Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Minimalist

Mark Bittman used to bother the heck out of me. His cooking skills made me cringe (In all candor, I'm not sure mine would look much better on camera.). The thesis of "The Minimalist" , his weekly column in The New York Times, which suggests that anybody can cook anything in under 60 minutes, left me cold. However, lately I have come to admire the quality of his writing, his apparently unabashed confidence in his opinions and his willingness to say things that are uncomfortable. To wit

“People buy food in supermarkets,” said Mr. Bittman. “And they’re gonna buy food in supermarkets. So, it doesn’t matter if they buy good meat at the farmers’ market or good broccoli; what matters is they go to the supermarket and buy good broccoli—or even bad broccoli!—instead of meat.

“The grass-fed beef concept is really great,” he went on, “but if you don’t cut consumption, it doesn’t matter. There’s not enough room for grass-fed beef any more than there’s enough room for imprisoned beef.”

The Making of the Minimalist

9 comments:

The Bad Yogi said...

Maybe a better way to approach his column is: "Anyone can cook SOMETHING in 60 minutes, and here are some suggestions about what that something might be."

redman said...

good job keeping such an open mind, Bob

Bob said...

I've been on something of a Bittman binge myself.

Seeing Jean-Georges Vongerichten with him on his show "Best Recipes in the World" and seeing him with Mario Batali, I realize he's not a great cook.

But his role is more like Jeffrey Steingarten's (a man that my religion alone stops me from worshipping), writing about food itself.

I have his now nearly obsolete book "Fish," which I guess I better use before the rest of the species in his recipes disappear.

Cd said...

If you want to split hairs on the Minimalist philosophy, he should does not claim that anyone can cook anything well...

Bittman's concepts are very sound, even though his technique may not be at a consistently high level. Isn't that the biggest difference between a home cook and a professional cook? The ability to deliver a high quality meal consistently?

Most home cooks can marinade 4 pork chops and throw them on a grill, cook them to perfection, and have a great meal. But none of them can cook 100 a night, every night for a month to perfection.

Cd said...

apologies for the poor grammar... the first paragraph should read 'he should not claim that anyone can cook anything to perfection like a chef'

redman said...

CD,
it's possible you're giving professional cooks more credit than they deserve :) I don't know one that can cook a hundred orders perfectly every night, or even one perfectly every night. The sad truth is that even good cooks have items sent back for being over or under done sometimes.

However, it's important to remember that lots of times it's because the diner doesn't know how to eat, not that the cook is not doing his or her job !!

Bob del Grosso said...

CD
I think if I can make any generalizations about the most importance difference between professional cooks and home cooks is that professional cooks are trained to provide a variety of dishes to a large number of people quickly, while home cooks tend to produce fewer dishes for fewer people. Another difference is that professional cooks tend to break up the construction of dishes into small stages while home cooks tend to do everything within a shorter time frame.

I'm not too sure that pro cooks are generally better at producing good food in any number. I've had far more bad restaurant meals than home cooked ones.

maurarose said...

I've been a Mark Bittman fan for quite a while. It was only after a few years of using "How to Cook Everything" that I started seeing his weaknesses. (And I assume some find his role in popularizing no-knead bread to be an unforgivable crime.) I always have to mess with his recipes, if only because he under-seasons everything. And, despite the title, you can't learn how to cook everything from that book. There are a lot of gaps, often in whatever area I'm researching. :)

But it's an invaluable tool for both experienced cooks and newbies. I love his contention that it's no harder to make a homemade meal than it is to use packaged food. And you can feel his love for the home cook and for food and cooking in general.

I don't read his Times column regularly, so I don't know if his recent columns about the problems with the consumption of beef are a new thing. Whether they are or aren't, I also admire his willingness to say things we might not want to think about. He's an important voice, I believe. I'm glad he's speaking up.

Ulla said...

My biggest issue with Bittman is that he wrote a huge book on cooking fish and only a few years later is talking about how unsustainable fish is. He has no foresight.
His whole anti-meat campaign lacks foresight. I really disagree with him on Grass-fed beef. There is no reason that we could not effectively raise a lot of grass-fed beef at a reasonable cost. It is in fact a lot cheaper(sans subsidies) then feeding them corn and other crap. Our grass-lands out west and in the Midwest are starting to become deserts. Rotational grazing could save the prairie and the west and provide us with high quality heart- healthy meat. His anti-meat talk gets me in a tizzy.
:)