Last year, we featured "How Cooking Can Change Your Life," an animated short based on the work of In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Food Rules author Michael Pollan. If you want more — and the culinarily inclined fans of Pollan, a self-described "liberal foodie intellectual," often can't get enough — have a look at his extended presentation on the same subject above. (If you prefer an audio podcast, you can get an MP3 with audience Q&A and all here.) The talk came as part of an event held at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), which confronts the daunting question of how people can "improve their family’s health and well-being, build communities, help fix our broken food system, and break our growing dependence on corporations." Pollan's recommendation, it may or may not surprise you to hear, comes down to one simple act: cooking.
Of course, anyone who decides to jump into cooking in the 21st century realizes how simple it isn't, or at least how complicated we've made it. Pollan, as luck would have it, realizes this, so today we've rounded up some of his resources that can help you learn to cook better, or indeed cook at all. Surprisingly, the man himself has never written a cookbook. "While I enjoy cooking, I’ll leave the art of perfecting and disseminating recipes to the pros," he writes. "That said, I believe that if you can read, you can cook, and I have a few cookbooks that I use regularly and recommend to those of you wanting good, healthy and basic recipes" -- from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian to Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, and even ("when I have an ingredient I want to use but don’t know what to do with it") epicurious.com.
You can find more Pollan-endorsed food reading, including Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation and Michael Moss' Salt Sugar Fat, on his lists at Omnivoracious and Barnes and Noble. He also offers a roundup of online cooking resources:
- "A few dozen video tutorials on making meals from Great Depression with an amazing woman in her 90s named Clara," including how to make dandelion salad and tomato sauce from scratch.
- "America’s Test Kitchen, publishers of the Cook’s Illustrated magazine, hosts a great Youtube channel" covering skills like cooking and brining dry beans, chopping garlic, and making carnitas.
- Sandor Katz, he of The Art of Fermentation, has videos on just that, starting with basic fermentation and moving on to specific dishes like sauerkraut and kimchi.
- The famous Jamie Oliver "has some nice, basic video instructions" on how to dice an onion and how to cook rice.
- The even more famous Jacques Pépin has made even more videos such as how to make an omelette, how to make crepes, and how to prepare asparagus and other vegetables.
- Chad Robertson, of Tartine, tells you how to "make and fold bread."
- "Chow.com has some good videos on a host of topics," like sterilizing jars for canning and making Italian gnocchi.
- New York Times Magazine recipe tester Jill Santopietro has done her own "series of videos filmed in her tiny New York kitchen."
Pollan's section on cooking classes and other ways to learn to cook, aside from a variety of suggestions of regional institutions, includes these useful options:
- A "free, beautiful book full of recipes that fit a food stamp budget" called Good and Cheap.
- SkillShare, whose "innovative platform allows almost anyone, anywhere to teach a project-based class either online to a global community or offline in their local community. You can search for cooking, brewing or bread baking classes in your region."
- LifeHacker and its "cooking advice, recipes and how to's."
And if you missed it, don't forget to take Pollan's own course "Edible Education," free from UC Berkeley. I like to think he'd second my own advice on the matter: just cook something that sounds good, anything that sounds good, right now. Not that I dare inflict the result on friends and family until I've learned a little more — which is when all those links above come in handy.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.