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Michael Pollan
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
Penguin Press / Penguin Putnam
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-1-594-20421-0
Publication Date: 04-23-2013
470 Pages; $27.95
Date Reviewed: 06-16-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Non-Fiction

Great writing allows us to immerse ourselves in a world that is and is not our own. We're partners with the writer as we explore a book. In 'Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,' Michel Pollan takes us deep into his own life as he explores in depth four basic types of cooking. It's his most personal and personable book, rich in experience, place and character. Let yourself go and the world you create reading is quite likely to change the one you return to afterward.

'Cooked' is quite simply and logically organized, perhaps a bit to its own detriment. It's easy to read the superb essay that prefaces the book and acts as an introduction and think you've got it. But 'Cooked,' like the techniques it explores, is filled with richness that requires both time and attention. It's beautiful and easy to read. It must certainly hold some sort of record for a cookbook, in that over the 400-plus pages you get basically just four recipes. But recipes and prescriptions and advice are not the point here. Immersing yourself in the world of cooking is the point; as cooking transforms food, so too does reading transform the reader.

Pollan touches on a number of flammable topics in his introduction (and follows up elswhere), but the important bit is this: he's divided cooking into what one might think of as four Platonic ideals; fire, water, air, and earth, which correspond in the cooking world to roasting meat (fire), braising and stewing (water), baking bread (air) and fermenting, picking and brewing (earth). In the book, Pollan goes on to apprentice himself to a master chef in each form, and learn, in depth, how it is done.

Of course, this only scratches the surface of 'Cooked.' As we follow Pollan into the world of each form of cooking, he gives us an array of exciting characters, stories and facts. He'll take a moment to experiment with microwaving frozen food, then linger in kitchen of a former student who is now a chef. He'll meet with an anthropologist who speculates that cooking made us human, then he's back to the BBQ pit master. 'Cooked' is chock-a-block with fascinating stories that ride the edge of controversy, but the controversy is simply part of the world he is creating. Cooking can be an easy or complicated, entertaining way to pass time and improve the quality of your life.

'Cooked' is Pollan's most personal book to date; it's clear the writer was transformed by this work. His prose is crisp and exciting to read and he manages to evoke the poignancy that is usually reserved for the smell of foods we loved in our childhood. Immerse yourself in Pollan's world and you just might come out thinking that your most valuable asset — time — is well spent in the kitchen.

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