Mark Bittman on Cooking for Hitler and Obama

The writer talks about whom he most enjoys cooking for, drinking with Mario Batali in Spain, and whom he'd serve if he could cook for anyone.
  • Transcript


Question: Whom do you most enjoy cooking for?

Mark Bittman:  It’s a toss up.  My wife is the greatest dining companion and a total joy to cook for and she's a good eater and we really have fun together, but I have to say that my kids, who grew up eating my food and can call and say I'm coming over, could you make something Asian or I'm coming over I need this pasta dish or I'm coming over and could you just – could we have one of those – it's really nice and if there are people who don’t like to eat I don’t want to cook for them. 

I don’t want to have to convince anybody that what I'm making is good.  I know it's good.  I usually enjoy it.  If someone enjoys eating, they'll enjoy eating the stuff I cook.  If they don’t, something is wrong somewhere.  There's not – Julia Child used to say, "The great thing about cooking is you get to eat your mistakes."

The thing is that if you take care in cooking and if you know what you're doing, even a little bit, unless you burn something there are very few things that wind up so bad that you can't enjoy them.  Very few.  So I mean I'm lucky enough to have been doing this long enough and writing about it and learning from other people and thinking about it so that generally speaking the stuff I do is pretty good and the people I cook for tend to enjoy it.  But I said before it's not brilliant, it's not earth shattering it's just good food.

Question: What was it like hanging out with Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali in Spain?

Mark Bittman:  Well, Mario and I have known each other probably ten years and we've gotten increasingly busy, so we don’t see each other that much.  So it was really a treat to hang out so much and I know from my – the people who – I was going to say my fans, which I guess is right, but anyway.  I know from people who've watched "Spain on the Road Again" and my other TV shows that everybody thinks that TV is the most fun thing in the world and everybody's completely jealous of, "Oh, well you got to hang out with Mario and Gwyneth and who's that beautiful woman and the food in Spain must be so amazing."

The fact is television is a tremendous amount of work.  And for every minute on screen there is an hour of work.  So for every 60 minutes on screen, there's a week of work and it really is like that.  So we did a huge amount of driving and there's a lot of setup time and not exactly rehearsal but figuring out what we're going to do.  So none of that was my favorite part.

My favorite part was nighttime when everything was done and we all got drunk together.  So that was really great and Mario, of course, can drink anyone under the table.  I think he'll admit to this, maybe it's not an admission, I think he'll be proud of this.  Whereas I can't drink anyone under the table plus I go to bed earlier than anybody else.  I go to bed earlier than anybody.

So we'd finish the shoot, we'd have a bite to eat, we'd have a fair amount of wine.  It would be 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, I'd go to bed.  Mario would be up until four in the morning.  Everyone else was waking up with black eyes and broken shoulders, he was always in great shape.  So that was sort of what it was like.

Question: If you could cook for anyone, living or not, whom would you serve?

Mark Bittman:  So I could say I would cook for Adolph Hitler and serve him poison.  I could say that.  I could say quite sincerely -- see I don’t think you could influence people really, I mean I – the obvious answer, an obvious answer is well, I would cook for President Obama and set him straight on a number of issues but he's already got a lot of people setting him straight. 

I think the people I'd most like to cook for would be my maternal grandparents, who I loved very much and have been dead a long time and who I think, in some ways, were responsible a lot for my personality and a lot for the way I handle myself and also for my love of food and saying that makes me think I should go cook for my parents more often than I do.  They're alive, fortunately, so I'm going to go and [do that]...