How to cook with­out a recipe

Samin Nos­rat is TV’S most like­able chef and she’s rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the old in­struc­tional cook­ing show genre

Saturday Star - - L I F E S T Y L E FO OD -

THERE’S a per­fect word that sums up ev­ery­thing about Net­flix’s new cook­ing show, Salt Fat Acid Heat, and it emerges over a meal that the star, Samin Nos­rat, is en­joy­ing with her hosts in Ja­pan, where she has just learned the tra­di­tional way of mak­ing soy sauce. As they tuck into some chicken and rice balls, the el­derly woman who has helped pre­pare the meal laments that the rice balls are not the per­fect shape. “The thing I love is wabi-sabi, that hand­made qual­ity that makes it hu­man,” Nos­rat told her host, us­ing the Ja­panese term for find­ing beauty in im­per­fec­tion.

Wabi-sabi is one of the things that makes Salt Fat Acid Heat, named for the four fac­tors of suc­cess­ful cook­ing and her cook­book of the same name, re­mark­able.

The show and its star ex­ude it. It is Net­flix’s first in­struc­tional cook­ing show, and it doesn’t look any­thing like the rest of that genre, which is too of­ten the do­main of cheer­ful do­mes­tic god­desses in glossy, pol­ished kitchens. It’s also a travel show – Nos­rat takes her view­ers to a dif­fer­ent coun­try that ex­em­pli­fies each com­po­nent in the show’s ti­tle – and it doesn’t look any­thing like those shows, which are usu­ally full of brash men eat­ing or­gan meats and throw­ing back beers, ei­ther.

In­stead, it looks like Nos­rat’s life, beau­ti­ful in its im­per­fec­tions.

“It’s funny, when I first started get­ting cuts of the show and I would show my friends… ev­ery­one’s re­ac­tion was, ‘It’s re­ally you!’ Nos­rat said. “I kept ask­ing them, ‘What did you ex­pect me to be?’ And they said, ‘Well, we thought maybe they would glam you up, or you would be act­ing dif­fer­ently, but you’re just act­ing ex­actly like you act’.”

While Nos­rat does not cook the way nor­mal peo­ple cook – she’s much, much bet­ter – she does some of the same things we do. She winces and


cries her way through dic­ing a pile of onions. She makes mis­takes, as she does when mak­ing a loaf of fo­cac­cia, and owns up to them. She throws a din­ner party in her Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, home, and serves her guests roast chicken, and no one drinks out of fancy stemware.

“I’m a to­tal ham, and I have no prob­lem be­ing por­trayed as a per­son who doesn’t know ev­ery­thing,” she said. “I think it’s kind of a teach­ing tool, be­cause if you see that I might mess some­thing up, and yet we keep go­ing and we make some­thing nice, then maybe you’ll feel like you can mess some­thing up.”

And she eats the way real peo­ple eat, even while she’s on cam­era: Some­times tak­ing too big of a bite, so she has to pause and chew be­fore she can speak again. She slurps her pasta. When she eats some­thing she re­ally likes, you can see plea­sure spread across her face – her eye­brows arch and her mouth might pucker, be­fore she smiles. “Wow, wow, wow, wow,” she says, when she eats some Parme­san cheese in Italy, an ex­pe­ri­ence that brings tears to her eyes.

While th­ese are all en­dear­ing and charm­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics for a food show, the thing that truly sets Nos­rat’s show apart from oth­ers in the genre is who she is. She’s a Per­sian-amer­i­can woman host­ing a show in a genre where, usu­ally, the peo­ple who look like her show up to make food for the white host to learn about – if they ap­pear in the show at all.

As for the “stand and stir” in­struc­tional el­e­ment of it, the peo­ple who host those types of shows usu­ally have names like Martha, Paula, Rachael and Ju­lia.

To put it bluntly: Most travel food shows are about white male dis­cov­ery. And most home cook­ing shows are about white fe­male do­mes­tic­ity. Nos­rat gen­tly re­jects all of that.

“There is a re­ally fine line be­tween be­ing the dis­cov­erer and be­ing a cu­ri­ous trav­eller,” she said. Watch­ing de­pic­tions of Per­sian food on TV, “I am very aware of the feel­ing of hav­ing some­thing taken from you, repack­aged, and not be­ing given credit for your own tra­di­tion. And that’s some­thing that I never want to do to some­body else.”

To Page 19

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