How to Cook Everything

Review: The Minimalist with Mark Bittman

The Minimalist with Mark Bittman

I finally got a little more quality time with the Cooking Channel so I am attempting to review several of the shows I have not seen.  This time around The Minimalist.

Mark Bittman is one of the more respected food writers in the country.  He has nearly two dozen cookbooks to his credit highlighted by his popular How to Cook Everything (available at amazon) series, another food show (PBS’ Spain – On The Road Again) with Iron Chef Mario Batali and a long running column that was one of the few reasons to read the tabloid known as the New York Times.   The name of that column?  The Minimalist Apparently Bittman is such a minimalist that he figured why bother coming up with a new name.

According to the Cooking Channel web site:

With Cooking Channel’s The Minimalist, beloved food journalist and celebrated New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman brings his expertise to your kitchen with his tried-and-true recipes. From finger foods and soups to ethnic and Asian fare, Mark shares his clear and simple techniques that have made him an iconic name in American kitchens.

The show is about what I expected from Bittman.  A straight forward stand-and-stir that is low on flash but high on content.    Bittman has a calm energy that instills you confidence and a dependable knowledge of the kitchen.  He also has a dry wit (like most New Yorkers) that creeps in every now and then and if you aren’t careful you might miss it.

If you are a home cook looking to up your game The Minimalist is a prime show for helping you get to the next level.  It airs Sundays at 10:30am ET on the Cooking Channel.

Review: The Saucier’s Apprentice

Originally posted on July 17, 2008.

sap.jpgOne of the hot new genres among nonfiction publications is the “culinary adventure.” The formula is simple really, a chef or restaurant critic takes a vacation where they do nothing but experience wonderful cuisine and along the way they learn a little something about life. Perhaps we should call it Foodie Literature because it is nurtured by the fact that America’s palate is finally awakening. Recently I got a chance to read my first “culinary adventure” when I received a copy of the Saucier’s Apprentice (W.W. Norton, New York) by Bob Spitz.

Spitz is neither a chef nor a food critic. No, Bob Spitz is something we don’t get to review here often, a “serious” author. I say that tongue and cheek of course – for many years, food writers were looked down upon by novelists. They were lumped into a subspecies alongside sports journalists and the lady who does the advice column. Anyone who has ever read Jeffrey Steingarten knows that food writers are serious authors.

Spitz is the award-winning author of Barefoot in Babylon, Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!, and the New York Times bestseller The Beatles. He has written for virtually every important magazine and newspaper in the country. But he does not have a formal culinary background and perhaps that is what makes his tale so companionable. Because it is so much like that of every other American who has fallen victim to gastronomy.

The story begins with his personal life in shambles – the eight years of travel and research for The Beatles has cost him a marriage and his current romance is a house of cards. The only things keeping him from falling apart altogether are his love for haute cuisine and his daughter, Lily, of whom he writes:

At least my daughter gave me strength. Most nights, I still cooked for Lily, and most mornings I sent her off to school with a lunch bag full of leftovers, the most gratifying moments of my day. Only eleven years old, Lily was a chef’s ideal at the table, game for trying all my crackpot creations. She was the only kid I knew who’d attack garlicky escargots, a seared foie gras, or a dozen raw oysters with fearless relish . . .

The fervor of his burgeoning foodieness manifested itself through his regular Friday-night dinners in which friends and loved ones from the city would venture to his cozy Connecticut cottage for an evening of conversation and Epicureanism. It was at just such a party that he receded from the political debate, withdrawing inwardly to evaluate the meal, his romance, his life. The others raved about the food but he knew that he had missed the mark. He looked at his girlfriend, Carolyn, who thought of food, like so many Americans, as nothing more than fuel, a necessary evil, and realized something was missing. He then announced to the table, “I’m going to Europe, to learn how to cook.”

Over the course of three months, he traveled through France and then Italy, attending classes at a multitude of cooking schools. Some were designed to humor American tourists, at which he encountered more than one brain-dead trophy wife or wannabe Martha Stewart. Some were serious schools where lessons were not just learned but ingested.

He worked in the kitchens of everything from French culinary icons like Le Moulin de Mougins to a tiny family-run trattoria on the Amalfi Coast. He cooked side by side with the likes of Bruno Söhn, Alain Llorca, and Kate Hill. Along the way he transformed from a novice trying to impress beyond his means to a world-class cook, and as mentioned above, he learned a little something about life.

In Apprentice, Spitz manages to capture the essence of each province without sounding like a Mobil Travel Guide. Images burst off the page in full color, allowing you to clearly see the blinding speed of a chiffonade. At times you can almost feel the sensual effect garlic has on the olfactory senses when it hits a hot pan of fruity olive oil. In a word it is captivating.

I found the text most compelling whenever I sensed a change of scenery. I read with absolute anticipation for his descriptions of the legendary locals of cooking Provence, Tuscany, Paris, Naples – I saw them all through Spitz’s eyes. My only regret, why not a month in Spain or a few weeks in the Greek Isles?

On the back cover, Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything, says of the Saucier’s Apprentice, “Just like Spitz: personal, clever, witty, enthralling, and lovable. Why he didn’t invite me along, I’ll never know.”

I feel like he did.

Photo courtesy of W. W. Norton.

ICA: Flay vs Torres

Another rerun.  I guess we won’t get any new ICA’s until after NFNS and Next Iron Chef 3 are done.  Too bad as it is still the best food contest on TV by a mile.  Why?  Because it is the only one that is just about food.  Here’s what reality-tv-online.com had to say about Flay vs. Torres:

sue torres on wannabetvchef.comTonight was an “Iron Chef America” challenge between Chef Sue Torres and Iron Chef Bobby Flay. The secret ingredient was bananas. The judges were author Mark Bittman (a first time judge on ICA), Isabel Gonzalez (from InStyle magazine), and fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. Where are Ted Allen and Jeffrey Steingarten? I miss them!

Iron Chef Flay presented five dishes: plantain crusted snapper (which Isaac said was complex and delicious), banana curry (which Isabel felt was too sweet but Mark disagreed), plantain tamale, banana dessert duo (which Isaac felt was too salty), and banana sundae.

Chef Torres also presented five dishes: plantain tacos with tuna (Isabel though the plantain was the perfect receptacle), tacos al pastor (Isaac felt the flavors were delicious but questioned whether the pork was undercooked), plantain gordita, plantain crusted halibut (which Isaac raved was the best dish of the night), and caramelized bananas.

CAUTION: Beyond here there be spoilers.

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Flay                              Torres
Taste: 26                       Taste: 23
Plating: 12                     Plating: 12
Originality: 14                Originality: 13
Total: 52                       Total: 48

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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