| MICHAEL POLLAN - Author, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation”
B&N -- has Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal reviews. Snippets:
NPR interview highlights, excerpt
From Barnes & Noble
In his previous books, Michael Pollan composed respectively "an eater's manifesto" (In Defense of Food), "a natural history of four meals" (The Omnivore's Dilemma), "an eater's manual" (Food Rules), and "a plant's-eye view of the world" (The Botany of Desire). In this new offering, he ventures into the alchemical realm of his kitchen, the place where the transformative powers of fire, water, air, and earth change the stuff of the natural world into meals we eat and crave. As in earlier works, Pollan takes what seems to be a subject close at hand (or even at mouth) and makes it fascinating in ways we never suspected.
Spurred by a number of objectives—improving his family’s general health, connecting with his teenage son, and learning how people can reduce their dependence on corporations, among others—Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma; In Defense of Food) came to the realization that he’d be able to accomplish all those goals and more if he spent more time in his kitchen. He began cooking. Divided into four chapters based on the four elements...
Having described what's wrong with American food in his best-selling The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), New York Times contributor Pollan (Journalism/Univ. of California; Food Rules, 2012, etc.) delivers a more optimistic but equally fascinating account of how to do it right. The author mixes journalistic encounters with tales of skilled, often relentlessly obsessive cooks who demonstrated the art of transforming the products of nature into tasty food and then tried, with spotty success, to teach him to do the same...Turning food preparation over to corporations saves the average family 30 minutes per day in exchange for an avalanche of extra sugar, salt, fat and chemicals that costs more and tastes worse. A delightful chronicle of the education of a cook who steps back frequently to extol the scientific and philosophical basis of this deeply satisfying human activity.
New York Times best-selling author Pollan (The Botany of Desire; The Omnivore's Dilemma) delivers a thoughtful meditation on cooking that is both difficult to categorize and uniquely, inimitably his. Framing a consideration of food preparation using the classical elements—fire, air, water, earth—this title chronicles the author's own investigations into barbecue, braising, bread making, and fermentation. Encompassing the wonder of alchemy, the scientific precision of chemistry, the inevitabilities of biology, and the complexities of parsing social and cultural meaning, this work weaves history and science with Pollan's personal journey in attempting and, in some cases, mastering the techniques...
Marc Bittman on Pollan
NYJournal of books
NYTimes (warning: by Maslin)
the Globe And Mail notable: (also: haaaaates the 9 pages on chopping onions.)
...The fire section’s unintended and rather inconvenient message: Buy your Southern barbecue from the experts, don’t make it.
Salon note: (also: loooooooves the lengthy rumination on chopping onions)
He dresses it all up in Freud, much in the way a toastmaster might dress up a speech to the local ratepayers club with bon mots from Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations; there are also prominent outtakes from the Marquis de Cussy, Demetrius, Athenaeus, Genesis, Hesiod, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Boswell and a French philosopher named Gaston Bachelard, whose own 1938 volume, called The Psychoanalysis of Fire, opens with the warning, “When our reader has finished reading this book he will in no way have increased his knowledge,” which is apropos.
The most telling line in Pollan’s fire section is the one where he announces, “It is remarkable how much sheer bullshit seems to accrete around the subject of barbecue.” It really is...
...The back half of Cooked redeemed the book for me and then some, but unlike Pollan’s earlier works, this one doesn’t feel necessary; it’s hard to imagine Cooked ever giving rise to a social movement.
If you buy Pollan’s thesis – that cooking is key to a healthy, local, sustainable, humane food system – and don’t know how to cook yet, you’re better off reading Mark Bittman, or Smitten Kitchen, or the Canadian Living cookbooks. Because Cooked is only half-cooked, at best.
Much food writing is little more than a gaseous substance that collects around recipes and advice. I like to cook and make most of my own meals, but I have no patience for the touchstones of foodie literature...Just cut the mystification and razzamatazz, and tell me how to make a decent lentil soup, already! While we’re at it, I also hate celebrity chefs and rhapsodic restaurant reviews. Especially during a week like the one we’ve just had, most food writing manifests a serious disorder of perspective, and its perpetrators come across as more navel-gazing and trivia-obsessed than the most self-involved memoirist.
a disagreement re: whether cooking shows encourage or intimidate.
Apart from flashing my curmudgeon credentials, I’m trying to say that in this department, my bar is set pretty high. There are three food writers I will listen to. Two are true cooks (not chefs): the peerless Mark Bittman, who understands what does and does not matter about how we cook and eat, and Martha Stewart, who — say what you will! — taught me everything I know about baking. (Julia Child seems delightfully down-to-earth, but I’m not very interested in French cooking.)
The third writer, Michael Pollan, is primarily a gardener, and perhaps that’s what saves him from the myopia so prevalent among food journalists...
I wish I could say “Cooked” is entirely free of moments of flabby philosophizing (“Isn’t it always precisely when we are most at risk of floating away on the sea of our own inventions and conceits that we seem to row our way back to the firm shore that is nature?”), but they are rare. Admittedly, the book’s thematic structure is also a shade precious. It’s divided into four sections according to what the ancients perceived to be the four elements — fire, water, air and earth — each attributed to a different cooking method — grilling, braising and other forms of cooking in liquids, baking and fermentation. As ever, Pollan makes each of these themes the occasion for real thought as well as some energetic reporting...
...After this deliciously unsettling walk along the thin line between food and death, the tasty and the disgusting, the ripe and the spoiled, Pollan wraps things up with a defense of home cooking. Maybe it’s not the most efficient use of our time, he concedes. But it’s good for the soul to be a producer some of the time, rather than just the consumers our corporate overlords want us to be. (They’re the same folks who sell frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to harried parents for school lunches.) If you work in symbols and services, or spend your days staring at a screen, you can refresh your spirit with the sight, sound, smell and feel of a real tomato or lemon. You can make a meal for the people you love or even just keep them company while they do it. You don’t have to kiss the cook, but by all means come talk to us while we’re stuck in here chopping these damn onions.