As I’ve said before, the best things happen when you get carried away.  Two people who share this view are Diane Cu and Todd Porter, photographers and filmakers, aka whiteonricecouple.  Two weeks ago, at the BlogHer food conference in San Farancisco, they asked to film me talking, I’m still not sure why.  Diane said she wanted to film me thinking. I thought that was going to be kind of difficult. I’d just come from the concluding keynote panel with glutenfreegirl and orangette, two people I really admire, and had a few minutes before heading to a bacon curing demo orchestrated by Elise.   I’ve got no excuses other than the six cups of coffee before the panel.

The book of which I speak, is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, by Harvard Anthropologist Richard Wrangham. I’ve talked about this book before. It’s an important book.

On a lighter note, there’s this, on Grant Achatz and Thomas Keller, and not saying no. I hope you’ll watch, hope you won’t say no:

I’d just started spending time at The French Laundry in the Napa Valley when the infamous dinner happened, and the “craziness” I refer to was the quantity of finished courses the kitchen could produce. Chris Gesualdi, a chef who’d worked with Thomas at Rakel was out there at the time. Chris had recently left Montrachet in Manhattan. He had 13 apps and 13 entrees more or less on his menu—”and that’s plenty,” he told me. That night I counted 53 different courses that could come out of The French Laundry kitchen.  Good courses.  Most of them with multiple components.  There had been seventeen different menus that weekend. I called this to chef’s attention. He also named all the courses not even listed, just ready to go for VIPs.  Seventeen more.  Seventy dishes.  Keller was midway through a 45-hour work weekend.  Later that night, after service, he’d describe to me his perfect restaurant, what it would be like to really cook. (See page 250, Soul of a Chef, use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.)

Thanks, Todd and Diane.


55 Wonderful responses to “Had Something To Say”

  • Tags

    If people are getting fatigued eating a lot of courses, imagine what it’s like preparing them.

    Every tribe’s cook should have at least one backup, or else it’s back to raw, or worse, Mickey D and KFC.

    Looks like when “So You Think You Can Dance” comes to Cleveland, you’ll be ready.

    Note to Eric Mangini – the best time to beat Super Bowl teams – is in the Super Bowl.

  • Robyn M.

    Is there any way to get a physical (i.e., disk) copy of the first video–about Cooking–and fast? I will be teaching a month-long class to our tween kids at church on the importance of cooking starting in November, and I cannot imagine a better introduction than this. However, we don’t have high-speed internet at our church, so I can’t just queue it up. Help?

    • Tim

      I have a copy saved if that helps. I’m sure you could just burn it to a CD/DVD. It’s in mp4 format if that helps.

  • Gary G

    Wow, that there is definitely a caffeine-fueled rant. But fun. Nice hand gestures.

  • Kristen Doyle

    I am so glad this was captured this way. I loved your passion at BlogHer Food and I love it captured so beautifully here.

  • rockandroller

    I just don’t know how we create this kind of urgency and passion in other people – the women I work with who are PROUD and think it’s FUNNY that they don’t cook. “The only appliance in my kitchen that I use is the microwave, ha ha!” “I tell my kids they should enjoy what Grammy fixes for them now because when she’s gone, that’s it, ha ha!” They live drive-through lives and want drive-through food. The women all live on dry salad and diet soda so food means nothing to them, and they’re instilling that apathy in their children. How can we combat this? They think I am a nutjob with rants like this one, which I have made on occasion.

    • Robyn M.

      It’s been my experience that people act like this when they are feeling left out, inadequate, and are getting defensive. I recently had exactly the same conversation as the ones you describe with a co-worker, except it was about math instead of cooking. It was an almost willful “I’m proud of what I don’t know!” attitude. But looking back over the conversation, it was probably coming from a place of feeling inadequate, and maybe a bit outclassed. I suspect there’s also a hint of shame in it, because she probably does understand that it really *isn’t* a good thing to be ignorant about these things. I haven’t been around your co-workers at all, and have no idea under what circumstances these conversations arise, but I’d place long odds that something similar is going on. I’m betting that your co-workers are really trying to bury a sense of shame they have about their own inadequacies, and maybe also trying to make each other feel better about the situation they’re in.

      I doubt you’ll be able to incite fire & urgency in your co-workers when they’re feeling this way–how do you make someone excited about a topic on which they feel incompetent? So instead helping find ways to introduce them to *competence*, and that there’s no pride in ignorance (done politely, of course) might be a good way to go. Fire & urgency, if it comes at all, will come later.

      • Carol

        How do you get someone excited about a topic they don’t feel competent about? Show them. Invite them to dinner. Have them come cook with you. Give them a task they can accomplish, and feel really good about.

        I had two friends who were once really proud (only not) of the fact that they didn’t (couldn’t) cook. So, I invited them to dinner and gave them some “work” to so in the kitchen. Even something as simple as showing them the correct way to peel and dice a carrot (one of the girls had only ever eaten baby carrots, out of a bag) made a big difference in how they thought about food… and how good food tastes when you do it right, and do it well.

    • Randy

      You are so right. As a father of a 20 year old son who is making some forays into a serious relationship, he brings girls home…and not a single one of them can cook. I remember in my dating life after my divorce…I remember going to a girl’s house and she was wondering why the food was not cooking. So I went to the oven, looked in and realized she hadn’t turned on the oven…so she turned to me and said I didn’t realize I had to turn it on…

  • Susan

    I agree with your rant; food civilizes us. Eating dinner with my family is like having a break from the drama that goes on in everyones life. From the start of the meal process we focus on the food and the needs of each family member. I think that’s why it’s important to involve the members in the process, it’s a time of cooperation, as you stated. It teaches all of us how valuable we are to each other and it builds self esteem that gives us confidence to persue other things with other people. Taking our food forgranted is more than risking your health , it’s ignoring your family and the rest of society. Dining together is a great social activity, but cooking together is bonding the experience of dining..

  • twoshoes

    I would certainly like to read “catching fire” and am kind of surprised that I haven’t ordered it yet.

  • NYCook

    That was incredibly articulate. Well done mate. Ruhlman completely off topic, but if for some reason you needed to do you think you could still work the line or has age coupled with rustiness made this a physical impossibility?

  • justcooknyc

    This was such a great closing to Blogher Food 10, I’m so glad you turned it into a video (with the amazing Todd & Diane of course).

  • Rachelino

    I was going to write what Justin wrote. Such a wonderful uplifting kick in the pants to end Blogher, and very glad todd and Diane captured it on video so I could share it with everyone that wasn’t there. I love that it’s shot in black and white. Very fitting.

  • chris k

    It’s more precise to state that the ability to consciously manipulate energy is what makes us unique among other species. No other organism on the planet (that we know of) does this. Cooking is only one manifestation of this phenomenon, albeit a strongly significant one.

    Our ability to efficiently manipulate and manage available energy resources – whether it’s food or fuel – continues to be the most crucial component to our survival and evolution as a species. Everything else about being human is subjective to this.

  • Pat

    I just used an article in my class from NPR about how cooking propelled human development, and Wrangham was one of the sources. Will have to look for the book — thanks!

  • Denise Michaels - Adventurous Foodie

    Have so much more to learn. One of the things that interests me about food is about how the migration of people throughout the centuries has caused foods to move from one part of the world to another.

    Consider the lowly pancake. In this part of the world it’s topped with butter, maple syrup and maybe berries. South of the border in Mexico and other Latin countries it’s a tortilla. In France it’s a crepe filled with sweet or savory ingredients. In Scotland it’s a crumpet. In the Middle East it’s a pita bread or flat bread. And in the Orient its those little mu shu pancakes. The ingredients vary by region but the over all shape and function is similar. Love that.

  • matt

    incredible. Love the cinematography here from my two favorite food video people around. And you sir, have a fantastic way of talking. Loved the videos. Great passion, great work.

  • dawn

    I would love to express what I feel about food, cooking, buying, preparing, farmers and family….

  • Andrea Meyers

    Well said, well said. Thanks to you and Todd and Diane for putting this together and sharing for those of us who couldn’t go to BlogHer Food.

  • leslie kleinman

    thanks Michael for sharing your positive, delicious (!) thinking. I too am about to try to write an 8 week course for middle schoolers on the joy of food. Anyone have resources, thoughts!!

  • Michelle

    Great post! “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” made me look at the world of food and cooking in a whole new light. I am the chief cook of my tribe and have one question: time. How does one carve out enough time in todays modern world for the preparation, shopping, and cleanup that cooking entails? My kids are older now and it is no longer such a problem. But for years I struggled with the dilemma of softball practice, school programs, and other events all occuring at 6 and 7 o’clock in the evening. I have many friends with kids in school sports and virtually everyone of these families are eating Sonic burgers and Mcnuggets six nights a week. I was just talking about this with a friend today. They ate fast food every night for five years, then her kid didn’t make the high school team, his grades fell, he got into trouble, and now, tonight, during the supper hour, they had family counseling. “Counseling at suppertime!” I said, “I think he would be better off being at home having dinner and cooking a meal with his family.” Now, after hearing your rant, I think I was right. I would love some input on the issue of time and cooking …

  • Jaden

    I think next time you do a video, instead of coffee, let’s do this over a bottle of single malt scotch! 😉

  • rockandroller

    Michelle – this is the age of the moms I work with – they are constantly on the go. 2 kids or more and even just participating in a couple of sports per year requires year-long committment to multiple evenings and weekends devoted to practices and games for the sport. There is no time to cook. I think the only answer unfortunately would be to force your child to limit the # of activities they are involved in, which many parents won’t do. I plan to limit my child’s activity to one music-related and one sport, but even so I’m sure there will be lots and lots of practices/rehearsals and concerts/games based on what I see with the other mothers. When you get off work at 5 and the kid has to be to rehearsal or practice from 6-9, what else can you do to ensure they have something to eat beforehand except pick them up and drive through some place?

    I’d be curious as to how your kids deal with this, Michael, I think you have 3, right? Do they not participate in any activities that take them away from the nightly dinnertime table and food-prep-as-family ritual?

  • Pooja

    I don’t know if you meant the videos to be inspirational. But I was inspired. I am always striving to make cooking an essential part of my life just because I love doing it. I think food does bring people together. And thanks for saying to the world. Despite the 6 cups of coffee, I think you guys did a great job, and thanks for having something to say!

  • Rhonda

    LOVED THIS. Love it. Love it. Love it.

    Although, I wonder if, in 30 or so years when the camera is not there, if you will be thinking aloud in a tattered bathrobe with questionable slippers and a furless cat roaming about? A question for Donna, perhaps.

    Or, did I momentarily confuse you with Tony?

    The White On Rice Blog is one of my favorites. They are truly talented Artists and their work is Inspirational.

  • Becky

    Thank you for this. Your rant reminded me why I love cooking. Passion is an incredible thing.

  • Nell

    Wish there were a transcript. I just couldn’t get past the tone and gestures, which are too close to Glenn Beck for comfort.

  • Shaina

    I couldn’t agree more on how when we stopped cooking, problems started. It’s a very interesting and legitimate point. It’d be fascinating to do a study on families that eat together on an everyday basis and seeing what happens to their children, looking at divorce rates, suicide rates, etc. There are other factors at play, obviously, but I’d be interested in breaking it down.

  • melissa

    Oooh, I’ve heard of this book and want to read it.

    I love this video. “First Breath After a Coma” was absolutely the perfect song to pair with it too. I know this feeling–and not after 6 cups of coffee, either–that urgent, I-have-to-get-this-out-or-I’ll-bust passion that sometimes just sort of spews out when you hit on that one thing you really need to say (just for its own sake) even if you don’t start out knowing you’re going to say it. And it’s true, it really is.

  • luis

    Do you think this is an accident young people don’t cook?
    Young people I know and that means twenties through late forties…
    are either living with ma and pa or friends….They speak in terms of not having a chance to clean their “room”. Kitchen??? Fridge… that is just the danger zone were folks help themselves to their stuff.
    Hard to imagine but true.

    I also know young professionals that buy food each and every day. On and on….they have families but with both parents working with six fig jobs…they don’t make time to cook unless they are on holiday or over the week end.

    That pretty much leaves a few families lucky enough to cook and dine together… but I don’t know these people.

    On the other hand adults near retirement or in retiirement do have the time to buy and read your cook books and actually cook a little.
    Basically we are all a day late and a dollar short on this one.

    OBTW I am enjoying chef’s Simon book. He is teaching me things…and techniques and not bad. I like it

  • luis

    Hence.. we live in times extremelly well defined by Hillary Clinton’s “It takes a village” rant. She is right.. it does take a village and you should be preaching to the food providers and cooker’s and not to plain folk. Just a thought….you elitist repub…you!

  • Kevin

    The first piece is certainly an important social message, that simply doesn’t get in folks’ faces enough. Well done to those who produced this, and to you as spokesperson for the message!

  • scott

    Michael, a tremendously interesting piece, inspirational. how can we get in touch with you, Todd & Diane about possibilities of expanding upon this concept?

    creative director, the 1billionhungry project

  • Rick

    we’ll take victories any place we can get them.

    “Note to Eric Mangini – the best time to beat Super Bowl teams – is in the Super Bowl…”

    They’ll go undefeated the rest of the way, and be the AFC champs, but more importantly, will beat the Steelers!

  • luanda

    I love the way you write and now ….. the way you talk. It just adds that special something to your words. Thanks!

  • Mary Beth Paul

    This is a “Yeah, but…” Your piece about why folks don’t cook today has a lot to do with how our society values (no, DEVALUES) ALL the kinds of homely work that had been previously proscribed to the wife/mother person in the home. Okay, or the “guy stuff”, either.) Few people appear to know how to do laundry (washing, drying, IRONING, MENDING). It’s throw out, buy more, buy more, buy more. Folks don’t appear to value what goes into keeping their domicile working- the inclination is to hire someone for every little thing. Using one’s hands to make things- whether it is the dinner, a toilet cleaned, a working light fixture, a handcrafted bookshelf, etc., are not honored as something that MUST be done.

    Just check the status of your school district’s middle and high school’s home ec/life skills/shop classes. In my district, shop was discontinued years ago- not a single hands on class in making useful things. And home ec, or whatever it’s called now, was dropped for several years. Not sure what the status is currently. But throw in personal budgeting, all the ‘life skills”, and it’s all seen as “not essential”- to get you into college. Not valued. I think the line has been “parents are supposed to be teaching that”. But they’re not. They’re too busy driving kids to team sports that they are not teaching them how to take care of themselves.
    Along those lines, the team sports seasons never end; the kids are eating in the car; fast food is king due to this as much as it is due to parents’ work schedules.

    The current tone of the televised/digitalized foodie world is way closer to food porn/gluttony/excess than to reaching out/sharing/welcoming/FEEDING. It really has to be more about calling everyone to the table than the lone cook standing there in the kitchen, swooning over what great food s/he just prepared.

    Let’s face it. Cooking dinner AND sitting down TOGETHER is subversive! Anti-cultural! How do we persuade others to change their ways? Not by PSAs, or nagging, or preaching. We persuade by inviting family, neighbors, pals, working singles, to sit down at our kitchen table with us.

    I think the culture will change one dinner invitation at a time; one family saying “enough” to excess team sports; one family beginning to swap out fast food for cooking. One family deciding that all the kids WILL be helping with dinner.

    BTW, I practice what I preach.

  • Marie

    The message isn’t about food or cooking, it’s about life. Thanks for inspiring the day.

  • cafekaffee

    But does your son cook? I think part of the problem is that we’re expecting only mothers to be the harbingers of food preparation, but in this day and age, men should join in as well.

  • Kimber

    I like this. Was it just coffee you had? The histrionic passion you display is infectious. Food, a basic need in our hierarchy of living, developed by discovery or more aptly, creativity, and, creativity is a civilizing force. And, the power food has, especially now, has reached new heights and keeps on developing right along with us. Just back to Cleveland from the Napa region, where this is clearly evident. What a wonderful place !


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