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.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
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By Mark on 12-12-14
A bit bland
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.
20 of 20 people found this review helpful
By Michael on 02-05-13
Very enjoyable listen!
Any additional comments?
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!
12 of 12 people found this review helpful