Three times a year, ICE publishes The Main Course, our school newsletter. In addition to listing all the upcoming classes, each issue is filled with interviews, articles and school news. One of the highlights is always an interview with a notable food personality. In the past, we’ve talked to Daniel Boulud, Andrew Carmellini, and Gail Simmons among others. For the Winter 2012 issue, we sat down with Mark Bittman, the lead food writer for the New York Times Magazine and an opinion columnist for the New York Times, for which he began writing in 1990. Before his current duties, he authored the weekly “The Minimalist” column for the newspaper, launched in 1997. His book, How to Cook Everything, has sold more than 1 million copies. He is also the author of How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian, Food Matters, The Food Matters Cookbook, The Minimalist Cooks Dinner, and a slew of other books, including the upcoming How to Cook Everything: The Basics (March 2012), which contains 1000 photographs to accompany step-by- step instructions for everything one needs to cook, including how to boil water. He has won several awards from the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals for his writing and his television series, Bittman Takes on America’s Chefs. He frequently appears on the Today show, and was the host of PBS’s Spain: On the Road Again with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow. The Main Course met with him at the New York Times to gain his perspective on today’s food world and the changes required to our food system. Stay tuned for parts two and three of the interview in the coming weeks.
Michael Pollan recently anointed you one of the most powerful voices in food — one of seven. What does that mean to you?
Obviously, I was honored to be on the list, though it is after all just a list. I would have put together a different list if someone had asked me to do it, but Michael knows a huge number of people in the food world, he’s really a central figure, and that makes his choices meaningful. Obviously, you’d rather be on a list like that than not. So it was great.
How do you think you ended up on a list like that?
I think it’s the [New York] Times. I like to think that How to Cook Everything has been an influential book, and it would be falsely modest to say it hasn’t been. But I’m the only regularly-appearing opinion writer in a major newspaper in the United States writing pretty much exclusively about food, and as it happens, the paper that I’m doing it for—it’s not a coincidence—is the most important paper in the country and one of the most important papers in the world. So it’s as much about the platform as it is about me. Again, it would be falsely modest to say I didn’t work hard to get here, and I lobbied for this position and got it. I’ve been lucky; I’ve worked hard; I’ve been in the right place. Those are three of the things that make you successful: hard work, being in the right place, luck.
What is your exact title here at the Times?
I guess you would say I am the lead food writer for the magazine and an opinion columnist, or you could just say I’m a food columnist.
You write about food obviously, but it’s not just recipes; you write about the food system, it seems, more than anything.
Yes, but I’m writing about food. I would say that for the first 22, 23 years of my food writing career, I wrote almost exclusively about cooking and things related to cooking. Some about eating because I did travel writing, but now in the last few years, I’m writing much more about food, about everything that it means, which includes cooking. I haven’t abandoned cooking at all, and I love the stuff that I’m doing for the magazine, but it’s a much broader world for me now. And much more fun as a result.
Come back for more with Bittman next week. In the next installment he looks more at our food system and ways we can change our diet.