Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: cooking together towards self-authorization

By Rachel Katz

I am an avid consumer of food media; I follow tons of food publications and writers on Twitter, love a good recipe post on Instagram, and curl up with a book of essays from the trenches of the food industry. That said, a recent favourite of mine is Samin Nosrat’s Netflix series, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. In four episodes, Nosrat takes the viewer on a multi-national trip, showing them how to cook using the four elements of cooking. They are, you guessed it, salt, fat, acid, and heat.

Much has been written about Nosrat’s mini-series since it premiered in September. She is not your average cooking show host, and she brings a kind of warmth to the discussions I have never seen in another documentary series. She draws us in with her unusual,ambitious multinational focus, and her incredible ability to connect with her audience.

While most TV chefs demonstrate techniques and dishes that surpass the ability of the general public, she chooses dishes even a novice home cook can recreate. She invites the audience to cook with her. She wants to help you develop your own skills. The attainability of most of the dishes in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a sight to behold, and it gets your stomach rumbling and your mind spinning, trying to keep up with all the flavours and tricks she imparts throughout the show. I have been a pretty avid home cook for a few years now, and Nosrat’s culinary adventures inspired me like no one else I have ever seen on TV. I felt like I was actually in her kitchen with her, preparing short ribs or tahdig or miso eggs for a multitude of different guests. She invites us in, teaches us how to care for new cuisines and make things we’re proud of.

Samin Nosrat reacting with enthusiasm to food; also one of the dishes prepared in the course of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Samin Nosrat reacting with enthusiasm to food; also one of the dishes prepared in the course of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

When we examine the act of cooking and learning to cook from a psychodynamic perspective, a connection can be made between cooking and self-knowledge. One psychoanalyst compares a patient’s explanation of “cooking together” to her relationship to the analyst. This is “a way of co-creating a profound form of thinking that, in fact, integrates primary and secondary processes and belongs neither to patient nor to analyst”. To generalize this, we can think about “cooking together” as a sharing of very visceral connected experiences. In this connection, Nosrat provides us with an invitation to pleasure; the pleasure of creating together.

While there is much that the introspection from a rote task like cooking can teach us about ourselves – our desires, our competencies, our fears of failure, we can learn so much by sharing, learning about food, and cooking, with our friends and peers. We can tie this to the fundamental group relations method of understanding group behaviour, BART: Boundary, Authority, Role, and Task. The boundary, or container – in this case cooking – must be agreed upon, and sets the tone for how the work of the group unfolds. In other words, everyone must collaborate to ensure they are working towards the same goals. The work involved in creating and inviting cooking environment requires both a cooking setup and an atmosphere in which hosts and guests work together to create a meal and engage with each other. This inevitably leads to learning about oneself and one’s interlocutors.

This process can be internal as well. One way to define authority is as “the right to do work”. If we think about this in a reflexive manner, this can contribute to self-knowledge. I know that cooking allows me to slip into this fugue-like state; I’m dimly connected to whatever rote task I’m performing, but I’m usually just thinking, mulling over the day’s events or working through difficult problems I’ve been having with school or in my relationships. By granting ourselves this “right to do work”, we can lose ourselves in the accomplishing of tasks related to food preparation, while simultaneously allowing our minds to wander.

No cooking show has ever embodied this kind of action, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to see my favourite things about cooking visualized. That changed when I watched Samin Nosrat bustling in various kitchens around the world. She is calm, she is focused on the task at hand, but so often her conversation diverts from the food in front of her. She asks her guests about their families or their favourite memories of a place, but often her conversations are merely anchored in the place where the food is being prepared.

Imagine if we all were or had a friend like Samin Nosrat; someone who could guide us to create something new and learn something about ourselves along the way. In her show, Nosrat encourages us to unwind and discover the hidden components and secret flavours in our food. If we took that kind of gentle encouragement and encouraged one another to explore the hidden depths of our selves, we could forge flavourful, nuanced relationships with ourselves and with one another.

References:
Green, Zachary and Molenkamp, Rene, The BART System of Group and Organizational Analysis: Boundary, Authority, Role and Task. Available at https://www.it.uu.se/edu/course/homepage/projektDV/ht09/BART_Green_Molenkamp.pdf

Next time: the Great Men and the repetition compulsions of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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