Knowledge is power

By Cuisine3 Minutes
August 15, 2018By Cuisine
Samin Nosrat

Chez Panisse co-founder Alice Waters (her old boss), Michael Pollan (her former writing teacher and cooking student), and UK chef Yotam Ottolenghi are among those who have lauded Samin Nosrat’s debut title, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, with the latter saying Nosrat had “managed to summarise the huge and complex subject of how we should be cooking in just four words”.

In March, Nosrat travels to New Zealand for the first time, appearing at Writers & Readers in Wellington, part of the New Zealand Festival, where she’ll be in conversation with Annabel Langbein and Martin Bosley about the politics of what we put on our plates, and, with author and activist Marianne Elliott, appraise the four elements for which her book is named.

Speaking by phone from California, Nosrat recalls a childhood obsession with the Land of the Long White Cloud, sparked – somewhat incongruously – by her first trip abroad to visit family in Iran. That summer, she ran out of books to read, and, in desperation, devoured a title about New Zealand at a relative’s home. As a teen, she says, “I think I had a whole imaginary life where I thought I would move there.”

Nosrat – who worked in restaurants for almost 12 years from age 19, cutting her teeth at Chez Panisse – stopped cooking full-time in 2009, transitioning into teaching and writing the tome that the Sunday Times named one of its books of the year. The premise of Samin’s book was to put on paper the institutional knowledge chefs take for granted, explaining not only how to, for instance, prepare and cook a steak to exact its utmost exquisiteness, but the science behind why the meat should be seasoned, seared and rested in such a way. Her goal is to equip readers with the knowledge – and confidence – to cook without using a recipe.

Samin is inevitably asked what her specialty is. “It’s the question every cook gets,” she says, with something like compassion mixed with exasperation. “I’m not a doctor; I’m a cook. It’s my job to cook everything, and make it taste good.”

/ BRITT MANN *Samin Nosrat appears at NZ Festival Writers & Readers in Wellington on March 9 and 10.