How I Taught My Brother To Cook

Improvisational Tuscan-Provençal-Catalan Cookery (and other good stuff to eat)

In The New York Times July 2, 2011 Op-Ed page, Mark Bittman makes his case for homecooking vis-a-vis going out to a restaurant.


 Read the article here.


Some quotes extracted here if you don't have time for the whole article. It's what Patrick and I base our personal food culture on, what this website is all about, and what our book (How I Taught My Brother to Cook) teaches.


Here's Bittman:


"Not long ago, cooking was a common topic. Weekly food sections of newspapers were filled with it. Churches self-published cookbooks by the pile. There were even real cooking shows and cookbooks.

Now, if it weren’t for the vibrant but dwindling community of bloggers, we’d hardly see actual cooking discussed at all. There are but a fraction of the food pages there once were in newspapers, and most cookbooks are offshoots of TV “cooking” shows, almost all of which are game shows, reality television shows or shows about celebrities."



Like many professional urbanites with grown children, I often succumb to the temptation to work late and eat out with friends. That experience, effortless and pleasurable in anticipation, is usually expensive — even when it’s at a theoretically inexpensive restaurant — and frustrating; more often than not it’s unsatisfying. (Note that this means it’s also sometimes satisfying, which is why I keep doing it; it’s a gamble.)

When I cook, though, everything seems to go right. I shop an average of every two weeks in a supermarket, and make a couple of trips a week to smaller stores. I’m aware that my choices are mostly imperfect, but I rarely conclude that I should make a burger and fries for dinner or provide a pound per person of prison-raised pork served with fruit from 10,000 miles away, followed by a cake full of sugar and artificial ingredients. Yet, for the most part, that describes restaurant food."


"Compared with a restaurant, the frustrations and annoyances [of home cooking] are minimal, the food is as good or better-tasting, unquestionably healthier and more environmentally friendly, and much less expensive. Saturday night, for example, I fed four people a dinner of nuts, a small frittata, fish, salad and watermelon for far less than two of us would have spent at Applebee’s."



But these are shopping questions, not cooking and eating questions. Shopping is the time to be critical. (Eating is the time to enjoy.) Buy things that you feel answer to your standards, and you’ll be a cut above most restaurant food in every category. You’ll know exactly what you’re putting in your mouth and how much of it. (Who buys 20-ounce steaks for one person at home?) You’ll move in the right direction, cooking and eating less meat and junk and more plants.

In most restaurants, the questions are pointless because you relinquish all control. At McDonald’s, the main goals seem to involve making the food safe and consistent, not producing it ethically. (They would surely argue with this, and, perhaps, they’ve made some progress. But really?) In pricier restaurants, the goal seems to be to impress you with presentation, originality and glamour.

I recognize that I’m privileged, though, in fact, I have friends who are better cooks than I am, who have access to better food and who have more leisure. I recognize, too, that there are many people for whom time and money and skills and even access are challenges. The thing, though, is not to discount this argument simply because not everyone is in a position to benefit from it, but rather to use it to benefit those it can, and to create the same possibilities for everyone."

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Comment by Jonathan Louie on July 5, 2011 at 11:27am
Thanks for the link, John and Pat. Another aspect on the restaurant vs. making at home discussion is the role marketing plays in our daily lives as Americans. A restaurant is a business. It can't survive if a high volume of you don't walk through their door. Repeat customers is "good business". What they are serving is a product engineered to make you crave more. What do humans crave? Fat, sugar, salt. Are those things evil? Low-quality fat, sugar and salt foods are cheap. For example, it's very expensive for a restaurant to buy and to get the the table, vegetables or fruit that are ripe when picked, and then convey though the distribution process, though their larders, and to the diner. So in order to give that vibrant taste of ripeness without them breaking their bank, most enterprises spiff up their dishes with unnecessary stuff we would never allow in our kitchens, but are completely necessary to make you the customer feel like going back again through their door -- transfats, msg, white sugar, etc. True, the best restaurants have you pay through the nose to eat as well as you would at your own dining room table with simple real food -- but really, how often do we eat at those great restaurants? Also, on a whole other note, there is no art in taking out your credit card, or choosing a restaurant. What fun is that compared with when you have a whole palette of ingredients, cookware, cooking methods, at your fingertips, in your kitchen or garden calling to you to improvise and to experiment?


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