Cooked, the new documentary series on Netflix by Michael Pollan which is based on the best-selling book by Pollan is a must watch. It follows the same structure of the book and is based on four episodes looking at cooking through the four elements: fire, water, air and earth.
Pollan is not new to food. He is probably one of the most influential writers in the United States on the subject and has made it a mission to get people to learn more about the food we eat. Famous for his book the Omnivore’s Dilemma, with Cooked Pollan takes a different approach.
He tackles the subject of cooking through the four elements and shows how these have been crucial in shaping the society we know today. But, unlike ever before, we are at risk of losing a lot of our culture and identities by our decision to ‘outsource’ cooking to corporations.
The four documentaries in the series are narrated by Pollan himself and include interviews with the author. He visits different parts of the world to demonstrate cooking with the four elements and also shows how to ‘cook’ with the four elements using fire, air, water and earth (fermentation).
Having also read the book, I knew what to expect in each of the episodes. Nevertheless, these are still extremely enjoyable to watch particularly because of the great footage, narration and story telling.
The way Pollan approaches each subject is to show how important each element has been in the evolution of mankind from when we mastered fire, to cooking with water, to the miracle of bread making through air and fermentation.
In the first episode, Pollan says fire is a very powerful thing and a lot of it is due to the fact that with it we can get fat. Most of us crave meat cooked on a fire. “We are the only species that cooks and when we learned to cook we became truly human,” he says. Pollan adds that the phenomenon of cooking shows has grown which is ironic given the less time we invest in cooking, the more time we seem to spend watching it being done on TV. While we have outsourced most of our lives to corporations, cooking is nostalgic because most of us has powerful memories of being cooked for by our mums and dads or grandparents.
In the episode dealing with water, Pollan says cooking has always been a part of his life though he seldom had time for cooking. For him, cooking with water represents the stews which his mother used to make and which gathered together flavours and harmonised them. Pollan says it is no longer a given that cook. Nowadays, cultures are finding it difficult to spend time in the kitchen. He asks how did we get to this point and looks at what have we lost in the process.
When he touches upon the subject of air, Pollan looks at bread making and reflects on the importance this has had on our societies both nowadays but also in the past. Pollan says out of the four elements, air is the most elusive because we cannot see it but this is what makes it special. One of the ways we transform food is by getting air into it. He says there is no other food he likes more than bread and this has just three ingredients, flour, water and salt.
In the last episode he looks at earth and fermentation. Pollan says all cooking is transformation and in that sense it is miraculous. But of all the different transformations fermentation is the most miracolous and mysterious because it does not involve any applied heat. Pollan says that heat is replaced by bacteria and microbes which come from the earth. Many do not realise how many staple foods are fermented. He mentions ketchup, beer, salami, prosciutto all the way to chocolate. A third of the food in our diet is fermented and in most cases we don’t even know.
With this series, Netflix has shown it is taking food very seriously. After the success of the first series of Chef’s Table, it has announced two other seasons. Cooked is a great addition to its portfolio and a series worth watching even if you are not necessarily into food.
Pollan warns that the ‘American’ dream to liberate people by allowing corporations to cook the food is creating a problem for society and one which we need to address. It should serve as a wake-up call to people who might not be passionate about cooking or food. It is a call for action. Don’t miss it.