Cooking up a new take on food

Raphael Kaiser washes off the cheese with salt water at the production facility of Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser in Noyan, Que., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

Approach food in a new way with Samin Nosrat’s unique cooking docuseries that explores the four elements that define cooking: salt, fat, acid and heat. The new series on Netflix, “Salt Fat Acid Heat,” based on Nosrat’s book, features one element per 40 minute episode. The series combines different aspects of beloved food shows, such as cooking demonstrations, interviews with chefs and travel, to deliver a fresh perspective on food from all around the world.
The series’ first episode, “Fat,” heralds the traditionally negatively-connoted element as one that brings its own unique flavor to a dish while “amplifying others.” The episode takes place in northern Italy. Nosrat learns of the integral use of olive oil, pork fat and cheese in their cuisine.
“Fat makes food delicious,” Nosrat proclaims. She has been cooking for 18 years, traveling the world as she discovered the four titular elements that “make or break a dish.”
The episode explores the cultural significance and history of olive oil. Going to an olive farm and an olive oil factory and tasting the oil constitutes an enriching and nostalgic aspect of the series. Nosrat seeks to explain the basis of flavors and the elements of cooking at their source in each episode.
The conversations in Italian and in other languages as seen in future episodes do not detract from the viewers’ understanding, as there are subtitles and Nosrat’s narration between takes. In fact, it emphasizes the authenticity of the documentary and global aspect of cooking.
Nosrat then takes her culinary adventure to Japan, where viewers can immerse themselves in the exploration of salt, which “brings food to life.” Four thousand kinds of salt come from Japan, and Nosrat brings viewers into the Moshio Salt Factory to see just a few of them, once again exposing viewers to the source and production of the cooking element. The cooking demonstration of making miso from Kazumi showcases the historical yet simple use of salt in basic flavor, following the authentic exploration of the documentary.
Acid, the titular element of the following episode, is essential to cooking as it creates contrast and balances the flavors in a dish. By traveling to the Yucatan, the citrus belt of Mexico, Nosrat explores the tart and sour flavors that add dimension to Mexican food. The fresh flavors of the sour oranges from the citrus market, salsas and Mayan honey further demonstrate the show’s dedication to go to places where local people use the element in their daily life and culture, as exhibited in their native products and dishes.
The final episode, “Heat,” takes place back in Nosrat’s home in California, exploring the transformative nature of the element. Nosrat returns to Chez Panisse, the kitchen where she worked as a chef. She works with Amy Dencler, head chef of the restaurant, to demonstrate how heat and fire draw out the natural color and flavor of meat and vegetables.
Nosrat then roasts chicken and cooks crispy rice with her mother, reminiscent of simpler days in the kitchen and returning to the final theme of the show: food is way to bring people together, whether it be across the world or in your hometown.
The cinematic elements of the show elevate the authentic and honest feeling of Nosrat’s travels to the source of each food element. The nostalgic and simple narration style, fun graphics that simplify cooking explanations and upbeat thematic music show cooking as a labor of love. Nosrat spares no details to truly encompass all parts of the element, from exploring the history surrounding it, its prevalent place in certain cultures and consulting and learning from people that have years of working with the element.
Nosrat shows that cooking can be simple yet a work of art, just as her simple show plays like a work of art on the screen. The series doesn’t just pay homage to food, but to Nosrat’s love and dedication to learn more about food. The beauty in “Salt Fat Acid Heat” is its honest simplicity, inspiring you to think differently about the flavors and cultural aspects of your food before you even start cooking.
Rating: 4.5/5


Hollie Lao is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hollianne.lao@uconn.edu.