He is a famous author and chef who has written several books on the history of food that are on Blinkist and I’m working my way through them. He also has a four part series on Netflix – Cooked after the title of his book that it follows. The episodes deal with the effects of Fire, Water, Air and Earth. It comes as no surprise that he has worked closely with Samin Nosrat on her Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat cookbook. He taught her how to write while she taught him how to cook.
In Fire he ventures around America looking for the secrets to bbq and grilled meats. He compares traditional methods to the ones used to industry. He goes in for the science and analyses the proteins present in meat with the transformation they undergo when being cooked – denaturalisation. He also indulges in some male bonding too while learning the secrets of southern cooking in addition to the history which is rooted in slave culture.
In Water he looks into the changes that have taken place in the American food industry since the 1950’s. He also tackles the rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes. I’m shocked to find that there is no longer an adult onset diabetes as type 2 used to be called. It’s now often found in children. This is directly linked to the fact we spend less time the kitchen and more time working. Even in India, one of the poorest countries in the world, you can’t live off one income and processed food is becoming the norm.
In Air he looks at the importance of bread to the daily diet in Morocco. He gets political about what happens when the price of bread rises too much; and how these conflicts cause shortages all over the world. Due mostly to over reliance on imports from bad harvests because of changing climatic conditions. He also gets scientific examining the role that gluten performs and why it’s so difficult to get a good gluten free loaf.
In Earth he examines the process of fermentation. Here he discovers that cacao beans are first fermented for a week before they are dried and then turned into chocolate etc. I didn’t know it was necessary to do this because the raw beans are so bitter as to be unpalatable. If you’ve ever eaten cooking chocolate you might know this taste. In contrast to chocolate, cheese is a another food that undergoes fermentation that we all know about. Here still there are more secrets to be discovered by looking into the science of the rind on cheeses. He also experiments by making his own beer to continue on from when he learnt to make bread.
I have found this series fascinating to watch to realise that there is a lot to learn from traditional methods of cooking that we can’t replicate in our modern high tech kitchens. The culture of disgust in relation to the French appreciation of stinky cheese is an amazing topic to have a discussion on. Our overuse of antibacterial sprays to clean with and antibiotics to cure to disease is causing a backlash in the health of our gut biome which is only just starting to be looked into seriously. I liked the anthropological look into ancient cultures and how they would pickle vegetables to get through the winter which is why vegans need to eat kimchi etc to remain healthy. Its a source of b vitamins and even vitamin c.
When thinking about the scientific method of cooking detailed by Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat I came across some notes that I made for myself about the basics of savoury and sweet cooking. Knowing that I have a butterfly mind it’s good to know that I had the sense to record the knowledge I had then.
I had previously done it with card games that I learnt at sixth form but the instructions were not explicit enough. I could no longer remember how the games were played and with there being no one around anymore, the paper was useless.
Anyone can cook they just have to be taught in the correct way. This seems applicable to any skill in the world. It can be broken down into its parts and then when they have been learnt, reassembled to create many different things.
I feel like I’m finding my way finally after being lost in the wilderness for many years. I tried many avenues after my initial purpose of being a computer programmer was thwarted by unforeseen events. It’s really nice to be in a good place like I am right now. Yes I’ve had a lot of anxiety and indecision about plans made and unmade but that’s life. I’m learning to roll with its punches.
Just like my earlier post In praise of wine, it sometimes takes a novice to learn all the necessary requisite skills of an activity, to be able to explain them to others in an easily digestible manner.
She has a 4 part Netflix series which I watched over Christmas as it gave me insights into Mexican cuisines use limes and sour oranges (acid), The Japanese obsession with the sea (salt), The Italian love of dried meats (fat) and her own life as an American immigrant from Iran. (heat).
There is also a Blinkist book which I read this afternoon that gives some scientific explanation for the use of different elements in cooking. She explains why
- Middle Eastern cooks love salt to an unhealthy degree (not just the climate),
- why vegetarian cooking takes some re-education (fat is flavour),
- why white wine or tomatoes are counted as a cooking acid where as lemon juice is a garnishing acid
- and why we love crispy food (heat).
I have just received her cookbook in the post from Amazon and it’s a veritable textbook! It’s at least an inch thick so it’s certainly a distillation of all other knowledge that she has gained while working as a professional chef in America.
I like cookbooks that go into depth about the why things happen rather than just assuming you know all of the kitchen tricks already. When girls left school during my parents era they were given a book that detailed how to do all the different dishes that were commonly eaten them as well as advice about the ingredients. This was to back up the domestic science lessons that they had received. It helped them to run the household a lot smoother. While this was patriarchal, gender equality wasn’t present then. It did however allow women the skills to perform to the best of their ability.
I think we have lost something essential by stopping teaching cooking in schools. I don’t have the innate knowledge that has been passed down from generations or a handy cookbook to assist me to run my own life. I think it would benefit all students if they had such a book. Good mental health comes from good food and the knowledge that you can look after yourself on a budget. With this in mind I have decided to make this a part of a series on things that an autistic adult needs to survive in the world. When there mind is calm then they can contribute there brilliance to the world whatever it may be.