Mark is “selmelier” of The Meadow, an internationally recognized artisan-product boutique that specializes in salt, chocolate, specialty foods, and flowers. He is a leading expert on artisan-made salt and his clientele spans chefs from top restaurants around the country, high-end food manufacturers, specialty retailers, as well as thousands of visitors. He has been recognized as a Local Food Hero by Cooking Light and a Tastemaker in Food & Wine, and his presentations on salt have garnered national broadcast coverage.
Salted is nominated for not only a James Beard Foundation Book Award in the Reference & Scholarship category, but is also up for IACP Awards in two categories: Food & Beverage Reference/Technical and First Book: The Julia Child Award.
The Recipe Club: What inspired you to write Salted?
Mark Bitterman: I wrote Salted because I was frustrated—or maybe appalled is the better word. There was not a single book out there that seriously examined the different salts produced by different people around the world. Salt is the first ingredient, the most universal ingredient, the most powerful ingredient. For ten millennia salt has been made by virtually every society in every corner of the globe, where it reigned supreme over entire cultures. Every salt was a unique reflection of the world’s diverse peoples.
With the rise of the modern chemical and manufacturing industries 150 years ago, salt production went industrial in order to supply these new, global markets. Mechanization allowed production by the millions of tons, and salt became just another processed, homogenous chemical spun from the industrial maw.
Until recently, we never gave this a second thought. Now we’ve begun to question the industrialization of food, not just because of its impact on nutrition and the environment, but for intellectually scary reasons like how it alienates us from our planet and our traditions.
Our most essential food has been overlooked for 150 years, but aspects of its millennia-long lifespan have survived—if fragmented and elusive—in many places. I wanted a book that revealed salt as the intriguingly idiosyncratic ingredient that it is, and at the same time used salt to reinvigorate our interest in food and people.
TRC: What would Recipe Club members not know about you that directly influences your work?
MB: Now that I’ve written a 98,371 word book on salt I can no longer deny that I’m obsessed with salt. But I don’t consider myself a “foodie.” Or, at least I am not a veteran foodie. I never organized my goals in life around food for food’s sake. Most of my past has been spent traveling, working in odd places with odd people, reading, and writing amidst assorted artistic and venal pursuits. But the more I traveled and the more people I got to know, the more I saw food as a subject over which all of us could meet up to exchange ideas and form bonds irrespective of our backgrounds and interests. When I had kids, the amount of time I had for most things shrank, but food was one of the things left over after paring down. I think food is important, and salt is paramount among foods–a food around which we can organize expeditions into the many things that interest us. Salt is my preferred way to taste the fullness of life. If salt is my obsession, at least it’s a healthy one.
“Food is important, and salt is paramount among foods–a food around which we can organize expeditions into the many things that interest us.”
TRC: If Salted achieves one thing, what would you want it to be?
MB: I would love for my book to achieve just three simple things:
1. The unconditional and universal abandonment of processed salts by restaurants, food manufacturers, home cooks, and eaters.
2. The widespread embrace of unrefined, distinctive salts as a quality ingredient.
3. A renewed respect for salting as an act that is deliberate, considered, and necessary.
TRC: What is your favorite recipe from the book, and why?
MB: The first recipe in the book is Unsalted Bread with Unsalted Butter and Salt. Besides being a little cheeky, it illustrates several key points I hope to make with the book.
First: Good salt is a special ingredient in your meal. The lush, supple, luminescent crystals of a good fleur de sel invite you into a more intimate connection to your food. Touch it, crunch it between your fingers, lick off the stray flecks stuck to your fingers after you’ve pinched it over the food.
Second: Salting is a deliberate act. Deconstructing such a fundamental food, bread and butter, by taking out the salt from both the bread and the butter forces us to consider the foods without salt, and then re-introduce salt into the dish in a way that provokes thought and unleashes flavor.
“The primary goal of using artisan salt, and of salting consciously, is to make food taste better. And not just a little better. Way better. A crusty loaf, a luscious butter, and the silver-rose glint of mineral saltiness . . .”
The third is simply the fact that the food is wildly delicious. The primary goal of using artisan salt, and of salting consciously, is to make food taste better. And not just a little better. Way better. A crusty loaf, a luscious butter, and the silver-rose glint of mineral saltiness . . . what better way to stage an insurrection against all the doubt we may harbor after 150 years of eating bad salt and not even knowing it?
Still wanting more? Check in with us tomorrow, when we highlight another award nominee!