn’t have to be.

JN: Right, I understand that too.

SN: And he also just opened another place, a little kabob place. A lot of nights he’s at the kabob place, helping that place get going. But, to me, you can taste it when Russ is there and when he’s not. Also, because the kitchen is basically in the dining room, you can see it and you’re very aware of it. I would say most of the time I would fall on your side of the argument, that it isn’t possible to really get people there, because it’s just so much work to get them there. But I do think it’s not impossible.

JN: Yes. That’s an excellent corrective to my extremism! I think that’s absolutely right. Just to change the subject a little bit, I’m interested that in the book you didn’t talk very much about health. Although I think that we’re on the same page on these issues, I can imagine some people picking the book up and saying, She wants me to use more salt? She wants me to use a quarter-inch of oil for pan frying? Forget it. That’s not healthy! Could you say a little about that, and what your understanding is about the effect of salt and fat and any aspect of cooking on health?

SN: I do try to be pretty clear. I do have a line in there with the salt, saying, I know this is going to be scary that I’m encouraging you to use more salt, but unless your doctor has recommended – there are people who were born with just one kidney or have really high blood pressure, and they need to listen to their doctor, not to me. I am not a health expert; I’m a cook. I also am not a science expert, and I was already going into one place that was new territory for me. So I thought, should I put in these health claims – should I do this, should I do that? It just seemed like I was going to get somewhere where it was not steady footing [for me]. So I decided to stay out of it.

I knew it was sort of bold to have salt and fat in the title. I knew that would already turn some people away. But my answer to them is that, first of all, I think almost all home cooking is more healthy for you than anything that you could eat out. Right now, what I find to be my main obstacle out in the world is not so much changing the way people cook, it’s getting people to cook in the first place. Because I think so many people are not cooking. My main goal was to get people who aren’t cooking, cooking. And, yeah, let’s get people who are cooking, to cook better. That’s just built into the thing. So, the message is, anything you can cook for yourself will be more healthy – that’s been proven by studies – than eating out.

The other thing is, I take so much issue with health claims being made out of context. This is something I just keep realizing over and over again with every passing day of my life: everything is part of a system. Your salt intake and your fat intake are part of a larger system of your entire life – whatever you’re taking in and the energy you’re putting out. To just focus on one element, on one thing that you’re eating or not eating and saying that’s the cause of all evil – or, like, if I just eat nine tablespoons of flaxseed per day, everything will be fixed – is just so crazy.

There’s a really beautiful argument that Michael [Pollan] made in In Defense of Food, where he looked at all of the molecules in a single leaf of thyme, just how complicated one tiny leaf of thyme is, and that so much is in there. For you to say that this one tiny vitamin or this one tiny molecule or this one element is going to be the thing that makes life healthy or unhealthy is, to me, so blind. I have a lot of injuries in my body that I’m trying to fix right now. I have a knee injury, but what we’re trying to fix is my core, and my hips, and my ankle – not my knee – because everything affects everything else. If you read any Wendell Berry, you know that you can’t just take one thing out of the system. Nature is a really complicated system.

Also, the science for salt and fat, the health sciences, are every fifteen minutes sending contradictory messaging out. In the ’80s, it was Don’t eat fat, and now everybody’s like, Just give me some more ghee! I felt like if that was where you were coming from, I wasn’t going to be able to say anything to change your mind. So let me just speak to the people who want to listen to what I have to say. And what I have to say is about what I know, and what I know is about cooking.

JN: That makes a lot of sense. I mentioned a little while ago that Marcella [Hazan] has certainly been my greatest influence. You mentioned a few authors in your book. I was wondering if you would pick two authors that you have been really influenced by, and say something about why they inspired you or what you learned from them.

SN: A big one was Patience Gray. I’ve only ever read one book by her, which is Honey from a Weed. It was on that original list of cookbooks that the Chez Panisse chefs gave me and told me to go read as part of my essential cooking canon. It is so lyrical and so beautiful. To be honest, I haven’t really cooked out of much of it, I just read the book, and it just sounds so intoxicating, yet it’s pretty much all, like, weeds. So, I was set on this path very early on which was only fortified and justified by all of the places that you need to go, like Italy, where good food doesn’t have to come from fancy ingredients. There’s so much that goes into what makes food and what makes it delicious, and very little of it has to do with buying the most expensive cheeses, or whatever. It’s a love letter to cooking, it’s a love letter to good living, and certainly to the Mediterranean, and these were all things that were really important to me and that I really loved. So, that one was really important.

I have always adored the writing of Nigel Slater. Again, same thing, where there’s a way he’s so un-fussy in his writing and in his cooking. The Kitchen Diaries is so beautiful: in one entry it can just be saying, Oh god, I was working in the kitchen or in the garden all day and I totally forgot to eat, so when I came in I just cut tomatoes open and smeared mayonnaise on them, and that was such a satisfying lunch, and I’ve totally had that for lunch too! Then he can write the most beautiful holiday meals, and there was a way where one wasn’t less or more. That kind of un-fussiness, that un-pretentiousness is certainly what I aspire to. In a way this goes back to what I was saying before – I spent so many years of my life trying to be something that I wasn’t, and so in a way I cannot bring myself to care about fancy things. So it’s really refreshing and wonderful to read about people who care about [this]. There’s a big difference between good living and fancy living. They’re not necessarily the same thing. Good living is what I aspire to, and reading about it plants good seeds for me and makes me want to share that vision with other people.

JN: Of course, you had the good fortune to learn most of your cooking skills when you were at Chez Panisse, whereas most people these days are trying to learn from books. You actually learned side by side with master chefs. Obviously, what you’re trying to do with your book is fill a niche, so that people can learn to cook better from books. But I’m curious whether you think you could have learned the same way that you have, had you only had books, as opposed to the hands-on experience at Chez Panisse.

SN: No. Definitely not. I would say – maybe this is crazy to say – even more powerful than the cooking lessons that I learned at Chez Panisse, I would say the most important thing I learned there was: that place gave me an aesthetic education, it gave me a sensual education. It taught me what beauty is and what beauty could be, it taught me what deliciousness tastes like and good flowers smell like. I was immersed. It was like a graduate school for the senses. I couldn’t have gotten that from a book, I don’t think. That taught me to prioritize those things. I don’t think I could have gotten that from a book.

Going back to something we talked about earlier, I’m a professional cook who is hired to make inspiring photo shoots for Bon Appetit, etc. If your job is not to do that, then, yeah, I do think you can get a basic education from books and from watching a lot of the really inspiring and beautiful food TV that’s out there. A whole generation of people learned how to cook from Julia Child. But I do think that if it is something that you aspire to do professionally, then go surround yourself with the most inspiring people that you can find. I always tell people, if you love a restaurant and you love the way you feel when you eat there, the way it feels to be a guest there, and the food tastes so good, then write them a letter and ask them if you can come into the kitchen. It doesn’t have to be the best restaurant in the world. It’s not something that’s that impossible. In fact, right now, at least in the Bay Area, there’s such an intense crisis – lack of cooks – that they would probably be really stoked to hear from you!

JN: In the book, you were dismissive of culinary school, and I have had a similar attitude at times. Can you say a little more about what you think is superfluous, for lack of a better word? I think, at its worst, you come out of culinary school with all kinds of technical training, thinking you know something, but if you haven’t developed good taste. You think you know something, whereas in reality you’re lacking in the most important trait. I’m curious what you think.

SN: I think, fundamentally, it’s a financial thing. I think it’s insane that these schools charge so much money. You go into these massive amounts of debt, with no hope of really ever getting a job that will ever make the kind of the money that will allow you to get out of that debt. Today it’s sort of selling a lie, just by the way that it’s priced. So that, I think, is the main thing. And also, in my experience, in most of the restaurants where I have either spent time or worked – anywhere – I have noticed that there’s almost been an intense kind of un-training that’s had to occur with the culinary students, as opposed to blank-slate people who come in.

JN: What sorts of things?

SN: There’s a rigidity in culinary school students, because culinary school is very much structured like the military, and restaurants are also structured like the military. There’s a rigidity in there that I haven’t found reflected in the kinds of restaurants where I’ve spent time enjoying eating.

And, I one-hundred-percent agree with you, I think that there is no substitute for the actual, practical experience of what it is to go through a ten-hour or twelve-hour day on your feet, to go through many of them. I don’t think this is true for all of the schools, but for a while it was a prerequisite for those culinary students to have spent three or four months in a restaurant kitchen. I think you don’t even know what you’re getting into when you’re going to this school, and the school sets up this really disingenuous picture of what you’re going to be prepared to do. That’s just not the way that good food is made. And I don’t think they prioritize teaching you how to taste. For me, all of my cooking is about being guided by taste.

I also think, frankly – this is something I haven’t yet articulated, and I don’t even know if it was part of my initial distaste for culinary school – all of culinary school is based on a super-Eurocentric kind of cooking. There’s some value in that. It’s probably the most efficient way to learn basic French cooking, because then you can connect the dots to other cooking. But there’s a whole world out there. There’s a whole wide world out there, and we don’t need to view that world through French glasses.

I feel like the most interesting people in my life are people who have traveled widely, whether or not they are cooks. There’s nothing more powerful and important – especially at times like these – than going out into the world and meeting different kinds of people, eating different kinds of food, experiencing it for yourself and then getting to come back and filter that experience through your work.

As a side note, I will say there is in my experience as a cook, no substitute – zero – for having tasted the original thing in the original place. How can you know what you’re riffing on if you don’t know what the original thing is? How can you know what you’re going for if you haven’t had bolognese in Bologna, or cochinita pibil in the Yucatan? I get that there is very intense privilege involved in that, but I’m saying do this instead of spending $80,000 [on culinary school]. You could probably go around the world for $20,000!

JN: Let me end by asking a little more about publishing. You’ve had what seems like a fairy-tale publishing career, which is wonderful. But there are many, many people out there who would love to publish a cookbook, or fiction, or whatever. I’m curious what advice you might have for would-be authors. I have a friend who published a cookbook a year or two ago, and in a blog post she made it sound like getting an agent is the easiest thing in the world, and then it gets harder.

SN: That’s funny.

JN: But I know a lot of people for whom even finding an agent is nearly impossible. Just curious what advice you have for would-be authors.

SN: I have two pieces of advice, and one is more real-world practical, and one is more writing-practical. Let’s start with the writing-practical. There’s nothing until you have good writing. Nothing else matters.

When I was teaching Michael [Pollan] how to cook, very quickly he picked up on the salt, fat, acid, heat system, and he was like, What’s the deal here? What is this? I was like, This is my system. I hadn’t really articulated it to him, and at the time I was bringing him a different book idea every week, and they were really bad ideas. One week I was like, What if I tell the story of how I taught this gutterpunk how to cook? You know, just bad. And he was always like, Don’t do that, that’s bad. He was the one who said, This is your book; go do this.

I resisted at first, because I knew how hard it would be. I just knew it was not an easy thing. I said, Oh, that sounds so hard, and it won’t have pretty photos. And he said, Listen, you live in a delusional universe where everyone you know who is publishing books is already a celebrity of some kind – like Alice Waters. So, you have this very messed-up vision of what it takes to make a cookbook, or to make a book. Really, what publishers want is unique and really strong ideas that just never have been told before. And that’s what this is. I’ve never seen this before, so you would be a fool not to pursue this. 

He was like, You’ve got to go do this. But first, go do this hard work. And so, I think there was strength in the uniqueness of the idea. It really was my thing, that I had had in my head for a long time. It was very true to me.

Also, I continued to work on it for three years before I started my proposal. It takes time to come up with a strong and unique idea. It takes time to write and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and to really focus and distill what your vision is. A lot of the stuff I see happening, especially in the cookbook world, is just churned out. Those are the books that maybe last on your shelf for a little while before you take them to a used bookstore. There’s a lot of value in taking time.

All of the work that I put into making the proposal, and rewriting it, and really being very clear – man, it paid itself back ten-fold. Not only financially, but also, when I was in the depths of despair writing the book, I always had this beautiful thing that I could return to that reminded me of what I originally wanted to do, what I intended to do, and what the road map for that was. There is no substitute for that hard work and that clarity of your vision and your message.

Then, the more real-world practical thing – just what I hear from my agent. Sometimes I’ll meet somebody and I’ll say, Do you want to talk to this person, maybe talk to them about representing them? And a lot of times what she says to me is, she’ll go look at their Instagram, or whatever, and she’ll say they don’t have a platform. And I didn’t have much of a platform either, it’s not always that.

JN: I wanted to ask about that, because I know that at least in the cookbook world – it has sometimes been expressed to me, that very thing – if there’s not a vast platform, the game is over. Elizabeth Minchilli, who writes about Rome, wrote that she actually had to start her blog to build a platform in order to get her book published.

SN: Yes, I definitely think that does seem to be a practical thing on behalf of publishers. Not everyone knows Michael Pollan and Alice Waters.

JN: But at the time, you didn’t have a vast platform.

SN: I think I had about 3,000 Instagram followers. But what I did have was: I had been cooking for a long time in the Bay Area, everyone knew me. I had mailing lists of probably over 25,000 people. I was a really unique case in a lot of ways, because I didn’t have a blog that had 2 million followers. I think that they could see that I could do it – and I think I’m doing it, so I think it’s okay. But I think that I was the rare exception, and I’m glad because I’m not super stoked on having to Instagram every part of my life. I’m sorry that I’m even suggesting that other people do, but I guess if what you really want is a cookbook, then you probably have to do it.

JN: I understand! I would love to chat all afternoon, but I feel like I should let you go. Is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t had a chance to discuss before we go?

SN: You’ve asked so many great questions. Thank you!
JN: Thank you!

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

CorrectCoverOne of the four sections of Michael Pollan’s wonderful book Cooked is dedicated to Pollan’s own home-cooking education under the careful tutelage of chef and teacher Samin Nosrat, an Iranian-American raised in California. Pollan’s profile of Samin emphasizes her down-to-earth love of cooking, her knowledge, her good humor, and her gifts as a teacher. When I heard news a few months ago of Samin’s upcoming first cookbook, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, I was intrigued.

Immediately after the book’s publication in April, the press onslaught began.

The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Splendid Table, All Things Considered… all of a sudden Samin Nosrat was everywhere. In my 15 years of paying attention to cooking, I’ve never seen a book make such a sudden and profound impact. The first sentence of Michael Pollan’s preface pretty much sums it up:

As I write these words, this book hasn’t even been published yet, but already it feels indispensable.

Publishers thought so, too. There was an intense bidding auction for the book, and Samin was given a large enough advance to write full time. This is a dream come true for a first-time author; enough to give a new author a bit of vertigo, I should think.

But Samin delivered. Her book takes a bold thesis: the essential elements of good cooking are simple and easy to explain, and mastering them frees a cook from reliance on recipes.

Samin’s book fills a niche completely overlooked, not because the content is completely unique, but because it is assembled in a package which is both deep and accessible at the same time. Much of the science in the book is covered elsewhere, but in larger tomes daunting to novice cooks. Many of the recipes are covered elsewhere too, but seldom with Samin’s rare combination of complete confidence, good humor, and gentle encouragement. It’s the latter which I think really distinguishes the book and makes Samin’s approach so irresistible. Like any good teacher, she is passionate about her subject, full of desire to share her knowledge, but humble and sensitive enough to meet people where they are. One gets the sense that Samin really cares about other people and has the “hospitality gene,” as Vetri Ristorante’s Jeff Benjamin would say.

Many Americans, lacking a tradition of careful home cooking, find themselves adrift and without moorings, grasping here and there for recipes – not realizing that a recipe is no more able to produce delicious food than a musical score can produce beautiful music without an experienced and sensitive musician. As Samin quotes the late Judy Rodgers,

Recipes don’t make delicious food. People do.

Samin’s aim is to explain the grammar behind the language of cooking, emphasizing why certain practices and techniques work, so that we can be freed from simply playing notes and empowered to make music.

She argues that there are four aspects of elements of good cooking. Thus, the title of the book: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

I love the fact that salt is the first word of the book’s title because it is indeed the primary tool a cook has to develop flavor in food. As Marcella Hazan wrote in her last book Ingredienti:

Learning to salt correctly is the most important skill a cook can learn.

Indeed. Samin relates an experience she had early on, cooking at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. She was preparing polenta and thought she had done a good job. She took it to her chef for tasting, and he promptly added three palmfuls of salt to the pot. Samin was sure he had ruined the dish. Instead, upon tasting, she realized that it had come alive, that its flavor had been allowed to blossom. Such is the critical role of salt in the kitchen. Samin has plenty of helpful advice about how salt works, what kind of salt to choose, when to salt, etc. But that anecdote about the polenta perhaps sums it up better than anything else can: salt is what allows food to bloom in flavor. The anecdote also shows why the typical cookbook advice “salt to taste” is woefully inadequate. It begs the question: how should it taste? The young Samin thought her first attempt at the polenta tasted great, but she didn’t know what “great” could really taste like until her chef showed her.

Just when I thought Samin was courageous enough to put salt in the title of her book, she follows it with fat – the other bogeyman of modern nutritional science. As with salt, Samin understands that the proper use of high quality fats is indispensable for good cooking. She tells another great anecdote about Chez Panisse, about how Alice Waters was judging some tomato sauces and could instantly tell which chefs had used old, rancid olive oil instead of the world-class oil they use at the restaurant. Too often we think of fat simply affecting texture (i.e. juiciness). But just as important is fat’s role in developing flavor. As Samin writes,

Italians’ remarkable relationship to fat is essential to why their food tastes so good.

This is true not only for olive oil, but for animal fats as well. It’s why a rich ribeye steak is more flavorful than a lean tenderloin fillet, or why whole milk is more flavorful than skim. Samin’s discussion of fat is wide ranging and includes a valuable discussion of the role of different fats in baking desserts and how emulsions such as mayonnaise and vinaigrettes work.

Perhaps the most surprising element, even for experienced cooks, is acid. Samin argues that acidic ingredients – whether citrus, wine, tomatoes, yogurt, etc. – provide balance to our food and that when our food lacks acidity it lacks a certain zest and liveliness. Having been raised with Iranian food, Samin tells the story of her first traditional Thanksgiving, finding the food bland and boring. Later, when she tried the same foods prepared with a little more acidity – sour cream in the mashed potatoes, white wine in the gravy, brussels sprouts tossed with sugar, vinegar, and hot pepper – many of the same dishes came alive. She learned that while salt enhances food, acidity balances it. This doesn’t mean that every dish needs an acidic component, but it does mean that in the course of a meal, acidity in the right place at the right time brings balance, elegance, and grace to our foods. It keeps our dishes interesting, and our mouths watering (literally).

Finally, Samin addresses heat and the way different forms of heat are used in different circumstances to produce the textural results we’re looking for, whether a crisp french fry or a meltingly soft short rib. She discusses smoking and slow-roasting to create tender meats, braising to break down the connective tissue that would otherwise be tough. She explains how to pan-sear so that the outside surface is browned just at the moment the interior is cooked through. She discusses how to handle the fact that even the best ovens have thermostats that are wildly erratic. She attempts to restore the unfairly maligned reputation of frying, and she eloquently discusses the power of plain old boiling.

The second half of the book includes recipes. Samin was at first reluctant to include these, wanting instead to emphasize how to cook without recipes. In the end, she realized that everyone needs starting points. Her recipes are interspersed with a continuation of the conversation about the elements of good cooking. In her recipes, she shows you how to apply the principles she has taught.

It’s hard for any book to live up to so much hype, of course, and no book is perfect. But Samin’s book is very, very good, and it is just what American cooks need right now. It saddens me, of course, that American cooking culture is so disconnected from the principles of good cooking that such simple insights (use salt!) seem so revolutionary. But, as Samin might say, we need to meet people where they are, and Samin has a gift for this. Right now, American cooks need a gentle but confident presentation of the elements of good cooking. They don’t need one more celebrity chef offering oversimplified recipes from their restaurants. They don’t need one more cooking fad. And they don’t need an encyclopedia of cooking. What they need is a patient but authoritative, funny but wise teacher, and that’s exactly what they’ll find in Samin Nosrat.

In praise of brining

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I admit it, I am a late convert to brining. When I first began cooking about 15 years ago, I read all about brining – the submersion of meat in a solution of salt, sugar and aromatics meant to enhance the flavor and texture of meat – but it always seemed like too much trouble. Many authorities recommend, for example, brining a Thanksgiving turkey. But to submerge the turkey in water requires a huge container, copious amounts of salt and sugar, and a place to keep the turkey cold. My un-brined turkey, carefully seasoned and properly cooked, was plenty flavorful and tender, thank you very much.

And so I discounted brining for years. Even though salt is hardly a scarce resource, whipping up a brine solution felt very wasteful, especially since it’s not supposed to be reused. Instead, I adopted a practice which Alice Waters and others have called “dry brining”, simply seasoning with salt far enough in advance to allow the salt to become fully incorporated into the meat, allowing the salt time to modify the cellular structure of the meat to ensure juiciness and to unlock the flavor compounds trapped in the meat. Dry brining by salting a few hours in advance seemed to accomplish the same goals as wet brining, but with much more economy of effort.

And it does… mostly. Dry brining works for almost every meat, and it is one of the most important techniques in the kitchen. But I was troubled that certain lean meats still were too dry, even when salted in advance. In particular, pork loin – whether cut into chops or left as a roast – continued to elude me. No matter how carefully seasoned and cooked it was, even when keeping it at a rosy medium-rare temperature, the results were underwhelming. I despaired of ever cooking a pork loin that I was really proud of.

But some time in the last year, I decided to give wet brining another try, hoping beyond hope that it could do something to enhance the loin. I carefully prepared my solution of salt, sugar, and aromatics. I submerged the pork. I hoped for the best.

It didn’t help that different sources give wildly different recommendations for brining solutions and brining times. Messing this up means meat which is under or over-seasoned with no way to fix the problem. I settled on a ratio of 2 quarts water to 125 grams salt and 60 grams sugar, and a brining time of 12 hours for a small boneless pork loin roast weighing several pounds.

I admit I had low expectations, but when I cooked and sliced the roast, I was blown away. Even though it was slightly overcooked at around 165 degrees, the meat was still moist. I couldn’t believe it. I knew that salt changed the cellular structure of the meat, allowing water to be better retained, but I had thought that dry-brining could accomplish the same thing. I’m not sure at this point why wet brining does this job better, and my interest in food science is not so great as to research it, but there’s no doubt that it does make a difference, at least for pork loin. Finally, I had found a way to redeem pork loin and turn it into something succulent and delicious.

Because of the extra time, materials, and space involved, wet brining will not replace my  time-honored practice of dry brining for most meats. Most meats can be served juicy and succulent simply through careful cooking. But at least for pork loin, there’s no question that it’s an essential technique.

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Juicy pork tenderloin with a noble, golden-brown fat cap

Cannellini bean soup with garlic & parsley

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When Marcella Hazan passed away almost four years ago, tributes came pouring in from every major newspaper, and from chefs and home cooks from across the country. Invariably, the eulogist would mention Marcella’s most simple and exquisite pasta sauce with tomatoes, onions, and butter. It’s a sauce I’ve never had in Italy (perhaps Marcella made it up herself), but it became a symbol to many people of her forceful dedication to simplicity and flavor.

Another dish that comes to mind in this way is Marcella’s cannellini bean soup with garlic and parsley. It exemplifies the same extreme minimalism as the pasta sauce and demonstrates the principle that Marcella was always preaching: what you leave out of a dish is as important as what you include. Her understanding of her native country’s cooking was not only at odds with the caricature of Italian food in America at the time, but it was also at odds with the great majority of cooking from restaurant chefs, with their fixation on presentation and technical execution over freshness and taste.

We’ve been serving the bean soup this month at Old Tioga Farm, and though I’ve been making the soup for myself and family for almost twenty years now, I hadn’t served it at the restaurant in a while. Making it for the past few weeks has given me the opportunity to reflect anew on the recipe and on Marcella’s understanding of good cooking.

Marcella knew that it was not presentation, but flavor, which matters most in cooking. The bean soup is not going to win any prize for beauty, nor is it likely to appeal to the food porn crowd. But that’s not the point. When you taste the soup, if it is well made, you’re struck by a few very simple but powerful flavors: the beans themselves, soft and rich, substantial but yet dissolving; an underpinning of garlic, not so much as to overwhelm but just enough to serve as a sort of bass line, aromatic but not browned or harsh; parsley, the most common herb in Italian cooking, which provides freshness like no other herb; a light meat broth, refined and delicate, never intense and concentrated; and last but not least, olive oil of the very highest quality, an ingredient whose quality will make or break this soup. The oil infuses the beans with and enfolds them in its glow. A great oil will elevate the beans. A poor one will flatten them.

This, to me, is what good cooking is all about; at least, good Italian cooking. A few ingredients of highest quality, assembled in a way which just develops their full potential without confusing everything with excess complication. This is food meant not to impress so much as nourish. This is the philosophy of cooking which I learned from Marcella, which changed the course of my life, and inspires me every day in my home and restaurant kitchens.

Cannellini Bean Soup with Garlic and Parsley

I make this soup almost identically to Marcella. Of course, Marcella knew that not even the same cook prepares the same dish identically every time. My version is definitely a little more liberal with the garlic, and I also like the soup less thick but more pureed than Marcella. According to Marcella’s husband Victor, Marcella learned the soup from her father. She taught it to countless cooks through her classes and books, and now I share it with you.

Begin the night before by soaking one pound of dried cannellini beans. Certainly, if you must, use canned beans. I certainly have on occasion. The best canned beans I know of are the ones from Goya. Be aware that other brands might be over- or under-seasoned with salt. But do try to use dried beans for the full experience. If you forget to soak them overnight, you can skip that step, but it will take a little longer to cook them. Not a big deal. Cook in a big pot with water to cover and 2 or 3 teaspoons salt until tender, about an hour or two. Or you can go all out and mail order the Tuscan heirloom bean Sorana, which Marcella considered perhaps the best bean in Italy and which is marketed in this country as the Marcella Bean.

The soup also requires good homemade broth, which is one of the very simplest things you can do to improve the quality of your soups. The simplest vegetable broth just contains an onion and a few carrots and celery stalks, simmered for an hour in about 2 quarts of water. A more complex broth adds a whole chicken, or just a carcass, or just some chicken parts thrown in with the vegetables and simmered for closer to 3 hours. Another layer of flavor would involve adding some beef scraps or bones. There would be no harm in adding some tomatoes, or sweet peppers, or potatoes, or zucchini. But all of that is icing on the cake. A simple vegetable or chicken broth will do just fine.

When the beans are tender and the broth is made, you can begin to make the soup by sautéing one tablespoon garlic (Marcella used only 1 teaspoon) in 1/2 cup highest quality olive oil. You might find this an excessive amount of olive oil. It most certainly is not. It is an essential flavor component of this soup. As the winemaker Paolo di Marchi once told me: “In Tuscany, we think of olive oil as just another vegetable.” And so it is.

When the garlic is sizzling and taking on just a hint of color, add the beans, which should have been drained from their cooking liquid and tasted for proper seasoning. Let the beans absorb the flavor of the olive oil over moderate heat for about five minutes, and then add 2 cups or so of broth.

Pass about one third to one half of the beans through a food mill, or (if you must) put them in a blender, and then return them to the pot. This will thicken the soup a little.

Add more broth as needed to create the consistency you want. Some like it very thick. I like it more like a traditional soup. After the flavors have married for 10 minutes or so and the seasoning is just right, add a generous bit of freshly chopped parsley and several grindings of black pepper.

Garnish with a little drizzle of olive oil, what Italians would call “a benediction.”

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A kindred spirit at A Mano

Please note this is not a formal review. Among other things, a professional review is based on repeated visits to an establishment and eating through a larger portion of the menu. Instead, I simply offer some impressions of my first visit to A Mano.

I recently wrote about my idea of a restaurant, about how I most prize those few establishments where the chef is actually doing most of the cooking instead of relegating that responsibility to a team of line cooks, poorly paid and anonymous to restaurant guests. This is usually a function of scale, with smaller BYOB restaurants more likely to have kitchens where the chef is actually cooking. For me, the best cooking is a reflection of the personality of a particular cook or chef.

And so I was delighted when I walked through the doors of Philly BYOB A Mano to find chef Michael Millon at the helm of the open kitchen.

I had high expectations, owing to Craig LaBan’s glowing review and the repeated recommendation of A Mano from good customers of ours from Philly.

I was not disappointed. The only aspect of the experience less than ideal was the rather deafening noise in the dining room, which made it difficult even to hear my server clearly. In every other way, the experience was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in some time, and I will surely be back soon.

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The menu is divided properly into antipasti, primi, and secondi, and I was delighted to learn that the portions were moderate enough to order all three, which is the intention of the restaurant. Excessive portion size is the hardest aspect of dining out these days, both in the US and even in Italy, and it makes multi-course dining challenging to say the least.

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The meal began with well-made, classic focaccia, not unlike the style we make for the CSA and restaurant. More surprising was the olive oil infused butter served with it. I have always been a skeptic of mixing olive oil and butter, but I must admit it worked in this case. Every authentic Italian restaurant in America struggles with what to serve with bread, because in Italy bread appears at the table unaccompanied by butter or olive oil. Yet, in the US, guests are so accustomed to a condiment with bread that faithfulness to Italian tradition would come across as negligence. A Mano’s solution to this dilemma was a successful one.

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I began with seared octopus with cockles, chorizo, and white beans. It’s a dish that might appear on menus all throughout the city, but I imagine few would have the balance and grace of Chef Millon’s. The flavors were simple enough to be clear, but rich and nuanced enough to surprise and interest through the last bite. Cockles, tiny and briny, are really the only clam in the US which resemble the Italian clam. Pastanecks, littlenecks, manilla clams, and all the rest in the US are simply too large and tough.

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The lumachelle all’Amatriciana was an untraditional approach to a traditional Roman dish. Instead of the classic Roman pairing with spaghetti or rigatoni, chef Millon used house-made and house-extruded lumachelle. And instead of the traditional Roman pecorino cheese, Millon employed the Sardinian sheeps’ milk cheese fiore sardo. Finally, he incorporated majoram, which has never graced any plate of Amatriciana I’ve been served in Rome. But none of these innovations detracted from the dish, and none were done merely out of a sense of novelty or creativity. The combination simply worked.

However, for me the jury is still out on the nascent trend to serve house-extruded semolina pasta, a path blazed by iconic chef Marc Vetri. Unlike rolled egg pasta, which should always be made in-house, semolina pasta such as spaghetti and penne have been traditionally made on an industrial scale. I’m not sure if much is gained by doing in-house extruding rather than using high-quality imported pasta from Italy. But I have to give both Vetri and Millon credit for pushing outside of the comfortable and familiar and continuing to explore and grow.

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In Italy, secondi are rarely the most memorable course of a meal. At our own restaurant, we struggle to serve secondi which are not eclipsed by the pasta that precedes them. Although my braised short rib with carrot puree and trumpet mushrooms was delicious, it too perhaps suffered just a bit from the excellence of what had come before. The rib was exquisitely tender and deeply flavorful, but the raw carrots, peppers, and greens on the plate felt just slightly perfunctory, slightly out of place, the only example the whole night of a dish which perhaps placed too much emphasis on plating. Still, it was delightful and a benchmark for how such a dish can be prepared, and any slight imperfections were dwarfed by the overall success of the dish.

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A bunet is a sort of custard traditional in Piedmont. Often made with chocolate, Millon presented a version with almonds and espresso, one which could perhaps have  evoked more powerfully than it did those two noble ingredients. Still, it’s a minor quibble, and the dessert was an excellent and light way to end an exquisite meal.

A Mano, which opened a little more than a year ago, is an excellent addition to Philadelphia’s wonderful dining scene. Michael Millon feels like a kindred spirit, and I’m looking forward to many more visits. I can only hope he stays in the kitchen and continues to produce dishes with character, depth, and personality.

Coffee in Italy

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A properly made cappuccino and pastries at Roscioli Pasticceria, in Rome.

One of the joys of Italian life is the coffee bar. Even though we have a lovely espresso machine at the farm, Italian coffee bar culture is probably the thing I miss most about Italy when I’m not there. One orders at the cash register, takes the receipt to the bar, watches the barista make up to four or five coffees at a time with care (hopefully), and enjoys the drink quickly at the bar. It’s possible to sit down at an Italian coffee bar for an additional charge, but it’s stopping in for a quick coffee at the bar itself which is, to me, the most delightful thing to do.

I’ve very rarely had bad coffee in Italy. Some places are certainly much better than others. Some take pride in the drinks they’re making. Some are just going through the motions. Some properly clean their equipment, while others are sloppy. Some source beans with attention to quality. Others just use industrial beans.

But even at their most average, coffee in Italy is usually delightful. Milk is properly frothed and served at the right temperature (not 1000 degrees). Cups are properly pre-warmed.

Not as successful are the pastries at coffee bars. Although they are wonderful compared to the dreadful pastries one often finds at coffee shops in the US, the harsh truth is that 90% or more of coffee bars sell industrial pastries, as Katie Parla thoroughly detailed in an article in Eater.com last year.

In a development which has significant improved my life, the historic and respected Roscioli bakery has recently open a coffee bar a mere 5-minute walk from the property in Rome where I teach and live a few weeks a year. Not only do they make their coffee with care, they are one of the few bars which produces their own pastries from quality ingredients and eschews industrial shortcuts. The difference is immediately obvious both by sight and taste.

It’s easy to romanticize Italy and assume that quality is more common than it is. Sadly, there is not enough demand for quality from tourists or even Romans to ensure it. Nonetheless, the few who do produce exceptional products of excellence are diamonds in the rough, and I for one am deeply grateful for them.

IMG_0839.JPGA horrific example of a cappuccino from a bar in Venice, one of the few Italian cities where it is in fact very hard to find a well-made coffee. Note the “soap suds” type frothing, the mark of an amateur. It was also about 1000 degrees and impossible to drink. Terrible.

Teaching in Prison

I had driven past the metal bridge leading to the prison a thousand times, literally – driving past on the way to and from work for a year, and then once or twice per week for the past eight years to run errands.

Although the prison might have been only across the river, it might as well have been on a different planet.

But last week I finally crossed the bridge as the guest of a friend who teaches in the prison. Ostensibly, the class she teaches is on health and wellness, but my friend has taken the opportunity to go deeper by studying food and the food system with her students, reading authors such as Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin, watching documentaries such as Supersize Me and Food, Inc. Although she’s very humble about it, I wonder whether there’s another person anywhere in the country studying such material with inmates?

I was invited to give a presentation about our farm and restaurant. I accepted at once with no hesitation. Nothing about the idea of walking into a prison gave me pause. But I can’t deny that I had to face the fact that I knew nothing about prisons or inmates. Like most Americans, going to a prison was as unfamiliar to me as going to the Middle East or Africa would be. Most of my acquaintances and peers don’t know anyone in prison and certainly haven’t been in prison themselves. Most of us have a vague sense of pity, perhaps, or fear, or even revulsion for prisoners. But most of us have no real knowledge of the culture of prisons or prisoners.

I suppose every prison is different, but my first reaction upon entering this compound was how much like a school it felt. People walking to and fro (I was shocked by the free-ranging of the inmates), people playing on the basketball court, people eating in the cafeteria. People saying hi to friends and having conversations. It all seemed so normal. And why shouldn’t it? Inmates, after all, are people just like you and me.

But just like in a school, there was a clear sense of hierarchy. Guards giving inmates a hard time. Inmates addressing teachers as Mr./Ms. ____________. When I find myself in such a situation, with a palpable sense of superiority and inferiority, my first instinct is to break those roles. I once got a teaching job in part because I took the time to shake the hands of my students at the beginning of my teaching demonstration. It was the same with the prisoners. I shook as many hands as I could as they entered the room, as if to say we are all equals, we are all human beings.

I realized our paths had diverged in dramatic ways based on choices we’d made, but that fundamentally our places could have been reversed if not for the vagaries of chance and circumstance. I was not a superior person for having been given gifts and opportunities denied to others. In shaking hands and meeting inmates eye to eye, I saw not strangers but brothers.

Of course, as important a realization as that is, there is another side. The harsh truth is that some percentage (maybe even just 1 in 100) of those inmates would have shot me in an alley to steal my iPhone if given the chance. I was sobered to hear after my presentation that one of the inmates in the class had beheaded a clerk in a convenience store.

The truth is rarely neat and tidy. We tend to classify, organize, and sort other human beings: friendly, evil, selfish, loving, dependable, irresponsible, etc. The mention of the word prisoner tends to conjure in many of our minds the judgment: other, not like me, a little scary, not my problem.

But it dawned on me in the class that just like poorly paid migrant labor that ensures an abundant and cheap supply of food for our supermarkets, inmates in our culture are rarely given a second thought by the rest of us, even though there are 2 million inmates in the US. We benefit from a system that separates us physically and intellectually from unpleasant truths.

My friend pointed out that many prisoners are in desperate need of mental health care, but there’s only one counselor for a hundred or two hundred prisoners. One man who would have been at my presentation had been punished for receiving drugs in the prison. He was an addict, but there wasn’t addiction care in the prison. He explained to her that drugs were how he’d always solved problems and now he had no other way.

When prisoners are released they’re largely left to their own devices, even if they’ve been culturally left behind after years in prison (I was surprised to hear prisoners weren’t allowed to use the internet at this prison). Is it any surprise so many end up back in prison,  costing taxpayers an average of $31,000 per prisoner per year?

Like so many ills in our society, the problem isn’t bad people or people who don’t care. It’s that a system exists which makes it hard to see the reality that would produce caring. Factory farms are far away and we don’t have to see them. If farm workers have higher cancer rates than the average American, that information doesn’t reach our awareness.

I’m sure I received as much as I gave during my visit. I met some precious, unique human beings who are more similar to me than different. I was reminded that we all need help, some of us more than others, and that we have a moral obligation to provide that help as soon as we become aware of it. A nation of individuals, all fighting it out with each other through competition and self-interest, is a bleak vision of things. But a community of human beings – all flawed but all giving and receiving help – that is a vision worth striving for.

Pane e Salute, 10 years later

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In July 2006 – before we had kids, before Old Tioga Farm – I was newly enrolled in law school, ready to buy my books and start classes in the fall. But before starting, I treated myself to an experience related to cooking, my principal hobby. I spent two weeks in the kitchen of Osteria Pane e Salute in Woodstock, VT, a sort of mini-apprenticeship, or stage, as it’s sometimes called. It was two weeks that changed my life.

Dillon and I had learned of Osteria Pane e Salute a year or two before, stumbling across in a bookstore their cookbook/memoir Pane e Salute (since republished as In Late Midwinter We Ate Pears). Perusing just a few pages of the book, it was clear I’d found kindred souls, both in cooking philosophy and love of Italy. We decided to make a trip to the restaurant, and we were impressed. We met with the proprietors the next day – Caleb Barber manages the kitchen, Deirdre Heekin the front of house – talked of cooking, Italy, and the possibility of staging at the restaurant. They were kind, generous, and enthusiastic. We made plans to return for two weeks in July.

Back at home I was teaching cooking classes in my spare time, having already developed a clear and committed approach to cooking through studying the writings of Marcella Hazan, but had never worked in a restaurant kitchen. Caleb’s cooking spoke to me too, based as it was on the same understanding of Italian cooking as being rooted in the home kitchen: traditional dishes meant to comfort and nourish, more than impress with novelty. It was soulful cooking.

Despite my hopes to one day have a farm, at the time we were living in a city, both working full-time and saving money for the future. As a private school teacher, I didn’t see a way to earn enough to ever buy a farm, and law school seemed like a more practical career option. The agricultural dream was indefinitely put on hold, if not completely dead.

But staging at the osteria changed all that. Woodstock is the most picturesque Vermont town you can imagine, with a creek running right through the center, the most beautiful library I’ve ever seen, and independent businesses lining Main Street. It’s surrounded by agricultural land, and small, productive farms abound. Here was the world I really wanted. The restaurant was small, magical, and exciting. The osteria was exactly the sort of restaurant I recently wrote about, one in which the proprietors actually do the work, a restaurant in which a talented person with excellent taste cooks for those who appreciate the personality of his/her dishes. I worked for two weeks in the kitchen, and Dillon joined me for the last several days, working with Deirdre in the front of the house. The day Dillon arrived, I told her I wanted to drop out of law school.

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A visit back in 2011

The rest is history. Instead of law school we decided to start a family, and Peter was born the following July, one year after the Pane apprenticeship. The Christmas after the apprenticeship, exactly 10 years ago from the time I write this, we stumbled upon an exquisite but negelcted old farmhouse on four acres in Northeastern PA, just a mile from Dillon’s family. Walking through the house, we knew it would be right for a business – maybe a B&B, maybe for cooking classes, maybe a farm-based restaurant like we had seen in Italy a few years before.

A lot has happened in the ensuing decade, both for us and Caleb and Deirdre. A year after we found our farmhouse, the restaurant at Old Tioga Farm was born. We welcomed two more children into our family. We started a vegetable CSA to ground our experience in agriculture. Three years ago, I was finally able to resign from my off-farm job in order to expand the restaurant. Now I lead culinary tours to Rome and Bologna.

Deirdre and Caleb’s journey has been just as rich. They had always lived in the country, some distance from the restaurant. But they began to give more attention to food production there, from their gardens and orchards. Deirdre wrote a second book, Libation: A Bitter Alchemy. Despite all the successs and business they could want at the osteria, Deirde decided she wanted not just to study and serve wine, but to make wine herself. She studied in France, planted grapes on their farm, and took the first steps toward crushing and fermenting the fruit. The results have been nothing less than spectacular. Long dismissed as a region incapable of producing fine wine, Deirdre has shown that the unique terroir of Vermont is actually capable of producing wines of real interest and character when produced by someone with good taste and the right experience. She wrote a third book, An Unlikely Vineyard, which caught the attention of Eric Asimov, wine writer for the New York Times, who was so intrigued he found time to visit them at the farm and write about it here. They’ve reduced their hours at the osteria in order to devote more time and energy to the winery – La Garagista – and they’ve begun offering wine and food events on their farm in addition to the winery. Perhaps a time will come when they will let go of their Woodstock osteria and become an exclusively farm-based winery and restaurant. Caleb and Deirdre have been one of the seminal influences in our life, and we like to think our lives and businesses have been an inspiration for them too.

A ten-year anniversay is a good time to celebtrate. I raise my glass to Deirdre and Caleb and offer a warm embrace for their friendship and example, and good wishes for new things to come.

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Now that’s a sexy couple if ever I’ve seen one.

The problem with food porn

Suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us when you can get a large audience together to watch a girl undress on the stage— a strip tease act?

C.S. Lewis

To me, one of the more disturbing trends in food culture has been the adoption of the term “food porn” to refer to food photography which is particularly salacious. It term bothers me because, like pornography itself, food porn places appearance over substance and tries to satisfy with illusion rather than reality. As a result, both pornography and “food porn” are dangerous.

A full-blown critique of pornography is better left for another day and another forum, I think. But the key insight for me is that pornography deals in lust, not in love (or even in pleasure necessarily). It is the fulfilling of one of our most primal urges, but out of the context of the human culture that makes the fulfillment of that urge truly human and not simply animalistic: love, safety, commitment, etc. In short, if true human sexuality is best expressed through a loving relationship, pornography is fake.

Much professional food photography is fake too, literally. Perhaps the milk in a bowl is glue. Or perhaps the grill marks on a steak are drawn on. Or, my favorite: perhaps the little black flecks on the strawberries are really flecks of beard collected from the photographer’s razor (I’m not making this one up, folks). Even the food in Stanley Tucci’s film Big Night, a film which is all about how meaningful food can be, was fake. As Tucci has explained:

All the food was spat out by all of the actors. The audience walked out of the theater starving, and the actors walked away from the set sick.

Of course, most “food porn” today is not fake professional food photography but amateur photos of real food about to be eaten by real people. But like pornography, which is literally real but fake in a deeper sense, the concept of “food porn” encourages a distorted view of food and its role in our lives.

As in so many aspects of my cooking, my teacher on this subject has been the writing of the late Marcella Hazan, who wrote that it was taste, not appearance or artifice or novelty, that made cooking good.

All that really matters in food is its flavor. It matters not that it be novel, that it look picture-pretty, that it be made with unusual or costly or currently fashionable ingredients….Such incidentals may add circumstantial interest to the business of eating, but they add nothing to taste and signify nothing when taste is lacking.

Although I might quibble with the assertion that flavor is all that matters in food, Marcella’s point is a sound and important one, especially for our particular culture at this particular time. Because although food, especially beautiful or delicious looking food, has become prominent in our culture, we have no idea whether much of the food which attracts our attention is any good, because we never even taste it, as much of our attention on food is based not on actually eating, but on entertainment, whether through cooking shows or videos, cooking demonstration classes, cookbooks, or “food porn” — not on producing food or even eating food, but consuming it secondhand through visual images. Whenever I see a cooking show where a dish is tasted by the chef and he or she asserts that it tastes “amazing”, I always have to laugh. What are they going to say? That it’s underseasoned or that the flavors are poorly integrated? That it’s not cooked through or that the ingredients weren’t fresh or flavorful enough to start with?

Or think of what cookbooks look like today. How many are chock-full of recipes and wisdom in the manner of Julia’s Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, or Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, neither of which has a single photograph? Instead, cookbooks become almost like art objects, loaded with gorgeous photos and beautiful layout, but whether the writing is any good, or (God forbid) the recipes actually work or are delicious — that all seems beside the point. Some of us are even more likely to look through and read a cookbook for pleasure than to actually cook from it!

Likewise, although Julia Child more or less invented the cooking show, it was always very clear that she was not simply entertaining her audience, but teaching them how to cook so that they could do it themselves! How many of us ever cook a recipe we see Emeril or Bobby Flay cook on TV? The point of the Food Network is to entertain, not teach. It’s an amazingly ironic paradox that we say we don’t have time to cook, and yet we spend 30 minutes watching someone else cook while we could be doing it ourselves! Although there is more interest in food than ever before, there is less interest in cooking than ever before.

One reason for this strange state of affairs is that we don’t do it well. As much as we talk about not having time to cook, I think it is more accurate to recognize that the problem is not simply lack of time but just as much or even more the lack of skill and competence. Like pornography, which can make our own rather ordinary bodies seem paltry by comparison, so too can contrasting our own skill in the kitchen with that of celebrity chefs make us feel impotent. Perhaps we would make time to cook if we felt better about the results. After all, many working people in Italy and France still find time to produce delicious meals because they simply know how to do it with an economy of effort. And they value the result, not only delicious food but time spent at table with friends and family.

For most of our history, even when the quality of our cooking wasn’t great (and it never has been in America), at least we had a cultural sense of the social and personal value of eating over and above its self-centered pleasurable characteristics. For those who were raised with mom or dad tending the braising pot in the kitchen, who doesn’t attribute such memories with warmth and affection? Although some of my happiest and most formative experiences cooking were when I cooked for myself as a bachelor, there is no doubt that in its fullest expression, cooking is an act meant to result in sharing good food with others, family, friends and loved ones.

There is great cultural confusion about the place of food in our lives, even while there’s never been more interest in food and the quality of cooking has probably never been better. We’re more likely to lustily devour images of food than to cook for ourselves. We’re more likely to eat out than to eat at home (not counting convenience foods). And we’re more likely to focus on the shallow, self-centered pleasure of eating rather than its nourishing or social aspects. In certain high-end restaurants, we’re more likely to be concerned with plating than flavor, as Marcella warned us.

The result is a food culture which at first looks impressive, at times even beautiful, but like pornography it’s a beauty that is only skin-deep. And like pornography, it brings a whole host of evils with it. It brings obesity through the prevalence of processed and fast foods. It brings disempowerment through the loss of the ability to cook. It brings crassness through emphasizing our animalistic lusts, like on Facebook when someone asserts “I want that!” to a photo of something that looks delicious. And it brings narcissism, through the focus on self and pleasure. In general it brings shallowness through the emphasis on secondary things in place of primary things.

Real cooking, like real sex, is about nourishment, connection, and love. It is about self-sacrifice and giving, and sharing with those we love. Neither should be about the gratification of lust nor a self-centered shallow pleasure. Although the term and concept of “food porn” isn’t wholly or even mostly responsible for these cultural ills, it is part and parcel with them, and I won’t be using the term.

Justin Naylor, chef & proprietor, Old Tioga Farm