Finally, something you can feel good about binge-watching: Award-winning food writer and author Michael Pollan is getting his own Netflix docu-series next month. The four-episode show, Cooked, is based on the author’s 2013 book by the same name that explores different methods of cooking and their evolutionary and cultural impacts on humankind, with the ultimate goal of “[issuing] a clarion call for a return to the kitchen in order to reclaim lost traditions and restore balance to our lives.”
Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney, known for such documentary films as Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, is executive producer of the show.
Each episode will focus on a different natural element and its relationship to both ancient and modern cooking methods. In the “Fire” episode, Pollan will delve into the cross-cultural tradition of barbecue by looking at fire-roasts of monitor lizards in Western Australia and visiting with a barbecue pitmaster; in the “Water” episode, he’ll take lessons from kitchens in India and cover the issues surrounding processed foods. An episode titled “Air” explores the science of bread-making and gluten, while the final episode, “Earth,” looks at how fermentation preserves raw foods. Every episode will also feature Pollan in his home kitchen in Berkeley, California, with the intention of underscoring the viewpoint that “surrounded as we are by fast food culture and processed foods, cooking our own meals is the single best thing we can do to take charge of our health and well being.”
Pollan says he believes the series builds on and deepens the research set forth in his book. “The filmmakers went to places I hadn’t gone and gave it much more of a global emphasis than I did in the book,” he notes. “For example in the part of the ‘Water’ episode shot in India, they showed how entrepreneurs there have dealt with the challenges of culture when people are working long hours, in a completely different and much healthier way than we have in America. There was a great deal of fresh reporting.”
Although each episode is directed by a different filmmaker, that doesn’t mean the series lacks a cohesive theme: “One of the things I like about this series is that there’s an angle to it,” says Gibney. “It’s not some supposedly objective look at cooking through the ages, not a paint-by-the-number history series. It’s Michael’s point-of-view. That said, within that context, the directors were allowed a lot of freedom of style and content that brought a certain eclectic vitality to the series.”
Cooked is scheduled to release on Netflix on February 19.
This isn’t the first time one of Pollan’s books has been adapted to the screen: A two-hour documentary film version of In Defense of Food was released last year, and another book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has been optioned for a potential feature film.Brenna Houck