Samin Nosrat’s Sensual, Compassionate Food Travels in “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

8 Nov by admin

Samin Nosrat’s Sensual, Compassionate Food Travels in “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”

First, there was earth, water, wind, and fire. Then there was salt, fat, acid, and heat. One is tempted to trace an unbroken line from the ancients, deliberating over the elements of the cosmos, to the chef and writer Samin Nosrat, who explains that, “as reliably as the points on a compass,” these four elements of the kitchen have set her “on the path to good food every time I cook.”

Nosrat, who has a James Beard Award and was trained at Alice Waters’s Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, had neurotic home cooks transfixed when she released her first cookbook, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” last year. Authoritative but not despotic, aspirational but still realistic, and endlessly witty, the book invites us to liberate ourselves from the bondage of recipes, and instead to practice a form of cooking that is informed and intuitive, based on her theory of balance. (There are still very good recipes in the book; try the buttermilk-roasted chicken.)

Now “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” is a hit documentary series on Netflix. Each of its four episodes is dedicated to both an element—“Fat is a miracle,” Nosrat says, in the first episode—and a region of the world. Plenty of amateur gourmands, myself included, were already Nosrat fans, but the enthusiasm with which the Netflix show has been received has to do with Nosrat’s uncommon earnestness on camera. It is disarming, and then relieving, to watch someone pledge to her life’s work such unmitigated love.

Nosrat is a sensual host. Speaking effortless Italian, her eyes widen when the raw fat of the Cinta Senese, a Tuscan breed of pig, dissolves on her tongue. Tasting a shard of Parmesan, aged from the milk of the rare vacche rosse, or red cows, she remarks that it brings tears to her eyes. Her nose crinkles when she bites into pungent naranja agria, or sour orange, given to her by a no-nonsense grandmother at a market in the Yucatán Peninsula, where “Acid” is based. Nosrat is a deeply curious historian and empathetic tourist, investigating how the mountain air gives the olive oil its spice in Liguria, and attentively listening as a fifth-generation soy-sauce brewer, Yasuo Yamamoto, coos to his fermenting liquid in Shodoshima, Japan, in “Salt.” (“My microorganisms work harder when someone is watching,” he says.) If her travels arouse a sense of jealousy in you, it’s never stronger than your admiration. You want to be Nosrat’s friend, and not just for a seat at her evening feasts, one of which she holds at her home, in Berkeley, alongside her Iranian mother, for the final episode, “Heat.”

“Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” is a wistful picture of a kind of ecological harmony that’s nearly extinct. A strange flavor lingered after I finished watching. It was sadness, a nostalgia for the unpolluted vistas, and their fruits, which I, idling in the antiseptic aisles of the chain market, have never known. Within our species, there are those who have profaned food sources and those who have respected them. “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” is an ode to the people who worship the edible in the most complete sense. It makes you wish they had won.

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