Resilience Reading Project: Cooked by Michael Pollan

Cooked CoverLast month we had a review of Michael Pollan’s new book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Bill Palladino of Taste the Local Difference. The book is the first selection for the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project and will be discussed next Monday (Feb. 24) from 7 to 9 p.m. in the lower level of Horizon Books.

Read the review of this fascinating book and pick it up if you haven’t read it yet and check out this video featuring Alice Waters, Mario Batali and others talking about the book.

Book Review: Michael Pollan’s Cooked

Bill PalladinoBill Palladino is the director of the Taste the Local Difference program at the Michigan Land Use Institute.

Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation is the first selection for the Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project. The book will be discussed on Feb. 24 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the lower level of Horizon Books in downtown Traverse City, and we are very happy that Bill has shared his review of this relevant and engaging book.

“Alone among the animals, we humans insist that our food be not only ‘good to eat’ —tasty, safe, and nutritious— but also, in the words of Claude Levi-Strauss, ‘good to think,’ for among all the many other things we eat, we also eat ideas.”  

CookedMy first Michael Pollan book, “The Botany of Desire,” was one I instantly fell for. That book casually tossed upon my table the relationship humans have with plants, and reciprocally the relationship they seem to have developed with us. It sounded vaguely alien-esque, so I went off into the void of two of my favorite reading genres: food and sci-fi. It was followed by a succession of other Pollan books through the years, each with the promise of keeping my foodie mind burbling with anticipation.

When “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation” first arrived on the shelves, I instantly bought it with intention to consume it over a few long weekends. As it so often happens, life got in the way and the hardcover with its tempting penne immersion image languished on my bed stand.

Bob Russell

Then a month or so ago my employer, The Michigan Land Use Institute, started a new initiative, “The Bob Russell Resilience Reading Project.” The project honors the memory of a community luminary and his gift to us of a carefully curated reading list he believed could help change the world. “Cooked” is the first book selected for the project.

If you’ve read Pollan’s other books, this one arrives a bit off-camber. It’s not the same rip-out-the-heart, traditional food system skewering we’re used to. “Cooked” starts with a frank admission from Pollan: “Cooking has always been a part of my life, but more like the furniture than an object of scrutiny, much less a passion.”  What he’s saying is that he’s made a career out of talking about food without ever understanding its true relationship personally.

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Michael Ruhlman, an eatdrinkTC interview

Noted food writer Michael Ruhlman is the author and co-author of numerous books on cooking and the craft of the chef including The Making of a Chef, Ratio, Charcuterie (w/ Brian Polcyn), The French Laundry Cookbook (w/ Thomas Keller) and Ruhlman’s Twenty. He was in Traverse City this week for Pigstock TC and I had a chance to sit down with him to talk about cooking, writing and his Traverse City experience.

Michael Ruhlman, photo by Joe Hakim/

Michael Ruhlman, photo by Joe Hakim/

What would you say your job is?

My job is to provide for my family, and I do that by writing books. In the food world, it’s to convey information and to make what I’ve learned in cooking as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. I write about stuff that I don’t know, explore it and find out what it’s all about.

Do you still want to be a novelist?

I just started writing fiction again. I’m a writer by disposition – I just have to write. It’s a physical need and happily I’ve been able to make a living at something I enjoy.

ratio-cookbookYou wrote a book about cooking ratios. What do you think that knowing and understanding the fundamentals of cooking frees a person to do?

With Ratio and Ruhlman’s Twenty, I show that when you know one ratio or one technique, you don’t know one recipe, you know a thousand recipes. All of cooking is about fundamental technique. What Thomas Keller (The French Laundry) does is not that difficult, there’s just a lot of it – a lot of components on the plate. I learned early on that it’s all about technique. I’ve always been exploring that because one of my goals is to get more people cooking. I think the world is better if we cook our own food. We stopped cooking food, and it’s made us sick. I’m trying to counter thoughtless mantras that are put before us like “Fat is bad, fat makes you fat.” Fat is not bad, stupid is bad. We need fat to live on. Too much fat is bad. Read more