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
Michael Pollan joins Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal and Dick Cavett as an author who can read his own work well. This makes his insightful book well worth the listen. Mr. Pollan shifts well between the philosophy and history of cooking with his own explorations and anecdotes. It is a nice idea well executed.
Michael Pollan has written another book that I enjoyed and found interesting. He has delved deeply into the preparation of food and what that means to me as a physical as well as social animal.
His easy delivery is a pleasure to listen to and what he is saying is fascinating.
Where he explains the chemistry of our food and how it changes as it cooks was easy to follow for a layman. The cultural significance of how and why we cook is also really interesting.
I listened to Fat,Sugar, Salt before this book and this was a good dovetail ...
It's about time we paid closer attention to what we eat
In his wonderfully mellow, yet engaging performance, Mr. Pollan takes us through the details of a handful of cooking journeys, from barbeque to breadmaking to cheese, kimchi and more. A terrific listen. All that was missing, understandably, was the ability to actually taste what he was telling us about.
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.
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.
Pollan's unique and rich storytelling style truly made this audiobook experience special, on top of his incredible writing of the book to begin with
I loved hearing about his experiences exploring BBQ and learning the ropes himself. I loved how he tied in the use of fire in ritual.
Hearing him read his own writing, it made the book more personal and intimate than just reading it.
I have already listened to it again.
Everything looks palatable and acceptable against a background of beautiful food and its seductive description. This book is perfect for readers who want to read about food - and about life in context to food. Michael Pollan so cleverly touches upon myriad 'touchy' issues such as religion, gender, as well as our present day lives.
Pollan describing his family's microwave night experiment...
Oh after listening to him, I feel all authors should try reading their own books. He brought so much life to the book. Also, only he knew what tone he meant the written words in the book to be read in...if that makes sense.
About how humans justify animal sacrifice
As both a Biologist &, a cook, I enjoyed hearing the science (& history) behind various cooking methods, the ways in which we humans have found our way to all the various foods, recipes, ferments that so many cultures enjoy. Evolution plays a large part in the story.
As a child I remember asking my "non-foodie" parents why & how people came up with so many cuisines (each culture, having its own signature foods/dishes, etc.). This book (finally) provides answers to some of those questions. Bravo to Pollan. His research (sometimes, hands-on, is Solid!).
Pollan is easy to listen to, likely because it's obvious from his voice, he cares about this subject (otherwise, he likely wouldn't have bothered to write a book on it).
Ah ha moments abound!
An Excellent title for ANYONE who eats! ;)
Just like his other books this book is both highly informative and greatly entertaining. I can't get enough. It's kind of a foodie's gonzo journalism where Pollan's experience and reflections are part of the education. Pollan does do a fine job as narrator, but I do miss Scott Brick the narrator of Omnivore's Dilemma! Scott is like drinking your first ever IPA. At first it's off-putting, and then after a couple you can't wait for another.
This book answered many questions for me, and gave me the opportunity to discover previously unappreciated aspects of food and cooking, as well as the nuts and bolts mechanics of how food goes from raw ingredients to a great meal. I particularly enjoyed the way he divided the topics to correspond to preparation. I actually came away feeling like I could, and should, attempt some of the more advanced cooking techniques that he describes. Extremely well written and as entertaining as it is informative!
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