"The key to enjoying cooking is embracing simplicity.
Simplicity in food is honesty, warmth, pleasure, modesty, even fairness. Simplicity in cooking is ease and grace."
Mark Bittman, the author of James Beard Award-winning How to Cook Everything (aka The Gospel According to Mark ) , as well as several other cookbooks and a popular New York Times column, is an oasis of sanity in the increasingly overwrought world of the food media.
He is not a celebrity chef, he does not own a restaurant and has never worked in one; he doesn't even insist on a gas stove in his kitchen.
"I have an electric stove, Formica counters, I have a Magic Chef refrigerator and a really old dishwasher. It doesn't matter. I have good knives. I have good cutting boards. I have decent skillets, but not great. It's bullshit. When people say to me: how can you cook in that kitchen? I say: it's heat. If you can't cook with heat, you can't cook."
Bittman has had a number of odd jobs, but spent nearly 20 years as a journalist covering a variety of subjects before turning to food writing. He now has a weekly column in The New York Times called The Minimalist, in which he puts forth a single recipe with minimal ingredients.
--January Magazine interview, August 2000
I have had long rather heady discussions with some of my well-educated food friends about whether I'm cutting too many corners...But I like to strip things back so that someone will try them -- someone will try a dish and say -- "this is really good." Rather than see the recipe and "say, Oh, I don't have half of those ingredients." And an example of that is a recipe that I did this summer for bread salad. (...)I made bread salad eight or ten times before I published it in the paper and each time I took an ingredient out. And I was satisfied with it when it was tomatoes, bread, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice. I was perfectly satisfied with it. And people said to me, well you know you're missing nuances here. And I said I know I am. I know it could be better but this is a recipe that people will make. And that's the goal is to get people to make it once, and then let them worry about how to make it better.
There are millions of cookbooks out there that can show you how to make the perfectly traditional bread salad. I just wanted to show people how to make a bread salad.
--Interview with Linda Wertheimer on All Things Considered (National Public Radio), November 19, 1998
And this is exactly the point--there are hundreds, even thousands, of gorgeous cookbooks out there that you can spend thirty or forty dollars on and put on your shelf and impress your friends with. But, when you go to make something out of them you get as far as about the third ingredient and realize no one within fifty miles of you has ever even seen a cardoon. So you give up and get out another box of Kraft Dinner.
But with How To Cook Everything or the Minimalist books, you might actually try making something like a bread salad, something you've never heard of, because you look in the fridge and realize, yeah, I have all of those things. So you make it, and like he says, then you think about what else you could add to make it better, or maybe you go look it up and find the perfect, traditional version and next time you go to the store you might remember to pick up some capers or anchovies and see how that is.
I don't mean to get all worked up about this, but really, after the last roommate I had who basically subsisted on a diet of kale and overcooked spaghetti, I realized how many people don't know that with a very small effort they can actually eat good food that is good for them.
Bittman is also developing a television show that is scheduled to air on PBS sometime in 2004.
Books by Mark Bittman
This book has also been broken into five smaller books for more specialized audiences, though I don't really see the point:
The Minimalist Cooks at Home: Recipes That Give You More Flavor from Fewer Ingredients in Less Time
The Minimalist Cooks Dinner
The Minimalist Entertains
Simple to Spectacular: How to Take One Basic Recipe to Four Levels of Sophistication (with Jean Georges Vongerichten)
Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking
Leafy Greens: An A-To-Z Guide to 30 Types of Greens Plus 200 Delicious Recipes
- How to Cook Everything: The Basics
- How to Cook Everything: Easy Weekend Cooking
- How to Cook Everything: Quick Cooking
- How to Cook Everything: Holiday Cooking
- How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian Cooking