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Mark Bittman Explains 'How To Cook Everything'

New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman is known for his straightforward approach to recipes. In How To Cook Everything: Vegetarian, he explains how to make more than 2,000 meatless meals.




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Other segments from the episode on September 1, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 1, 2011: Interview with Harold McGee; Interview with Julia Child; Interview with Mark Bittman.






Fresh Air


12:00-13:00 PM






Unlocking The Mysteries Of Good Cooking


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

We're going to continue our All You Can Eat series with Harold McGee, an

authority on the science of cooking. He writes about subjects like why

people perceive taste differently; how heat moves in cooking, whether

it's an oven or a microwave and how to take advantage of that; why eggs

solidify and how to best cook them or use them in custards and creams;

why some meats are juicier when cooked at a low temperature; why beans

give you gas; and why it's so hard to roast a whole turkey. Wait until

you hear his suggestion of how to solve that problem.

McGee's books can make you a wiser cook or, as in my case, help explain

why you're not a very good one. He's the author of the bestseller "On

Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen." He writes the

Curious Cook column for the New York Times.

Our interview was recorded last year, after the publication of his

latest book, "Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods

and Recipes."

Harold McGee, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. HAROLD McGEE (Author, "Keys To Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the

Best of Food and Recipes"): Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: One of the things I found really interesting about your book that

kind of sounds obvious, but I never thought about it this way before,

you say people perceive flavors differently.

And it's just not - it's not just that we like different things, we're

actually physically equipped differently.

Mr. McGEE: That's right. That's something that we've learned just in the

last, I don't know, 10 or so years. When we taste something, experience

the flavor of something, that involves two of our senses, the sense of

taste, which happens on our tongue, and the sense of smell, which

happens in our nose. And we have receptors on our tongues and in our

nose to detect the chemicals that create flavor, and it turns out that

we all have different sets of receptors and different numbers of


And so some of us are more or less sensitive to some flavors. Some of us

can't perceive flavors, certainly flavors. It's kind of like the flavor

equivalent of colorblindness. And so we all live in different worlds

when it comes to tasting foods.

GROSS: Yeah, you say some people have more taste buds than other people


Mr. McGEE: That's right. Again, this is something that we've only really

known for the last 10 years or so. And it goes a long way, I think, to

explaining why it is that people have such strong opinions about what

they like and don't like and how they can vary so much.

GROSS: And cravings.

Mr. McGEE: Yes, although cravings then gets into psychology, which is a

whole other area of variability and interest.

GROSS: I suppose. So while we're talking about taste, you write that the

best time to season food is shortly before serving it and often, like,

when it's at the serving temperature.

I always thought - see, whenever I read your books, I always learn that

I'm even worse cook than I thought.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Which is saying a lot. But I always figured that if you put in

the spice early, it gives the spice more time to flavor whatever it is

that you're cooking.

Mr. McGEE: Well, that's absolutely true. But it turns out that during

the course of long cooking, with flavors that you've added at the very

beginning, those herbs and spices are modified. Those flavors are

modified, and they do kind of integrate into the dish as a whole, but

they lose some of the freshness that they have when they haven't been

cooked yet.

And so sometimes that's fine. Sometimes, all you want is that kind of

slow-cooked, relaxed, melded flavor. But sometimes you want a little bit

of that herb or spice to be a bit more prominent, a bit more noticeable

on its own. And that's when it's useful to taste at the end and then add

a little bit of whatever it is that you really want to taste to make

sure that it's there.

GROSS: So right before serving?

Mr. McGEE: Yeah, and you're right that doing it at serving temperature

is important because flavor balances change with temperature. Foods

taste different when they're piping hot compared to when they're room

temperature or warm.

And so it's important to wait until the food is around the temperature

that you're going to serve it at and then do the seasoning.

GROSS: While we're talking about spice and flavoring, why is that lemon

juice or vinegar can make flavor brighter? I mean, you say acidity is

especially undervalued as a general flavor booster.

Mr. McGEE: That's right. And it turns out that again, one of the things

we've learned about the experience of flavor is that taste and smell

really work together as a kind of combined sensation for appreciating


And so the aroma of a food can actually be changed by taste elements

like saltiness and acidity. And so it turns out that when we adjust

things like salt and acid, we're actually helping to make the aroma, the

whole experience of the food, that much more vivid.

And salt and acid are the two tastes in particular that help to bring

out all the other components of a food's flavor.

GROSS: Why does salt help enhance a food's flavor? I mean, you don't

smell salt. I don't think you do, anyway.

Mr. McGEE: That's right. So a couple of things happen. One is that salt

changes the chemistry of the food in such a way that it makes aroma

molecules want to leave the food. And strange as it may sound, the more

an aroma molecule, a flavor, wants to leave the food, the more easily we

can perceive it because it has to get up into our nose for us to notice

that it's there.

So salt does that. Salt helps flavors kind of jump out of the food and

into our nose, and so we sense them more vividly.

And the other thing is that it seems to have an effect in the processing

that the brain does to the experience of flavor. If we eat a food that's

got a certain aroma, and it has no salt, our brain registers that and

kind of gives us not much of a sensation.

But if we add a little bit of salt, then the brain seems to be making a

judgment: Well, you know, there's something useful here nutritionally,

and so pay more attention to that flavor. And so the flavor becomes more


GROSS: So is there a difference in terms of how much aroma the salt

releases if you put the salt in while you're cooking or if you just

sprinkle the salt on the salt shaker after the dish is done?

Mr. McGEE: Well, it's true that when you add salt to a food as it's

cooking, it's going to encourage some aroma molecules to leave more

readily than they would otherwise, which means that they end up in the

kitchen air so that the kitchen smells nice while you're cooking, but

the aromas have left the food. And that's maybe not so desirable.

If you add it at the very end, then you don't have that kind of cooking

period loss, and the aroma molecules leave the food when you want them

to leave, which is in the process of eating.

GROSS: And since you value acidity as a flavor booster, and you talk

specifically here about vinegar and lemon, how do you use them in the

cooking process?

Mr. McGEE: Well, at the very end of cooking, when I'm making the last-

minute adjustments to flavor, I simply taste whatever it is, say a pasta

sauce or something like that. And then I actually do go through kind of

a checklist, a mental checklist, because we have only four or five basic


And so I just ask: You know, does this have the right balance of salt?

Does it, could it maybe use a little sugar, a little sweetness not to

make it sweet, obviously sweet, but to just kind of round out the

flavor? And the same with acidity.

Acidity is one of the flavors that is mouthwatering. Acidity makes our

saliva flow, and in the process of eating, that's a very pleasant

experience. That's why we talk about food as being mouthwatering, and

acidity can really contribute to that.

So I just try to run through that checklist and make sure that the sauce

has everything that it needs to taste as good as it can taste.

GROSS: Is acidity more mouthwatering than sugar and sweet?

Mr. McGEE: It is, yeah. It causes more saliva flow, you know, to take

mouthwatering absolutely literally. There are two tastes that are

especially mouthwatering. One is acidity and the other is umami, which

is the flavor, the taste of MSG, which we - it's a Japanese term, umami.

The best translation for it, I think, is savory.

It's again this kind of hard-to-define but mouth-filling, mouthwatering

flavor that you get from things likes aged cheeses, tomatoes, meat

stocks, things like that. And that's especially mouthwatering, as well.

GROSS: You mention MSG. I always think of that as just, like, a chemical

that's thrown in to make cheap food taste tastier.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. McGEE: It is that. It is that, but the reason people add it,

manufacturers add it to food to make it taste better is that they

discovered that it's there in foods naturally, and this is their way of

giving you the flavor of or an aspect of the flavor of tomato or

parmesan cheese without actually giving you a tomato or parmesan cheese.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Harold McGee. He writes

about the science of food and cooking, and his new book is called "Keys

To Good Cooking."

So you write about how heat moves in cooking, to help us better

understand the principles of what makes our food taste especially good

or what kills the flavor and makes everything tough and bad. So what are

some of the basic principles we should know about how heat moves in


Mr. McGEE: Well, the most important thing in the case of something like

meat - meat and fish, and actually eggs and any protein food which is

especially sensitive to heat - is that we're trying to reach

temperatures inside the food around 150 degrees Fahrenheit, something

like that.

And of course, when we're cooking in an oven, the temperatures on the

thermostat go up to 500 degrees, and we're often cooking at 350 or 400,

which is much higher than that 150 that we're aiming for in the center

of the food.

So what that means is that it's very easy to overcook. We're always

using higher temperatures to cook foods than we're actually aiming for

in the centers of the foods themselves. And so it's good to realize

that, and realizing that helps you appreciate the value of low-

temperature cooking.

So you can get some great flavor on a roast, for example, by starting it

at a high temperature in the oven to get some nice browning on the

outside surface of the roast.

But then what you want to do is turn the heat way, way down so that you

cook the meat through much more gently and have a bigger window of

opportunity when the meat is the correct temperature inside, which is

much lower than the cooking temperature.

GROSS: Now why should you start with a high heat as opposed to ending

with a high heat?

Mr. McGEE: That's a very good question. If you sear the meat at the very

beginning, you get the high-temperature cooking out of the way, and then

you can cook as a gentle temperature just as long as you need in order

to get the center just right.

If you do it the other way around, if you cook gently until the center

is just right and then brown at the very end, then you risk, if you

overdo the browning, overcooking the inside. So it is actually

practically easier, I think, to do the high-temperature cooking at the


GROSS: Yeah, well, because I'm always in such a hurry, I've murdered a

lot of meals by, you know, just turning up the heat real high, figuring

it's going to cook faster this way.

Mr. McGEE: Yeah, yeah, and it does. If you're cooking at a high

temperature, then it's true that the food is cooking through faster, but

it's much harder to put on the brakes and stop it at just the right

point, and that's why you end up usually overcooking.

GROSS: So the principle here is that you want to pour in the amount of

heat into the food that can be conducted into the center of the food

because otherwise, the outside's going to get tough and burned before

the inside gets hot?

Mr. McGEE: That's right. That's another part of the story. And so

ideally, what you would do is cook the meat at a very high temperature

to begin with, get a nice flavor on the outside, and unfortunately,

that's the only way to get that wonderful browned, roasted flavor is

with very high temperatures.

But then turn the temperature down almost to the temperature at which

you want the meat to end up on the inside because that way, there's no

way to overcook it. If you're shooting for 150 on the inside, and you

cook it at 155, for example, then you're going to have a much better

result than if you cook it at 350 all the way through and end up with

part of the meat, much of the meat in fact, that's overcooked, and only

the very center will end up at just the temperature you're looking for.

GROSS: Okay, so you're talking about the low-temperature, slow form of

cooking meat. But if you look at the Chinese form of cooking, cooking

that's done in the wok is done on a very rapid process. So are they

using a different principle?

Mr. McGEE: Yeah, they are. They're cutting the meat up into very small

pieces that cook through in seconds. And they start with a very hot wok.

The wok is much hotter than the hottest oven is going to be.

And so what happens there is that you preheat the wok very hot, through

in these small pieces of meat that only take 15 or 20 seconds to cook

through, and that's about the same time that it takes for the outside to

brown because of the very high temperature.

And so they hit the perfect balance by means of the strategy, very high

temperature, very small pieces, very quick cooking.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Harold McGee. He writes

about the science of food and cooking, and he has a new book, which is

called "Keys To Good Cooking." Let's take a short break here, and then

we'll talk some more.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Harold McGee. He writes

about the science of food and cooking, and he has a new book, which is

called "Keys To Good Cooking."

Do you ever use a microwave, and if so, what do you use it for?

Mr. McGEE: I do use a microwave a fair amount, and I use it for all

kinds of things. Microwaves are another very efficient way to heat foods

because they are generally absorbed most efficiently by water.

And so you can put a ceramic container into a microwave oven, and it

will absorb very little of the energy. Most of the energy goes into the

food itself.

And it turns out when studies have been done on retaining vitamins in

vegetables, for example, that microwave ovens do a much better job than

boiling or even steaming. It's a very good, very quick way to heat

foods, and I do cook vegetables in the microwave.

I cook thin fish fillets in the microwave in just a matter of a minute

or so. It's also a reasonable way to cook something like polenta, which

traditional recipes would have you stand at the stovetop and drizzle the

- bring the pot to a boil and then drizzle the polenta grains slowly

into the pot, stirring all the time to make sure they don't stick to

each other and so on.

In a microwave, you just mix cold water, polenta, put them in the

microwave, turn on the microwave, and basically the polenta grains swell

and absorb the water as they heat up, and you end up with - without

having to worry about all the usual things that you worry on the

stovetop, and you get a very nice polenta.

GROSS: I'm so surprised to hear that you maintain more of the nutrition

of vegetables in a microwave than if you're cooking it on top of a stove

because, you know, most people think of microwaves of, like, zapping the

food and just basically killing it, convenient but not nutritious. And

you're saying the opposite.

Mr. McGEE: Right, and that's - I have to say that of course you can cook

vegetables badly in the microwave by overdoing them, but if you cook

them with as much care as you would cook them boiling for example, so

checking them every once in a while to see what the color looks like and

whether they're, you know, just done, just past crunchy, it does turn

out that because the process is so rapid, microwaves will kill enzymes

in the vegetables that actually degrade the nutritional value.

So if you heat green beans, for example, the - as the temperature goes

up, there are enzymes in the beans that will essentially use up the

Vitamin C that's in those green beans, and if you let the enzyme do

that, it'll do it until there's almost none left.

But enzymes are sensitive to heat, and if you put them in boiling water

and keep the water at the boil, you kill those enzymes and maintain much

of the Vitamin C. The same thing is true in a microwave, where the

energy is going straight into the food immediately, and so it kills

those enzymes very quickly as well but without the problem you have in

boiling of nutrients being leeched out into the water.

In a microwave, you just - often you don't need to add any water at all,

otherwise maybe a tablespoon, and there's no cooking medium in which to

lose the nutritional value. So it stays in the food.

GROSS: In writing about vegetables, you say - and I never knew this -

that the flavor of most vegetables are there to serve as chemical

weapons to deter insects and other creatures from eating them.

Mr. MCGEE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: That sounded really surprising to me, especially because some of

the like broccoli or zucchini when it's growing isn't particularly

fragrant or anything.

Mr. MCGEE: Well, exactly. It's not fragrant. But then you bite into it

and it's a different story. Zucchini is pretty mild, but broccoli is a

good example. Broccoli and all the members of the cabbage family have a

very distinctive flavor, which is due to chemicals that are there to

deter insects for the most part from eating them.

And so broccoli, raw broccoli for example, is pungent. Mustard greens,

which are exactly in same family, has much, much more pungency, so it is

kind of a spectrum of strengths. But most of the flavors that we enjoy

in strongly flavored vegetables let's say, so cabbage family, onions,

garlic, things like that, are due to defensive compounds that the plants

make in order to prevent creatures from consuming them.

GROSS: Why does the flavor of those vegetables change so much when they

are cooked?

Mr. MCGEE: Well because heat is a form of energy, and whenever we heat

anything, if we heat it enough, we begin to transform the molecules that

make that material up. And the aroma compounds in foods are especially

vulnerable to, or maybe susceptible to, change by heat and air because

we are always cooking in an atmosphere that contains plenty of oxygen.

And so the more we cook a food, the more we're going to transform the

molecules that make it up and so more different the flavor is going to


GROSS: We'll hear more of my interview with Harold McGee in the second

half of the show. His latest book is called "Keys to Good Cooking: A

Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes. Here's a recipe from

Mario Batali set to music by the group One Ring Zero from their upcoming

CD and book combo "The Recipe Project." I'm Terry Gross, and this is


(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Harold McGee. He's

an expert on cooking science. His latest book is called "Keys To Good

Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes."

So we asked some of the members of the FRESH AIR staff for some

questions that they want answers to pertaining to science of food and


Mr. MCGEE: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So I've got a couple of those for you.

Mr. MCGEE: Okay.

GROSS: What's the difference between baking powder and baking soda?

Mr. MCGEE: Baking soda is sodium carbonate - bicarbonate. It's a pure

chemical and it's an alkali that reacts with acids to produce carbon

dioxide gas. So it's a very pure material and a single material. Baking

powder is a mixture of baking soda and an acid that will react with it

in order to make carbon dioxide gas together with some cornstarch to

kind of give you more material to work with so that it's easier to

measure out. So baking powder is a complete leavener, baking soda is

half of a leavening combination.

GROSS: Which do you usually use? Does it depend on the recipe?

Mr. MCGEE: Yeah, it depends on the recipe. If the batter, for example,

contains an acid of some kind, like buttermilk is frequently used in

griddle cakes, pancakes, that kind of thing, then the baking soda will

react with the acid in the buttermilk to make bubbles. But if you are

making a pancake recipe with just milk, then you need baking powder

because it doesn't have an acid in the rest of the batter.

GROSS: Okay. Another question. Would you recommend wooden or plastic

cutting boards?

Mr. MCGEE: That has been a long-running controversy between

manufacturers of each, and it turns out that wooden cutting boards are

good in a couple of ways. One is that they're porous and so they tend to

soak up juices - cutting juices from cutting meats and fish, for

example, and that carries the bacteria down into the cutting board where

they're not at the surface anymore. And the other thing is that woods

often contain antibacterial compounds in them and so they help - they're

kind of natural antibiotic in the surface of the wood.

Plastic cutting boards are easier to clean and are safer to put in the

dishwasher, for example. But they also will tend to develop scars and

bacteria can lodge in the scars and cause problems later. So I actually

have a couple of each and use both. And when the plastic cutting board

develops scars, it gets kind of rough to the surface, then I replace it.

GROSS: Okay. When you are thickening a sauce when should you use

cornstarch, when should you use flour and do they work on different


Mr. MCGEE: Flour contains starch and so that's why it will thicken the

sauce in the same way that cornstarch does. Cornstarch is a pure starch.

Flour has some protein in it as well. And so when you make a sauce with

flour the sauce is quite to the opaque because it contains the proteins

as well as the starch. When you make a sauce with cornstarch it's going

to be not exactly clear but more translucent because it doesn't have the

proteins to get in the way of light passing through the sauce. So you

can use both. They have different appearances and they have different

strengths because one is pure starch, the other is only 70 percent or so

starch, and so you need more flour in order to get the same amount of


GROSS: Now, you say that the thing that got you started along this path

of studying the science of food and cooking was when after watching the

great Mel Brooks Western comedy "Blazing Saddles," there's a great scene

where everybody is sitting around eating beans and then, shall we say,

releasing gas. And so you said that that got him to ask you the

questions like why does that happen after you eat beans, and you went

and investigated and that got you down this path of science and cooking.

So answer the question for us.

Mr. MCGEE: Yeah. So it turns out that all seeds have storage foods in

them to nourish the seedling until the seedling is big enough that it

can nourish itself by photosynthesis, and so different seeds use

different foods to feed the seedlings. And it turns out that the bean

family tends to feed its seedlings with carbohydrates, that unlike

starch or sugar our bodies are not capable of digesting. We can handle

starch and sugar molecules just fine but we cannot deal with these

oligosaccharides, as they're called. And so what happens when you can't

digest something, well, it just stays in your digestive system instead

of being absorbed. And it turns out that the bacteria that live in our

large intestine are perfectly capable of digesting these

oligosaccharides and when they do so, they generate a variety of gasses

actually, hydrogen, methane, and that's why we end up with gas when we

eat beans.

GROSS: Does cooking the beans help at all?

Mr. MCGEE: It does, because it can break those oligosaccharides down

into smaller subunits that our bodies can actually deal with and also

just transform some of them into other molecules that don't cause the

same problem. So cooking does indeed help.

GROSS: One piece of advice I want to ask you about from your book

regarding turkeys is you say it is very difficult to roast a whole bird

and do it well. Why is that?

Mr. MCGEE: It's because the whole bird has two very different kinds of

meat on it, the breast meat and the leg meat. Breast meat is very

delicate and really dries out very easily above 150 degrees. The leg

meat has a lot more connective tissue, it's fattier, and it's actually

much better at something more like 165 or even 170 degrees. But they're

both on the same bird. They're both in the same oven when you are

cooking the bird whole, and so the question is, how can you possibly get

two different donenesses is in two different parts of the same bird? It

takes some thought and planning and some tricks to come as close as you


GROSS: Share one trick with us.

Mr. MCGEE: Take the bird out ahead of time and let the legs warm up a

little bit while you keep the breasts covered with ice packs. That way

you keep the breasts cold, the legs warm up by maybe 10, 20 degrees, and

that way when you put the bird in the oven, you've already built in a

temperature differential. The breasts are going to end up at a given

time less cooked than the legs, and that's exactly what you want.

GROSS: Wow, that was going to look a little weird.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGEE: It looks weird, yeah, to begin with, especially if you use an

ace bandage to hold the ice packs in place...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MCGEE: ...because they're kind of slippery and - so that's what I

do. So, yeah, it does look a little peculiar, but what you care about is

what the bird looks like when it comes out.

GROSS: Well, Harold McGee, thank you for the explanations and the

advice. Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. MCGEE: Pleasure. Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: My interview with Harold McGee was recorded last year after the

publication of his book "Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the

Best of Foods and Recipes."

I still haven't tried that ace bandage thing.

Coming up, we listen back to our 1989 interview with Julia Child.

This is FRESH AIR.









Fresh Air


12:00-13:00 PM






Julia Child On France, Fat And Food On The Floor


While planning our All You Can Eat series, we decided to save a place at

the table for Julia Child.

Ms. JULIA CHILD (Chef): Welcome to "The French Chef." I'm Julia Child.

You know, the egg can be your best friend if you just give it the right

break. And I'm not talking just about breakfast eggs but eggs for

brunch, eggs for lunch, eggs for appetizers, for company, and eggs for


Now, take, for instance, l'oeuf en cocotte, or eggs baked in little

dishes like this, or little, these are called little ramekins...

GROSS: That was Julia Child on her public TV show "The French Chef,"

which made her the first famous TV chef. She introduced millions of

Americans to French cuisine. Her 1961 book "Mastering the Art of French

Cooking" helped launch her public TV career, which lasted nearly four


Her longtime editor, Judith Jones, said Child changed the way cookbooks

are written, addressing them to home cooks rather than professional


Child died in 2004 at the age of 91. I spoke with her in 1989.

Ms. CHILD: I grew up in the teens in the '20s when most people had,

middle-class people had maids or had someone to help. And we had very

sensible New England type food because my mother came from New England,

you know, roasts and vegetables and fresh peas and mashed potatoes. But

nobody discussed food a great deal because it just wasn't done. And

there was no wine served at the table, at least not in my family, who

were very conservative. We always ate very well but it wasn't talked


GROSS: Well, your family had a cook. Did your mother cook it all and did

you like to cook at all?

Ms. CHILD: No, she really didn't cook at all. She knew how to make

baking powder biscuits and Welch rabbit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHILD: That's all she knew how to make. And I didn't do any cooking

then at all.

GROSS: When you graduated from college, you went to New York...

Ms. CHILD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...with the hopes of becoming a novelist or writing for a

magazine. Why did you...

Ms. CHILD: (Unintelligible)...

GROSS: Yeah?

Ms. CHILD: Or writing for The New Yorker, at least getting into Time or

Newsweek. Nobody wanted me for some strange reason.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CHILD: And then along came the war and I got into the - I went down

to Washington and eventually got into the Office of Strategic Services,

the OSS.

GROSS: Did you want to be a spy?

Ms. CHILD: I did want to be a spy. And I thought I'd be a very good one

because no one would think that someone as tall as I would possibly be a


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHILD: But of course I ended up doing office - menial office work. I

was in the files the whole time. Actually, though, it was fascinating as

an organization to be in, and at least I knew everything that was going


GROSS: Well, you were telling us how being in the OSS lead you overseas.

Ms. CHILD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You lived for a while in China. I think you lived for a while in

India as well.

Ms. CHILD: Yeah, Solon. It was Solon and China.

GROSS: And then after the war you're telling us you went to Washington

and then went back to Paris.

Ms. CHILD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Went to Paris and lived there. This was in the late 1940s.

Ms. CHILD: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So you had wonderful food in Paris.

Ms. CHILD: Oh, it was just marvelous. It was still the old classical

cuisine. It was just, just delicious. I've never had such good food

again as we had been.

GROSS: Well, how did eating wonderful food lead you to want to start

preparing wonderful food?

Ms. CHILD: I was very much impressed with the food and I just - having

started in cooking after we got married, I thought that I would go to

the Cordon Bleu, they had kind of classes for what we called

fluffies(ph). What it did at that same time, they were having some

classes for the GIs on the Bill of Rights and I decided after doing a

little bit that I would really like to do much more serious delving into

cuisine so that I was able to join the GIs, and they didn't object,

luckily. And we started in at 7:00 in the morning and finished at around

11:00, and then I would rush home and prepare a fancy lunch for my

husband, Paul. In those days too the American embassy followed two-hour

lunch, French lunch hour, so we always came for lunch.

But in those days too, middle-class women were not going into cooking,

either the French or the Americans. And the French, of course, all had

maids. It was the way we had lived before the war, in the USA.

GROSS: When you co-wrote "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," did you

see it as a way to introduce Americans to French cuisine?

Ms. CHILD: Yes. I was tremendously interested in French cuisine because

it was, it's the only cuisine that has the real rules on how to cook.

And I wanted, because I had started in quite late. I was about in my

early 30s when I started cooking and I found that the recipes in most,

in all the books I had were really not adequate, they didn't tell you

enough. And I'm for, well, I won't do anything unless I'm told why I'm

doing it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CHILD: So I felt that we needed fuller explanations so that if you

follow – if you followed one of those recipes, it should turn out

exactly right. And that's why the recipes were very long, but they have

full detail. My feeling is that once you know everything and have

digested it, then it becomes part of you.

GROSS: When you moved back to the States and you wanted to continue

French cooking, were there ingredients that you couldn't find in the


Ms. CHILD: No. Well, there were some differences. I think the cream was

not as thick, but that was easy enough to make your own what they called

creme fraiche by adding a little buttermilk or yogurt to heavy cream and

making it thick. In those days, cream was very chic. Nowadays, people

are afraid of it. But the flour is different, but you could - because

the French, general French flour is softer and more made for pastries.

And you can perfectly well duplicate that by using part unbleached, all-

purpose flour with a little bit of plain, bleached cake flour added to

it, which softens the gluten content.

GROSS: You became nationally famous in the United States for your

cooking show. Were you early shows live?

Ms. CHILD: No, nothing was live. But the early shows, because we were

very, very - on a strict budget. It was really live on tape.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CHILD: And so once we started in, we didn't stop at all unless there

was a terrible disaster, and we only had about two or three, I think.

GROSS: Tell me one of the terrible disasters.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHILD: Well, one time, I was taking, I was cooking - blanching some

broccoli, and it was in a salad basket, which was lowered into a big

kettle. And when I picked it up, my fork slipped, and it all fell on the

floor. I didn't pick it up and use it, so we did...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHILD: We did stop because it was a real mess. But every time we

stopped, it would cost - I mean several hundred dollars, because it

always took half an hour to get back again, and you would have to pay


And another time, there was a short circuit on my microphone, and every

time I touched the stove, the microphone would go...

(Soundbite of crackling sound)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHILD: And I'd clutch my breast.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHILD: So we had to stop for that. But otherwise, we just didn't

stop at all. Then people - it's funny. People would say, well, I saw you

drop that chicken on the floor - which, of course, I never did. All I

did was flip a potato pancake into the stove, then I put it back into

the pan, and I said well, if you're all alone in the kitchen, nobody

will know.

GROSS: So were there often mistakes in the actual show that you would

recover from, thinking that, well, this kind of thing happens all the


Ms. CHILD: Yes. Well, and I think some people would accuse me of doing

things purposely. But anyone who's been in the kitchen knows that awful

things happen all the time, and you just - if you're a cook, you have to

make do with whatever happens. I mean, I was just cooking as one

normally would at home, which I think people rather enjoyed because it

was informal, and the way most people cook at home, anyway.

Ms. CHILD: I'm sure you must have seen the Dan Aykroyd "Saturday Night


Ms. CHILD: Oh, yes. We have a tape of that.

GROSS: Do you?

Ms. CHILD: That's great fun.

GROSS: What he'd always do is when he was doing you, is take little nips

of wine...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...until he got really giddy while he was cooking.

Ms. CHILD: No, I people accuse me of that, too. No, I would never. I

mean, that's a - would be a very gauche thing to do in public, wouldn't


GROSS: I want to ask you what you think of nouvelle cuisine.

Ms. CHILD: Well, nouvelle cuisine is through, I think. But I think it

has been very useful in that it released people from a straitjacket,

then we've gone into silly seasons and so forth. But one thing that was

very useful was of paying attention to how the food looks on the plate,

to make it really attractive. Then I think that gets exaggerated, so

something looks like Japanese flower garden and the food looks fingered,

which is not attractive. I think food should look like food, but it

should be very appetizingly arranged.

GROSS: When you say food looks fingered, what do you mean?

Ms. CHILD: That means you're taken your thumb and sort of wet your thumb

and put these little things all around the plate in the shape of pedals

and so forth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CHILD: And it's - I don't find that attractive, because you know

that they have been probably licking their fingers and putting it on the


(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. CHILD: Well, good to talk with you. Bye.

GROSS: Julia Child, recorded in 1989.

Coming up, our all you can eat series concludes with Mark Bittman's

unconventional method of preparing steak.

This is FRESH AIR.









Fresh Air


12:00-13:00 PM






Mark Bittman Explains 'How To Cook Everything'


Our TV critic David Bianculli has had many food adventures, tasting

strange and exotic - some might say scary - meats. He's grilled

kangaroo, alligator - he says it tastes like chicken - and crocodile,

which doesn't. He told us yak is delicious, but that bear was too

disgusting even for him, which is saying a lot. So we thought it would

be fun for David to interview Mark Bittman. He wrote The New York Times

column "The Minimalist" for 13 years. Now a Bittman writes an opinion

column on food-related matters and is a food columnist for The Times'

Sunday Magazine.

David interviewed Bittman in 2008 after the publication of his book "How

to Cook Everything Vegetarian."


Mark Bittman, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. MARK BITTMAN (Food Columnist, The New York Times): Well, it's great

to be here, Dave.

BIANCULLI: Your new book, "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian," has an

obvious limitation: no meat. But was that restriction freeing, as well?

Mr. BITTMAN: Interesting question, because when you started asking it, I

thought immediately of this Japanese woman I met a couple of years ago

who was a brilliant chef who only did super-vegan, you know, really,

really limited stuff. And I asked her why, because she ate meat and she

obviously enjoyed it, but she only cooked very, very limited. And she

said, it's like pen and ink. And I said, what do you mean? She said

well, you know, you limit things so that you can explore the universe of

them more thoroughly, which seemed like a very Japanese thing to say.

BIANCULLI: Mm-hmm. Sounds great, though.

Mr. BITTMAN: But I - you know what? I think that I'm not interested in

proselytizing for people to be vegetarians, but I am interested in

proselytizing for people to eat fewer animal products. We raise animals

now in what can only be called an industrial fashion. And I think the

more people know about that, the more turned off they're going to be by


BIANCULLI: All right, here's my big question, in theory. What I wanted

to do for the interview was pick out a recipe of yours that I was very

skeptical about in advance. That...

Mr. BITTMAN: I am already amazed that you found you could be skeptical

about. But go ahead.

BIANCULLI: Yeah. No, I did.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: And I couldn't find it in the vegetarian cookbook. I had to

go on "The Minimalist" and go back. And it was - we're in firm agreement

as meat eaters that - you know, we're talking about rib eyes is the best

part of the stake and...

Mr. BITTMAN: No question.

BIANCULLI: ...and that, you know, simplicity is wonderful here. And you

have a recipe which says instead of just doing it the normal way, just

put it uncovered, you know, over a little wire thing in the refrigerator

for like two or three or four days and flip it once a day and don't

cover it. And then this gives it this crust that you can then cook with.

Mr. BITTMAN: So it dries it out a little bit.

BIANCULLI: A little bit. Well, let me tell you, I did an A/B test. I got

two rib eyes. I have a real good butcher...

Mr. BITTMAN: You know, I'm very glad you did this. I can't wait to hear

what you say.

BIANCULLI: Yeah. So what happened was - so I kept one wrapped up and did

it the way I normally would do. I did the other one. I did a rub on the

equal, rub on both. But the one that was dried in the refrigerator,

after a couple of days, it started looking like rib eye jerky.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: You know, and the last time meat looked like that in my

refrigerator, honestly, I threw away. But I thought...

Mr. BITTMAN: Right.

BIANCULLI: Okay, I can sue you if it doesn't work. I could talk to you

about this or get some sort of...

Mr. BITTMAN: You didn't throw it out, though. You cooked it.

BIANCULLI: I did not throw it out. I cooked it. And eating them side-by-

side, it was remarkably better.

Mr. BITTMAN: Well, how is this a scary question?

BIANCULLI: Well, yeah. Well, yeah.

Mr. BITTMAN: You got me all nervous. But now you're telling me that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Because it looked horrible. It looks horrible.

Mr. BITTMAN: Yeah. Yeah, it does dry out.

BIANCULLI: And you didn't warn me in the recipe that it was going to

look, you know, inedible before you cooked it. But it was so much

crustier and crispier and better. So how did you figure that out?

Mr. BITTMAN: You know, refrigerators are a pretty drying environment.

And that's why people hang meat in cool places, because you want to - if

you think about all the different meat preparations, the traditional

ones of aging and drying meat, they're things that people love. And a

prosciutto, which is essentially a dried ham, it's hung for 18 months,

and almost all the moisture is leaving that. And if you think of dry,

aged beef, that's exactly what it is: dry, aged beef. But my thinking in

the refrigerator thing was not really to age the meat, although that's

something I want to try to play with at some point, or I've been

threatening to play with at some point.

My thinking was really when you are trying to brown a stake, especially

in a home environment where you often don't have the kind of high heat

they have been restaurants, your biggest enemy is moisture. And if you

put a piece of meat on a rack in a refrigerator, I figured it would dry

out. And the whole thing's not going to dry out. What's going to dry out

is the outside.


Mr. BITTMAN: And then it's going to take a crust really, really well. So

it wasn't that hard to think about this. It wasn't that hard to figure

it out, and I was pretty sure I was right, which is why I was actually

was getting nervous when you were - with your big build up, making me

feel like you were going to tell me I was wrong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: FRESH AIR contributor David Bianculli spoke with Mark Bittman in

2008 after the publication of his book "How to Cook Everything


And so we conclude our all you can eat series with another recipe that I

will never, ever try - never.

Here's Dave Frishberg.

(Soundbite of song, "Let's Eat Home")

Mr. DAVID FRISHBERG (Musician): (Singing) I like to stroll on the Costa

Dell Soul at sunrise. And to me, Waikiki is the place to be speaking

fun-wise. I like to dine in the Florentine palazzo. You can laugh and

call me fatso. That's okay by me.

I like to stick with the first-class ticket buyers, setting trends with

my trend-setting friends, the frequent fliers. I like to shop on the

Champs Elysees, eat curry in old Bombay and spend New Years Eve in

either Tel Aviv or Rome.

But if it's all the same to you, let's eat home.

GROSS: You can download podcasts of our show on our website,





Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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