Question: What are your first memories of enjoying food?
Mark Bittman: They're all jumbled. They're all jumbled together, but they really are associated with both my grandmothers. My father's mother, who died when I was pretty young, I do remember going to her house and she lived in a walk up tenement in the Bronx where my father grew up. She lived in the same apartment in which my father grew up. And I do remember he making blintzes or pirogi or something like that from scratch, making the dough, rolling it out, filling it with cheese or potatoes and cooking them, and that was pretty incredible because I don’t have – my mother didn’t do that stuff, so I don’t have a lot of that but I have that little bit of that. Then my other grandmother she was the one who really did the big family functions and would cook for 15 and 20 people at once and would scream at everybody in the kitchen and da, da, da and she made very, very classic eastern European Jewish food and was good at it. I don’t remember anything particular. I mean, I remember eating many different things. I don’t have a single memory though.
Question: How did you first get interested in cooking?
Mark Bittman: It was kind of self-defense. I grew up in New York and the food was interesting, varied, not particularly great at home but out on the streets it was good and in some of my friends parents' houses it was good and then I went away to school in Massachusetts where the food was abysmal and I started cooking out of self-defense. I mean it was just the only I could imagine to get half way decent food was to learn how to make it myself and it really began there and then continued through a series of roommates, some of whom cooked and some didn’t, but all of whom were interested in what I was cooking. Because I was just following recipes, there was no training, but there were good recipes so it worked.
And then I had a child and started cooking for her and then I started writing about food. I mean at that point I knew -- it had been eight or ten years and I knew enough about food to write a little about it and then, no pun intended, they fed off of each other.
So I was writing about food and I was cooking and I had to cook in order to write better about food, so there's incentive to cook more which gave me more to write about. There you have it. I still have not ever had any formal training.