Cooked comes to Netflix

Cooked, a four-part documentary TV series based on Michael Pollan’s 2013 book, is coming to Netflix. All episodes will be available for streaming on Friday, February 19. Here’s a preview:

Click HERE to read my review of Pollan’s Cooked book. (“In Cooked, Pollan suggests that cooking was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, boon to human civilization.”)

(Thanks to Mike Emerson for sharing this info about the show on Facebook.)


The Diner’s Dilemma: Something New or The Old Familiar?

Michael Pollan’s great 2006 book The Omnivore’s Dilemma asks the basic question: What should we have for dinner?


The St. Louis diner’s dilemma is: Where should we go for dinner?

(Caution: baseball similes and metaphors ahead.)

Often the choice is between a place that’s new or a place that has been in your restaurant rotation for some time. Actually, there are two kinds of new places.

First, places that have only been open for a few days/weeks/months. Second, restaurants that have been open for a while that you’ve never visited. They are new to you, like that unfamiliar shortstop for the Padres who makes a great play and when you look him up online you find he’s been in the bigs for 7 years.


With the place that’s just recently opened you take a huge risk. The kitchen crew and the wait staff may not yet have their acts together. Employee turnover can be an issue in those early days. Even if the chef and/or owner has a good reputation, a new joint can be like that rookie outfielder just up from Memphis—3 for 4 with a home run one day, 0 for 4 with three strikeouts and an error the next.

The big upsides of patronizing a spanking new restaurant are: you’re supporting a new business at the time it most needs your support and you may discover a true gem whose virtues you can boast about to both online and IRL friends. Not unlike buying a Randal Grichuk jersey at the Cardinals team store last summer.


With a place that’s a few years old but new to you, you can sift through online reviews and talk to chums to get an idea about what are “must try” dishes and which ones have been less than successful. A restaurant that has been open for a couple of years or more must be doing something right and making enough people happy to keep rolling, even if it’s not always getting attention from the foodie media. Comparable to that manager whose career record is right about .500 even though he’s never taken a team to the postseason.

The familiar place that you’ve visited numerous times over the years has much to offer. You know your way around the menu, you may be familiar with many staff members, you know which table or booth you prefer. But, like at Holiday Inn (supposedly), there are no surprises. (Okay, maybe the manager will surprise you with a free sample of a new dessert or wine, etc.) Generally, you know how things are going to go. Kind of like Yadier Molina—you marvel at his defensive prowess, his hitting and (lately) his improved base running, but you are no longer surprised by his abilities.

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4)

A downside of the familiar restaurant is that it, like Yadi, it can be costly. (You should note that, in some cases, the newer spots—especially those that have spent big on design and fixtures—can also be pricey.) Even at $15 million a year for Yadi, you know that you are getting value for your dollar. Similarly, a long-running old familiar place can require you to pony up some bucks. But you know it’s worth it.

Would you rather drop $70 for a dinner for two that’s just a bloop single or $110 for a dinner for two that’s a tape-measure homerun?

Typically, younger folks are the ones who crave new, fresh things in life while older people prefer to stick with things they know and love. This is why a 25-year-old will prefer today’s hits on radio to oldies. (Although even most 25-year-olds must surely be getting sick of All About That Bass by now. And most 60-year-olds have surely heard The Joker a sufficient number of times for this life.)

I encourage older folks to try something new when you get the chance. Enjoy the familiar places that consistently make you happy. But take a chance every now and then on something different. It’s like when the Cardinals play at an American League ballpark and use the designated hitter—you may or may not like it, but at least you’ve had a change of pace.


At the same time, I encourage younger diners to patronize restaurants that have proved their mettle and delivered year after year. Like Yadi or Miguel Cabrera or Andrew McCutchen, these places have achieved a level of consistency that assures you are unlikely to be disappointed. They may cost a bit more. The other patrons may be older than you. But, like when Adam Wainwright starts for the Cardinals, you will be witnessing greatness.



Photo credits…




Wainwright: http:,, photopin,


My review of Cooked by Michael Pollan

Like one of the whole grain bread loaves he bakes in Cooked, Michael Pollan’s new book is dense. He packs a large amount of information and opinion in this volume, almost all of it enlightening and entertaining.

With a combination of scholarly research, field reporting and personal experiences, Pollan brings us a book whose style ranges from breezy conversation to collegiate textbook.

In Cooked, Pollan suggests that cooking was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, boon to human civilization. Because cooked food was easier to digest, we didn’t need to spend as much time chewing as our ancestors did. Therefore, early man had more time to do other important things. Cooked food allowed more consumption of meat, resulting in bigger brains for our species.


Pollan offers a long list of reasons why cooking is a good thing. He bemoans the fact that we are outsourcing more and more of our cooking to corporations. Those include food manufacturers, fast food chains, even your local grocer.

He breaks cooking down into four categories: fire, water, air (baking) and earth (fermentation). His travels take him across the US and the world to visit and, in some cases, work with knowledgeable figures in the world of barbecue, bread making, cheese making and home brewing. He also visits a Wonder Bread bakery to see how they do it.

He tries different kinds of cooking at his own home in Berkeley, California. He roasts a whole pork shoulder. He braises meats and other foods with one of his writing students, who just happens to cook at Berkeley’s acclaimed restaurant Chez Panisse. He bakes loaf after loaf of bread in his kitchen. He brews beer at home and at a friend’s home.

Pollan is not an impartial writer. He incorporates his opinions freely, but seems to be a generally fair observer of all that he sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches. He can be funny. He admits that kneading bread dough is a bit of a turn-on.

You may want to read this book with a highlighter in hand, so you can mark memorable passages and refer to them later. Cooked has factoids and metaphors galore.

You may, after reading, have a sudden desire for slow-cooked barbecue or fresh whole grain bread. You may also want to spend time in your own kitchen tonight, cooking from scratch instead of picking up a meal to reheat at home. Such a choice would make Michael Pollan happy.