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A Chat with Mark Bittman

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#1 Monica Bhide

Monica Bhide
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 2,733 posts
  • Location:Virginia

Posted 14 May 2003 - 08:52 AM

I was nervous. Getting ready for my first meeting with a James Beard award winning author, a columnist for the New York Times and a culinary genius to many. I was nervous.

We met for lunch. I had done a lot of homework on him, I did not know what to expect. Finally, the time was here. Mark and I instantly hit it off. He has a way of making you comfortable. Very charismatic and approachable, he put me at ease and we had a fantastic conversation.

I started by asking him about his recent visit to India, I was curious about what surprised him most about the country, what was our best kept secret. His eyes lit up as he talked about the breads, the sheermal in particular – a wonderful sweet Indian bread. We break the ice and the rest of the lunch is a delight.

I would like to share with you a short Q&A we shared online, as we all look forward to May 14th and 15th.

BHIDE: Mark, I have read so many words that describe you - author, writer, culinary genius, columnist, minimalist... How would you describe yourself?
BITTMAN: I began as a writer interested in food. At this point I'd have to say I'm a columnist and cookbook author who maintains an active writing career. Writing and cooking are equally important to me.

BHIDE: How did you get interested in food?
BITTMAN: Self-defense. The food available in restaurants and college dorms (that's when I started cooking) was abysmal. It seemed at the time I had no choice: Starve or cook. That is not a bad incentive. And guess what? If you begin with good cookbooks, there's hardly any reason to – or even possibility of – eating bad food.

BHIDE: DId you cook as a child?
BITTMAN: A little; mostly hamburgers, scrambled eggs, and so on. I did once make baked Alaska. My mother was a competent if uninspired cook; my grandmothers each made some exciting dishes, but really only a few each. My cooking is not genetic.

BHIDE: What do you cook on Monday nights?
BITTMAN: Why Monday nights? All nights are the same to me. I cook very, very simply – you see the results.

BHIDE: (This is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child) -- You have so many wonderful books out -- which is your personal favorite and why?
BITTMAN: How to Cook Everything and its new offshoot, The Basics. I’m really proud of not just the recipes in there, but the information and even the writing style. I also love Fish, my first book, which was the result of a decade of an obsession with seafood. And I do think that The Minimalist Entertains, in a way, is uncharacteristic and therefore a bit of an adventure; I like it a lot, but I don’t know whether the people who buy cookbooks will.

BHIDE: Mark, many of us look to you for inspiration.. who is yours?
BITTMAN: The home cooks that I meet and work with. I know that sounds contrived (it looks contrived), but it’s true. I have always loved to cook with other people, and that continues. Also, a few chefs. And, as always, a number of cookbook authors.

BHIDE: We have a lot of aspiring writers on the site.. if you had one piece of advice for them, what would it be?
BITTMAN: Don't give up. Ever.

I could not help thinking, he is such a regular guy. I think that is what accounts for the amazing success of his books. He writes for everyday people, with ease and simplicity, his books reflect the person I met. Soft spoken and gracious, he even willingly signed 6 books for me!

I went back after, our meeting, and re read the Minimalist Entertains and the How to cook Everything cookbook, and could picture Mark talking. It is as if he is there with the readers and holding their hand through each step. Simplicity is really his charm.

To buy Marks books:

The Minimalist Cooks at Home: Recipes That Give You More Flavor from Fewer Ingredients in Less Time -- by Mark Bittman

How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food -- by Mark Bittman

The Minimalist Entertains -- by Mark Bittman

Simple to Spectacular: How to Take One Basic Recipe to Four Levels of Sophistication by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Mark Bittman

Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking by Mark Bittman

How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman

The Minimalist Cooks Dinner by Mark Bittman

The Minimalist Cooks at Home: Recipes That Give You More Flavor from Fewer Ingredients in Less Time by Mark Bittman

Leafy Greens: An A-To-Z Guide to 30 Types of Greens Plus 200 Delicious Recipes by Mark Bittman

How To Cook Everything : Quick Cooking by Mark Bittman (August 2003)

How To Cook Everything : Holiday Cooking by Mark Bittman (August 2003)

How To Cook Everything : Vegetarian Cooking by Mark Bittman (August 2003)

How To Cook Everything : Easy Weekend Cooking by Mark Bittman (August 2003)
Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice