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2018 NZ Festival Writers and Readers: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

Sessions recorded at Writers and Readers Festivals in New Zealand

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: a conversation

Samin Nostram / Marianne Elliott

Samin Nostram / Marianne Elliott Photo: Aya Brackett / NZ Festival Writers & Readers

Master these four elements and anything you cook will be delicious says Samin Nosrat, the author of the New York Times best-seller Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

“America’s next great cooking teacher” shared her knowledge with author, activist and foodie Marianne Elliott at this year's NZ Festival Writers and Readers.

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In Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat has written a best-selling book on food which takes a new approach to explaining how cookery works.

Becoming a regular at international book festivals and the subject of lively media interest came as a surprise to Samin, who and grew up in Southern California and is of Iranian heritage.

She always knew that her mum was an exceptional cook, though.

“She cooked so much beautiful Persian food for us.”

Despite spending a lot of her childhood being driven around in the family car on a hunt for the best feta cheese, the best lamb and the best citrus, Samin at first wanted to be a writer.

After school, she studied English at UC Berkeley's Northern California campus.

When someone at her college mentioned a fancy restaurant nearby, Alice Waters' famed bistro Chez Panisse. Samin had never heard of it. Fine dining just wasn’t part of her life.

The next year, things changed. Samin fell in love with a man from San Francisco.

"A big part of how we spent our time together was eating.” 

But neither had been to Chez Panisse.

"So we saved our money for seven months and we went to eat there. I was 19, wearing a black tank top and a denim skirt, and we drove up in the Volkswagen convertible, and we had this dinner there and it was amazing.”

Samin was deeply impressed by the way that in fine dining restaurants “you’re just so exquisitely cared for. Every need was anticipated. They brought you more bread before you ran out. They did everything.”

When the server brought the dessert (a chocolate soufflé), she demonstrated to the couple how to eat it – poke a hole in it with your spoon and then pour in the accompanying sauce so that every single bite had some sauce with it.

individual chocolate souffle

Photo: Martiapunts / Fotolia

“So I did that, and took a bite, and [the server] said ‘How is it?’

"And I said, ‘It’s really good but you know it would be even better if you ate it with a glass of cold milk.’

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"She looked at me and she laughed.

"I had no idea that a: it was the rudest thing to say to somebody 'This would be better if you do this thing', and b: in fine dining, milk is for babies and to drink it after 10am is gross. I think she was charmed so she brought me milk.”

The server also brought Samin and her boyfriend a glass of dessert wine each to teach them each "the refined approach” to matching food and drink.

Samin was so inspired by the experience that she applied to work at Chez Panisse part-time while continuing to study, at first clearing tables.

She was entranced at the professionalism, skill and imagination of the chefs there, and her unexpected career in food began.

Samin Nosrat

Samin Nosrat Photo: credit Aya Brackett

Samin Nosrat

Samin Nosrat is a California writer, cook and teacher who learned her kitchen craft under chef and author Alice Waters at California restaurant Chez Panisse, and in Italy alongside Benedetta Vitali and Dario Cecchini.

She is also a student of poetry, Shakespeare, land stewardship, and journalism (under Michael Pollan, whom she taught to cook).

Her book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking distils decades of professional experience into four fundamental elements, aiming to give readers knowledge to cook in a confident way.

Marianne Elliott

Marianne Elliott

Marianne Elliott Photo: NZ Festival Writers and Readers

Marianne Elliott is a writer and human rights advocate. She served in the United Nations mission in Afghanistan with a focus on human rights and gender issues, and wrote about that in her 2012 book Zen Under Fire: A Story of Work and Love in Afghanistan.

She co-founded La Boca Loca and Boquita restaurants in Wellington, and co-authored the La Boca Loca Cookbook of Mexican food recipes. Marianne recently stepped down as the co-director of ActionStation, but remains as an advisor.

This audio was recorded in partnership with 2018 NZ Festival Writers and Readers at Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre. The next festival is scheduled for March 2020.