October 25, 2011
I am of the mind that the process of learning how to cook should always begin with learning how to shop.
If you know how to select the highest-quality, freshest ingredients you can afford, and if you can organize your life so there's time to stock your fridge and pantry with those, you've really won half the battle.
First in terms of cooking motivation -- we all know the magical inspirational powers of vibrant produce -- but also in terms of results: the exact same recipe and skills will yield an incomparably tastier dish if you're working with the good stuff. (And in truth, the good stuff barely needs your intervention to shine.)
This is why I was thrilled when I received a copy of the just-released Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food book, co-written by Sam Mogannam, who runs the popular independent grocery store near Dolores Park in San Francisco, and food writer Dabney Gough.
The premise of the book is right in line with this belief of mine: even before the recipes (ninety of them, from farro salad to pear skillet cake) appear, the authors take you on a detailed tour of an ideal market, aisle by aisle, explaining how to shop for this or that ingredient, what to look out or watch out for, and how to handle them properly once you've brought them home.
In the introduction of the book, the section titled "The Marketplace Manual" reads like the wise shopper's manifesto, and had me nodding my head in enthusiastic agreement at every paragraph. From these five pages alone, I knew I was in good hands, and this was confirmed in every one of the subsequent chapters, as I was steered from the grocery to the deli, to the produce department, the butcher counter, the dairy case, the cheese department and the bakery, and finally to wine and beer.
It is all too easy for the twenty-first century shopper to become overwhelmed by the organic, the sustainable, the local, the seasonal, the artisanal, the heritage, the non-GMO, the grass-fed, the humanely raised, the line-caught, and the fair-trade. With so many adjectives to reconcile, it's a relief to hear a voice that offers sound, enlightened, realistic advice, peppered with clever practical tips.
If you've seen the book, I'd love to hear what you think. And how about sharing the best food shopping tip you've ever been given?
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