Synopses & Reviews
Fire, water, air, earth—our most trusted food expert recounts the story of his culinary education
In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer. In the course of his journey, he discovers that the cook occupies a special place in the world, standing squarely between nature and culture. Both realms are transformed by cooking, and so, in the process, is the cook.
Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse–trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius “fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, the soil, farmers, our history and culture, and, of course, the people our cooking nourishes and delights. Cooking, above all, connects us.
The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume huge quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.
"Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) narrates his latest, which explores the transformative cooking power of four vital elements: fire, water, air, and earth. Pollan's reading has an easygoing, next-door-neighbor tone that works to distance him from the 'foodie' label that inevitably attaches itself to his name. While Pollan certainly tackles the heavy-duty science portions of his narrative smoothly, he's at his best when portraying the book's sometimes-colorful cast of characters. The most memorable of these figures include a barbecue pit master with a checkered business record and a deep attachment to the whole-hog slow cooking and a California hipster/baker. Pollan also ably portrays the role of his wife and teenage son in his culinary journey, making a case for the role of food in building family connections. A Penguin hardcover. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
MICHAEL POLLAN is the author of six previous books, including Food Rules
, In Defense of Food
, The Omnivore’s Dilemma
, and The Botany of Desire
, all New York Times
bestsellers. A longtime contributor to The New York Times
, he is also the Knight Professor of Journalism at Berkeley. In 2010, Time
magazine named him one of the one hundred most influential people in the world.