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 listener 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.
©2013 Michael Pollan (P)2013 Penguin Audio
As a long-time foodie, home chef, and serial do-it-yourselfer, I greatly enjoyed Michael Pollan's treatise on food alchemy. The story is engaging, I learned a few new things, and Pollan does an excellent job of narrating in a natural, conversational tone. I only listen to audiobooks during my long commute, and I found myself anxious to get back on the road so I could listen to it some more. If you're passionate about food and cooking, you won't be disappointed!
I found this book to be fascinating. Masterfully blending biology, chemistry, politics, history, health and culture (pun intended) Micheal Pollan bakes an airy loaf of wisdom that's also entertaining. Cooked is about how we humans interact with our food. It's something we all do but unless you're a professional foodie something we seldom think about. I highly recommend this read and especially this audio version read by Pollan.
Great book. Michael Pollan fans will love it. BUT, in the past, his books were narrated by Scott Brick, who is fantastic. I wish the author didn't narrate the audiobook.
I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!
Michael Pollan is a great food writer. In his previous three books he enlightened me and changed my attitude towards food and the food industry. He got me started on the road to eating food that my grandparents would have recognised as food (avoiding today’s cornucopia of processed foods when possible) and to worrying about the way food is mass-produced and animals are mistreated.
His fourth book, ‘Cooked’ continues some of these themes but from a slightly different angle. He looks at foods corresponding to the four classical elements: fire, water, air and earth. For ‘fire’, he chooses traditional barbecue of hogs in the Deep South. For ‘water’, he looks at meals cooked in a pot. ‘Air’ is bread, and ‘earth’ is foods relying on the action of microorganisms (e.g. fermentation to make alcohol or acidification to make cheese).
It’s an interesting and enjoyable book. A rambling, meandering, thoughtful piece about what food means to us as humans. But, unlike his other work, it doesn't really have one central point or idea that he’s trying to prove.
For this reason, it comes over as being slightly contrived and a bit aimless. You can’t help thinking that Pollan needed to write another book and was a bit stuck for a central idea, and then he thought about the four elements and that was good enough. The result is a Sunday Supplement magazine article that stimulates your appetite, but doesn't really bite like his earlier works. But it’s a best seller, so what do I know? In any case, it’s good enough to deserve a listen, so go ahead.
This book was not as transformative a listen as Botany of Desire, but I really enjoyed it and found myself talking about it a lot with friends. (always a good sign) It made me want to get into my kitchen on a weekend and experiment with long-ago clipped recipes. Very enjoyable.
I am an English teacher in China and can now read and write some Chinese.I have been to 13 countries on 4 continents.I am an avid audiophile
Botany of Desire made me think about our close relationship to food and Omnivore's Dilemma was laid out so we could follow an entire meal from garden or farm to the table. In this book Michael plots the history of cooking from its primitive inception to the present. We learn that it is cooking that truly separates us from animals. He goes through barbeque, boiling, fermenting and distilling. Michael makes us think we should all go out and try our hands at some old fashion craft like baking bread or brewing beer for the sheer joy of making something we have come to expect prepackaged at the supermarket. I also happen to agree with Michael that Americans seem to want to watch cooking shows,but not to engage in cooking. This summer I suggested my friends and I cook something at home. It seemed to me like people want to go out just for the opportunity to all eat something different. I love the idea of sharing different techniques and personal feeling I get from eating a friends food or seeing what they think of my creations. America's kitchen all seems to come from a box or a can. Now that I live in China I have tried my hand at things like hummus or soup. We don't have Campbell's here. This is another great work, but I still feel like Omnivore's Dilemma was his best. It made me think about how industrialize food has become.As our time strapped world wants everything in an instant; we become a world that loses appreciation for the preparation of wholesome and delicious food and the skills to bring out its inherent flavor.
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
I actually listened to this last year, but am only now getting around to reviewing it. So, let's just say I was letting this review pickle.
In Cooked Michael Pollan stays close to his food roots. Similar in theme to: Omnivore's Dilema (Four Meals), In Defense of Food (Food Manifesto), Botany of Desire (Four Plants), Food Rules (Owner's Manual for Food), and Second Nature (Growing Food).
Cooked is just another branch on the Phylogenetic food tree for the Pollan's Omnivore, me thinks. Unless, of course, Pollan is going to delve into the proper way to digest, poop, or compost your waste. And... he might just.
I am neither a Pollan lover or hater. I've read a bunch of his stuff because it is fast and rather tasty. The problem with Pollan is reading too much of him. His books are a bit full of roughage and eventually too much of his raw idealism or fiber-rich localism gets to you.
I think that is the problem with idealists and their genius (genus?). No one can quite live upto the expectations. There just isn't that many locally grown mushrooms, or farmer's markets, or grass-fed organic beef. But education about farming, feasting, and cooking gives us a better sense of both the idea and the real. As long as we are aware of the costs of the way we eat and the way we cook, we are better than we started. The probelm comes in when we believe ALL the hype. As long as you can remain pragmatic about food and Pollan, reading him is a good thing.
I loved the description of slow roasting pork and the love of the process of fermentation in pickles, beer and baking. This book inspired me to make some mead, for which I am very grateful, thank you, Michael.
I generally love Michael's work and enjoyed this book as I expected I would but I am already a food and brewing aficionado so I already know how to brew, bake, ferment and roast, but not to the same extremes. I do not like finicky, faddish cooking so I was relieved to see how Michael focused on the real aspects of real, good, life-giving food.
For anyone who is wanting to go on a gastronomical journey throughout their lives with understanding and intention, this is probably an excellent place to start.
First off, I'm a total Michael Pollan fan. I first read "Food Rules" many years ago, which made so much sense that it became the springboard for my becoming vegan, a lifestyle that has lasted and lasted. Each and every one of his books has rekindled my commitment to stay away from processed foods and the other over-manufactured foods on the grocery shelves.
"Cooked" takes the next step. Pollan uses the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) to show us the delights of home cooking and the benefits therein. While I don't eat meat, I still enjoyed his adventures thru barbeque and braising (without any desire to try the foods he cooked), but it was his adventures into bread baking and fermentation that really spurred my imagination.
Pollan, a polished and award winning writer, takes the under-recognized elements of food and nutrition and makes them mystical. For example, the intricate interplay of microbes used in bread baking become characters in the drama of the baked loaf. He has an understanding of the interrelationship between food and society that made me sit back and sigh. Yes, it's all so clear now.
This is a very special book ... a perfect companion to Michael Moss' "Salt Sugar Fat." We can turn the current health crisis around if we listen to these sages of food.
I could write more, but I need to go punch down the bread dough that is rising in the kitchen....
I'm sure this book will be seriously enjoyed by many people, just not me. I've read a few other Michael Pollan books, and found them so interesting. This one seriously bored me -- I just could not continue reading. Just seems like so much bloated overthinking.
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