Samin Nosrat has a job anyone with tastebuds would envy. She’s a contributing writer to The New York Times; author of the James Beard-award-winning book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat; and now she’s the star of her own Netflix series. The four episodes that just debuted track Nosrat as she travels all over the globe to examine the basic fundamentals of what makes food so delicious, and why we should all be in a closer relationship with what we eat. She spoke to The Takeout about that journey and the valuable culinary lessons she hopes people take away from watching the show.
The Takeout: Congratulations on the new series. What are the main takeaways you would like people to walk away with after seeing it?
Samin Nosrat: The biggest takeaway—what I would really like to happen for anyone who watches the show—is to feel like they can cook something, or anything. I would like you to get off your butt and go cook something, whether it’s chicken or making a vinaigrette for the first time, or you know, making a pot of beans. Because maybe you’re a pretty good home cook, but you always use canned beans.
There’s a reason why we went to a bunch of different countries where people are so different and the food is so different. It’s universal that wherever you go, these elements make food taste good, and cooks have figured that out just by being cooks. But also, as humans... I would love to convey a little bit of basic humanity. Those people, they’re not so different from me.
TO: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions people have about cooking? And I include myself: The thought of throwing a whole roast chicken in the oven kind of intimidates me. What are some things that people should just get over?
SN: Roasting a chicken is pretty easy. It’s pretty hard to mess up. What I’ve learned just from talking to my friends and different readers and students is that a lot of people feel freaked out not by the cooking of the chicken itself, but by touching a raw chicken, you know?
And so I would say let’s get over those fears. Just get over the fear of touching our food. There’s a way where we have been, I think, conditioned by the media and by bad news—and just the way of the world is constantly separating us from sensory experiences. We are on screens the whole time. And the beauty of cooking is that it’s still sensory, and it’s so tactile.
So a basic thing is just cook anything. Like, make yourself a salad for the first time. But I think once you get to experience the joy—especially the joy of sharing it with other people and coming to the table, and that part of it—then you might think, “Oh, well that wasn’t that hard. I can do it again.”
TO: Yeah, but you are fearless. I don’t know may people who would eat the raw fat right off of a pig, like you do at one point on the show.
SN: [Laughs.] I’m squeamish, too, and there were a couple moments where I had not yet created a shorthand with my camera people about like, “Please don’t film this!” Because I think that when someone shares their food with me, that that’s a really sacred thing that they’re doing, and I want to respect that and eat the food…
[But] there were definitely some [moments]… there was a live shrimp that I ate that was a little too much for me. And my eyes started watering, and I ate it a few seconds, and then I ran around the corner. And then the director of photography followed me with the camera, and I was like, “Don’t come here!” So I have those moments, too.
But over the course of the years, I have trained myself to be a taster… You should be free to like whatever you like.
TO: What you keep going back to, which I think is so important, is just the mindfulness of eating. You obviously take such joy in food, that there’s so much to be found in it that a lot of us are just blowing right past.
SN: Again, I hesitate to be too dogmatic about anything, because we all have the burrito in the car. Or in New York, I do it all the time. I was walking down the street eating a falafel, jamming down my mouth before I was getting to the next thing.
But I do I think that even paying a little bit more attention is really an amazing tool. And I think a lot about what has taught me the most about cooking, and almost as important as knowing how to hold a knife and cutting one million onions over the course of 10 years, is paying attention and tasting and learning how to taste.
I also think that sitting around a table with people… it doesn’t even matter what you’re eating, it just matters that you’re making time to come around the table with people. I have a friend who throws a dinner every Sunday, and it’s just like a standing dinner, and all of us can go for a round. It’s become this amazing thing where it’s not about the food. Sometimes the food is really great, and other times it’s just okay. But nobody remembers that. They remember the experience of coming together and the fact that Tom is a lawyer who taught us about the Constitution. Or Hannah is a writer who told us about this, or Greta told us about that. I remember the conversations. I remember the experiences. And food and coming together at the table is just an amazing tool to facilitate that.
TO: Definitely. In your travels then, what were some of your favorite places or visits that you personally got the most out of, even with your vast culinary experience?
SN: It’s hard for me to say top of the list. But it’s been a dream for me to visit and learn about parmesan cheese for a very long time. So that was a big dream come true was to see that happen, to understand—and I had some understanding of the work and time that went into it, but seeing it on that scale, and the fact that they only make 20 wheels of cheese there a day. Just 20, you know? It’s crazy. It was kind of like paying respect at a temple, you know? In a way.
TO: So what’s next for you? Is there going to be a second season of Salt, Fat? Are you working on a new book? What’s the next step?
SN: I’m resting, which I’m very excited about! And I don’t know yet. The amazing thing about the show is that I think there’s an argument to be made for like the fact that it can go on forever, because we can continue going to other countries. But I also feel like I have other ideas, and I would be really excited to do something else. So I think—I’m just excited for this to land and for the world to sort of help guide me to what they want to see next.