When Chef’s Table came out on Netflix, it was the favourite food porn of every wannabe chef and couch gastronaut. And then, as happens with these things, everyone was suddenly absolutely and totally over it. Too contrived, too much soft focus, too pretentious, was the new decision. The latest big thing from Netflix – Salt Fat Acid Heat, based on the best-selling, award winning cook-book by Iranian-American chef Samin Nosrat - is apparently an antidote to that. Or so some have opined.
Nosrat is cooking royalty: she cheffed at Chez Panisse (and has been lauded by Alice Waters herself), has taught Michael Pollan many cooking tricks, writes for the New York Times, and more besides. But that’s not what has everyone talking. Rather, the chatter is around how ‘real’ she is.
The combination of Nosrat’s comical style, her huge warmth (peppered with much laughter and talking-with-mouth-full moments) and yes, the fact that looks-wise, she’s really doesn’t fit the 'domestic goddess' mould, have all played a part in this. That we should make so much of the fact that a female presenter (also exec-producer of the show) doesn’t fit the usual visual mould, is in itself, fraught and problematic, but there you are.
So does Nosrat’s ‘realness’ make the show itself any different, in terms of the food and the cooking? I’m not so sure. The four episodes, each dedicated to one of the chosen elements (the four she views as fundamental to good cooking), actually fit perfectly into current higher budget travel-food shows, with requisite unspoiled landscapes, small artisanal producers, and so on. That’s not necessarily bad – after all everything is a construction – but let’s see it for what it is.
Nosrat propels you merrily along in her food adventures to Japanese salt makers, small-scale Italian butchers and so forth, but what troubled me was that the very premise of the show seemed to be missing: in other words, if you’re looking for real info on salt, fat, acid and heat, there are other places to find it.
WATCH | Salt Fat Acid Heat trailer:
It’s great, for example, that our host urges us to salt a steak a full day before cooking it. But I was hoping to hear a whole lot more than I did, about the how and the why, which are dealt with superficially. We know that the movie can never be the book, but as with American Psycho, I think less styling and more technical detail would at least have been a truer reflection.
Another curiosity: for all that Nosrat is warm on screen, she’s actually more human on the page: when she writes about her own learning lessons, mistakes and inspirations, she’s at her best. Sure, this chef’s presence as a realistic looking (and behaving) female might be emancipatory and a much-needed counter to the bad-boy brigade of Bourdain et al, but it’s insulting to give points for that.
It’s a nice show, but if you’re more into cooking than armchair travel, skip the show and buy the book. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is published by Simon & Schuster.