Mark Bittman on Cooking for Hitler and Obama

6 years ago
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.

Question: Whom do you most enjoy cooking for?

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?

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."

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?

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]...