Deep Food

I've enjoyed Michael Pollan even since he was writing about gardening for Harper's, back in the 1990s. I even wrote him a fan letter (one of the very few I've ever written) about his 1998 book "A Place of My Own," and got a very nice note back. In that text he exhibited the approach that has served him so well since he turned his attention to food: find experts, spend time with them, and try to do what they do. This modus operandus is an evolution of John McPhee's path-breaking approach of finding and profiling experts on various subjects to tell a compelling story about that subject. Pollan goes farther in being willing and eager to get his hands dirty. 

"Cooked" is the apotheosis of this approach. Pollan dives into whole-hog barbecue, sourdough bread creation, braising and fermented foods (that is, Fire, Air, Water and Earth -- the four principle means by which we tranform foods). I learn a lot when I read Pollan -- he's very good at making science accessible -- but sometimes he gets too cute by half. I grew quite irritated by his parenthetical asides and wink-wink at the reader. That's a mild complaint, though, compared to the the pleasure I took in, say, the sourdough section. He takes about 40 pages to get through creating a sourdough starter and a great loaf, and the writing was good enough that I found myself reading bits aloud to my wife, a gluten-free eater who said he has convinced her to try bread again. At times like this Pollan gets close to the level of Adam Gopnik, who remains the smartest food writer I know.