Author, 35-year food writing veteran, and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman — aka the man who taught us How to Cook Everything and gave us the highly straightforward yet equally revolutionary Vegan Before 6:00 diet — recently developed a need for speed. Or, rather, he’s developed a staggering 2,000 recipes crafted specifically for those whose lives demand that dinner go from zero to on-the-table with a quickness. And he is very excited about it.
“It’s the best book I’ve done; it’s the best thing that’s gonna happen this year for cooks!” he tells me, during a small window he’s offered for our conversation — so small and specific, I later learn, because he squeezed me in while backstage at the Today show, post-prep but pre-live. Unshocking, I suppose: It’s precisely this sort of time-consciousness he advocates in his latest book.
The recipes in Fast — save some “master” items like stocks and beans — take 45 minutes or less. And Bittman achieves this by (chefs, kindly avert your eyes) dispensing with mise en place altogether. When you’re at home, he argues, there’s no need to prep all of your ingredients ahead of time, as though you’re going to be cooking for 100 — or demo-ing a recipe in a two-and-a-half-minute segment on the Today show. Instead, the recipes make efficient use of downtime: For instance, step one might be to heat oil; step two might be to peel and chop garlic while that oil is heating.
“It’s a new way of cooking, a way that represents how home cooks cook every day,” he says. “The recipes are quite revolutionary; they’re rethought and done in a way that anybody, whether they know how to cook or not, can walk into the kitchen and cook successful stuff.”
And that’s important because the road to better health — both for the self and the planet — doesn’t boast a lot of drive-throughs. This is something of which most of us are well aware, and yet, in an era when “busy” is a badge of pride, cooking dinner can seem a daunting, kitchen-trashing time suck. But the recipes in Fast make a solid case that preparing a fresh meal needn’t be. Better still, as readers of Bittman’s work have come to expect, the focus is more on technique than specifics, with plenty of variations and encouragement for creativity. After all, as he writes in his intro, “Teach a cook a recipe, and he’ll cook for a night; teach a cook a technique, and she’ll improvise for a lifetime.”
If it all sounds a little common sense to you, well, that’s kinda the point. “The opportunity to help people figure out how to bring food in a saner way into their lives in a smarter, better way is really wonderful,” he says. “I do love that.”
UCSB Arts & Lectures brings Mark Bittman to Campbell Hall on Saturday, October 18, at 3 p.m. Admission is $15 or free for UCSB students with valid student IDs. See artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu or call (805) 893-3535.