Netflix’s ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ espouses a revolutionary approach to cooking

Cristina Martinez
Chef Samin Nosrat in “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” on Netflix.

Anyone who’s had their fill of standard cookbooks and run-of-the-mill cooking shows may find a documentary series dropping this week on Netflix of interest.

Based on chef Samin Nosrat’s revolutionary cookbook of the same title, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” a four-part series that begins streaming Thursday, Oct. 11, explores cooking through what she contends are its four basic elements: salt, which makes foods taste more like themselves; fat, which amplifies tastes; acid, which balances flavors, brightens food and offers contrast; and heat, which provides transformation.

Master these, she maintains, and you will be a master in the kitchen. Also, the show (and the book) encourages the home chef to think for themselves and trust their own senses and instincts, as opposed to blindly following a recipe. And the impressive photography of the sumptuous meals prepared at the end of each episode drives home the points. Just don’t watch them on an empty stomach.

“The book is great – I like to say it’s radically simple,” says Caroline Suh, the series’ director. “… I’m just an amateur cook but I’m very into food, and I have to say some of the lessons that Samin teaches just will completely change the way that you cook, and for the better.”

The series follows Nosrat as she visits four different countries to explain how a given element figures into its cuisine. In the first episode, Nosrat heads to the Tuscany region of Italy to illustrate the role of fat in Italian cooking. Here, she goes into the kitchens of Liguria talk to the chefs and walk viewers through the easy steps of making such staples as focaccia and that all-American favorite, pasta.

“In order to show cooking and really not make it be intimidating,” Suh explains, “we wanted to show as much of it in real time as possible. So we let the cooking scenes play out so you can see that it’s really not that hard to make focaccia. It just takes time and the right ingredients. And the same with making pasta. We wanted to kind of demystify the making of these meals so it didn’t seem like they were too difficult or complicated to make at home.”

Other episodes take Nosrat to Japan to talk about salt’s role in the food there; Mexico, to show how acid works in that cuisine; and Nosrat’s old stomping grounds of Berkeley, Calif. – where she went to college and worked under the tutelage of Alice Waters at Chez Panisse – to discuss heat.

The idea, Suh says, is to get people to think more creatively when it comes to food and cooking, as it did for her.

“You see how people in the (Italy) episode really don’t cook with a recipe and that’s really kind of changed the way I cook,” she says. “I used to follow everything to the tee and if I didn’t have the exact right ingredient I would feel defeated. But now it’s really opened up how I look at food in a different way.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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