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GUEST BLOG #61: Tom Brinkmoeller Cooks Up a Tasty TV and Podcast Recommendation
November 5, 2009  | By Tom Brinkmoeller

[Bianculli here: Last year, I interviewed cooking author and columnist Mark Bittman for Fresh Air, in an interview you can hear HERE. Today, contributing TV WORTHWATCHING writer Tom Brinkmoeller revisits him. I asked about steaks; Tom asks about podcasts and television. Showoff...]


Minimalist Mark Bittman Maximizes Bite-Sized Video Podcasts

Foodies know Mark Bittman through his New York Times columns and his popular cooking books.

TV viewers who have an interest in food may know Bittman as Mario Batali's reluctantly comic sidekick on the recent public TV series about food in Spain (Spain...On the Road Again). Or they might have seen him in a guest cooking spot on Today.


In the former, he appeared to acquiesce to Batali's claim to the majority of the spotlight. On Today, as it is with any chef who appears on that show's cooking segments, there's the problem of fitting an interesting segment into an unreasonably short space, while contending with one or more of the program's hosts.

But Bittman finally gets the stage to himself, and proves himself an interesting cook and an entertaining host, on his New York Times-produced The Minimalist video podcasts. (They're also available on iTunes).

In less than five minutes -- usually solo on a kitchen set, but sometimes with a guest chef -- Bittman puts together dishes that not only look good, but also are uncomplicated enough to be re-created by the mere mortals watching him.


And it's all fun to watch. He takes neither cooking nor himself too seriously. Clear, succinct and interesting: The simplicity of the formula and its successful execution makes one wonder how much time is simply wasted on some half-hour food shows.

With 150 Minimalist episodes completed and the ease with which each show flows, you might think this is an idea Bittman developed and is happy to see succeed. No to the first; yes to the second. It was an idea that started with the boss. He reacted as many writers do when an editor attempts to oversteer the vehicle.

"The Times wanted me to do it," he said during a phone interview. "I did it kicking and screaming -- though now I like it. Now I think it's great."

He shoots 13 episodes every quarter, over "six or seven days." He said it's easier to do a complete package with the podcasts, because they're produced and edited. The Today appearances are three-to-five-minute live segments he called "a scramble... but I've gotten better at it."


The Spain series, in which he, Batali and actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Bassols road-tripped to food venues across the country in a pair of luxury cars, ran during the past year on public-TV stations. Bittman participated in the planning for the 13-part series with Charles Pinsky, its director and executive producer, and said he "had fun doing it." Pinsky is thinking of doing a similar series in another part of the world, said Bittman -- who isn't revealing where that might be, or the identities of the celebrity travelers.

With so many video podcasts, Today appearances and the Spain series on his resume, it seemed Bittman might have a few recommendations of food shows he thinks are worth watching. But that would be wrong:

"I don't watch a lot of food television," he said. "I don't, for the most part, find it that interesting. It's mostly junk."

And that's all he had to say on that subject. Podcasts, stints on morning news shows and sharing an audio track with the outspoken Mario Batali probably engenders brevity.



Tom Brinkmoeller, who struggles with the cooking of almost anything, understandably admires the author of How to Cook Everything (Bittman), a book that sold so well he wrote a completely revised 10th anniversary version.



shauna said:

He was so great on the PBS special! Glad to see he's doing these podcasts now and hope to see more of him. He's really fun to watch and knowledgeable about what he's doing.

Comment posted on November 5, 2009 2:11 PM

Eileen said:

Hi Tom,
Nothing against cooking, but today is a special day for all of us who love TVWW and, of course, David & his Guest Critics.

Happy 2nd Anniversary!! Thank you, David, and Tom, the Dianes and Ed for two years of entertaining and informative reading & commenting.

When I first discovered David would no longer be with the NY Daily News, I was heartsick. I "googled" his name, and was thrilled to find this site. In my opinion, it's the best site on the internet.

All of you critics are top notch, and the readers and commenters on this site are really great. A thorough knowledge of tv and its illustrious history.

Hope we can look forward to many more years together. Cheers!!

[Eileen, I speak for us all, I think, when I say, "Wow. Thanks. Really." And I'd forgotten about my own site's anniversary -- but yes, TV WORTH WATCHING launched on Nov. 5, 2007. Thanks, everyone who hopped aboard this homemade train, for taking the trip with us. -- David B.]

Comment posted on November 5, 2009 2:26 PM

Tom Brinkmoeller said:


Lucky for us TVWW resulted from Bianculli's separation from the New York Daily News. We get to read more and better stuff than we could when he worked at the paper. I, too, have followed since the start and love it. Thanks for pointing out the anniversary. It's a happy one.

Comment posted on November 5, 2009 9:07 PM

Angela said:

I just watched 5 of Bittman's videos you linked to. Wow! I'm impressed. And there was no being sneaky by doing all the prep work ahead of time to make it look easy.

Being totally frustrated with the amount of time it takes to cook for one, I had thrown in the towel. Organic frozen meals have been my work around, costing me a small fortune.
I'm buying the book.

Thanks as always for keeping us informed.
And happy Anniversary!!! :-)
I found you all by way of Fresh Air maybe a year ago and I'm soooo glad I did!


Comment posted on November 8, 2009 8:44 PM
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