The Art of the Recipe

While he has never been a professional chef, Mark Bittman has worked as a food writer for over 30 years. He is the bestselling author of the cookbooks "How to Cook Everything", "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian", and  "Food Matters", and he writes The Minimalist column for the New York Times. He also regularly makes online cooking videos for the Times' Diner's Journal blog, and often appears on television. Last year he traveled to Spain with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow to tape the public television series "Spain: On the Road Again." He lives in New York.

  • Transcript


Question: Describe your kitchen.


Mark Bittman:  I moved this year and I moved from a kitchen that was six by seven to a kitchen that was about eight by eight.  So its an eight by eight?  Maybe it's seven by seven; it's 50-something square feet.  It has counters on two sides.  It has a refrigerator on a third side.  It has drawers on a fourth side and it has two doors.  It has a sink and a dishwasher and a stove and it has maybe six feet of counter space and nothing is fancy but it's, for me, nearly perfect.  I mean I wish I could fit more – like I wish I could fit a table in it and I wish I could fit more people in it to hang out with while I was cooking but it's pretty great.  It's really nice but there's nothing unusual or remarkable about it.


Question: What inspires you to create a new recipe?


Mark Bittman: The way that recipes happen for me is shopping.  It all starts with shopping.  So I will go -- I got to Chinatown a lot.  I go to decent supermarkets.  I go to green markets, and I try to buy everything that looks good that I think I can cook in the next X days.  I mean am I cooking at home for the next four days?  Because to be home for four days in a row is a lot. 


I'll buy four days of food but I'll buy a lot and then I will go home and I will cook what I bought and almost always, a.) because I have like no patience with cooking from recipes, b.) because I'm not that methodical, c.) because I have a bad memory and always think I'm making things up.  I can't even duplicate my own recipes.  What happens is there's this house full of food and I start cooking and usually interesting things happen.  I don’t – brilliant things don’t happen, but interesting things happen, interestingly enough to write about evidently, since people read this stuff.


Question: You often suggest substituting one ingredient for another. Doesn't that change the recipe?


Mark Bittman:  Well, I don’t really care.  If you substitute one -- if you were making pasta with broccoli and you don’t have broccoli, you want to make pasta with cauliflower, everything about that is the same: the cooking time, the technique, just about everything about it is the same, assuming you know how to trim broccoli and trim cauliflower.  Is it a different recipe?  You might say it's a different recipe, but almost everything about it is the same and so what if it's a different recipe, it's still good.  I mean, I like to say you can vary things as much as you want to, but you have to remember that you can't make a roast chicken without chicken.