Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Michael Pollan

Whipping up a constant firestorm of criticism from the giants who marshal the industrial food system, the infamous Michael Pollan is at it again in Cooked, his new visionary statement on what could be the food revolution (move over Naked Chef).

Divvied up according to the four classical elements of fire (barbeque), wind (bread), water (braising), and earth (fermenting), Cooked is a well-researched, intricately woven call to sharpen your knife, power down your pad/pod/device, and venture into the heart of darkness: your home kitchen.

Aware and appropriately apologetic about the gender implications of any “return to the kitchen” statement, Pollan embarks on a thoughtfully curated series of one-on-one cooking “classes” with food leaders that will help to secure his point.

Calling on the greatnesses of Ed Mitchell (a pit-master legend in the whole-hog roasting world from North Carolina), Samin Nosrat (an Iranian-born, Chez Panisse-trained chef), Chad Robertson (surfer/yeast-whisperer and proprietor of the sourdough bread baking institution Tartine in California), and Sandor Katz (long regarded as the father of ferments), Pollan sharpens his investigative journalism teeth by biting into these gnarly realms of food preparation.

His point: by cooking at home from real ingredients, you have a very real opportunity to bypass the global industrial food system, improve your health, and, ultimately, build community.

The pearl in this book isn’t so much Pollan’s musings on his newly acquired cooking techniques, but his powerful and clear discourse on the state of the larger global food system that’s currently at play. Detailing the intricacies behind the production of a raw milk cheese may not have you buying a cow, but it will enlighten you about how to practice patience and be present for your onion dicing.

Alas, any effort I make to have you spend time reading this book is, in itself, counter to Pollan’s own assertion that we need to spend more quality time in the kitchen. But if you’re challenged by the task of cooking for yourself, this should be required reading over the summer. For heaven’s sake, any work that helps to fight the industry responsible for this run-amok system of “food-like-substance” manufacturing is time well spent!

- Christopher Jess

Christopher Jess is a trained chef who now runs a high school culinary arts program in Fergus. A great admirer of Pollan, he’s built much of his curriculum around Pollan’s work and is planning to host a Michael Pollan-themed dinner series this July and August as tribute.

Michael Pollen will be reading at the University of Guelph on September 14 as part of the Eden Mills Writers' Festival.

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