Blogger Spotlight: Cooked Earth
February 5th, 2013
02:00 PM ET
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We're highlighting local and regional bloggers we think you ought to know about. We can’t be everywhere at once, so we look to these passionate eaters, cooks and writers to keep us tapped into every facet of the food world. Consider this a way to get to know a blog’s taste buds, because, well, you should.

Who: Mark Rinaldi, of CookedEarth
Where: Queens, New York
Twitter: @CookedEarth

ohn no khaos we

I have a confession: I wrote my blog's first post in a spasm of boiling rage. I had just spent longer than you might reasonably expect searching the internet for a traditional recipe for pad thai .That should be easy, right?

I eventually came across one that had received rave reviews on one of those recipe-aggregator sites, so I clicked on it with relief. I was met with the cheerful words of a completely well-intentioned mom who had omitted the fish sauce from her recipe and had subbed in ketchup. "My kids loved it!!!" she shrieked.

Further research yielded versions that included fistfuls of white sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and even spaghetti. All of these versions had received excellent reviews from, presumably, other picky eaters and desperate parents. I was irate.

What about the rest of us? Some of us want to eat things the way they already are, not the way they could be. Shouldn't there be a place where real recipes can hide, immune to the tampering of the careless and cavalier? Thus was born CookedEarth.

I originally intended for my blog to just be a spreadsheet of reliably authentic recipes from around the world, especially from those cultures in which I was most interested. But once I got started and felt the rush of adrenaline that comes from crouching in the darkest corner of a West African bodega in search of just the right kind of fermented cassava flour, I felt the parameters shifting.

Now I have my sights set on every country in the whole world, one meal at a time. I’m not looking for “a” recipe – I’m looking for “the” recipe.

floating pie

My goal, above all else, is to present a snippet of the cuisines of the world as they are or as they have been, in as sensitive a context as possible – with no substitutions and no bull. If I can't find the exact ingredients necessary to make it the traditional way, then I have to find another dish, I have to dig deeper, I have to do even more research.

My desperation in lacking a crucial ingredient has led me, at times, to make my own cheese, grow and then cannibalize a noni tree for its leaves, and even ferment durian in my fridge (oh, my poor, patient girlfriend...).

There are others doing what I am doing, but I don't believe any of them are remotely as neurotic as I am, which is a net gain for my readers. And for my therapist.

crab

You may say what you will about the dubious concept of “authenticity” in the modern world – and I will defend to the death your right to say it – but I believe that there are steps that can be taken to preserve global culinary traditions. I refuse to be content with a Baudrillardian simulacra of a tortilla española, a hyperreal gado-gado, or the pseudo-individualized frankfurter of the Frankfurt School.

I will not live in a world where “food” one day risks becoming a flavorless grey paste, taken from a tube. Not on my watch. There are just too many interesting eats to be had in this screwed-up blue world.

I am doing this in probably the only place that anyone ever could – New York City.

Do you read a local blog that you'd like to see featured? Send 'em our way for a chance in the spotlight.

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soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. personal training Long Island

    Stick to your goal. remember above all else,I want to present a snippet of the cuisines of the world as they are or as they have been, in as sensitive a context as possible – with no substitutions and no bull. Stay true to yourself and never stop doing what you love.

    January 14, 2014 at 9:29 pm |
  2. RedskinsFan

    I have never understood why people always cater to picky kids. Seriously, not every meal you feed a child can be chicken tenders or pepperoni pizza or.. pad thai that you added a ton of ketchup to. I was always told to try things. I didn't want the grilled salmon? Tough, I had better eat more of the green beans and roasted carrots, etc. Nowadays I read recipes online for "kid-friendly" dishes where you throw take out something and replace it with twice as much sugar or mayonnaise.

    I can tell you that there is no way that is healthy for them, and it encourages the picky eaters we see nowadays. I know 30 year olds that consider things like Taco Bell going out for Mexican, or always order the chicken fritters whenever they go out for dinner. Who will never try anything but spaghetti and meatballs (and ask for ketchup on the side... gross) whenever they go for Italian. People who refuse to try Indian food because "it just sounds funny". It's really sad. And its all because when they were little kids, the parents would always cater to their picky habits, or would always go to McDonald's to buy them a Happy Meal when they would order out.

    February 8, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • Max in AL

      Of course you can cater to a child's every whim.

      And pay for it the rest of your life.Both of mine (now 23 and 26) eat, with pleasure, just about everything. And love trying new dishes.

      Frozen cheese pizza, sloppy Joes and chicken nuggets are the lazy way to rear a child.

      IMHO.

      February 8, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  3. mmi16

    The Art of Cooking – is making something good and tasty from whatever ingredents are at hand.

    Recipe Schmesipe unless you are a restaruant that is catering to the public that expects a certain quality and repeatability to the meals prepared and sold.

    February 8, 2013 at 5:07 am |
  4. g andolina

    This makes me wonder how much you've traveled or how ethnic your family might be.
    I could have written the same post at your age. But as I got older and got around more, I began to relax about recipes.
    In my own Sicilian family my mother, grandmother and I make 3 different versions of our basic sugo– tomato sauce. And I never once heard anyone call it gravy which they do in Brooklyn, 25 miles away, Guided principally on what we like it to be. And that is all completely different than my aunts and cousins's sauces. So which one is THE sauce?

    Then there are traditional but unique foods Once I got on the internet I was astonished to find recipes for pasta with anchovies –and it's variants. My mother made this for me all the time as comfort food when I was a kid, following but making her own changes to the way my grandmother did it. None of my other relatives had ever heard of it, so I always assumed it to be one of my grandmother's eccentricities.

    Then as I was astonished to find there were other foodies as compulsive as me that actually existed, I eventually found that this recipe goes back hundreds of years and the Romans ate something similar but not on pasta, of course.

    When I traveled, I 'd go into some quaint or urban place and drive myself crazy trying to replicate a find. The best keema I ever had was at a tiny Pakistani cafe near the 26 street flea market. The best sweet potato pie ever at the Kingfish Cafe in Seattle - who won't give out the recipe. I can think easily of at least a hundred more. Especially when you talk about places where the quality of the local ingredients make the dish.

    Sometimes the process is the adventure and I've had fun trying.
    A recipe is merely a written out song. It is the cook's voice that gives it melody.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm |
    • sbertics

      g andolina...you are absolutelycorrect. I come from a Hungarian family and we all have a slightly different way of making the traditional dishes we grew up with. Some of us put caraway in our gulyas (but never macaroni or tomato in the american style, that's just goulash) and some of us don't. Some use sweet paprika, others use hot paprika in their csirke paprikas, some like it served on spaetzle, some egg noodles, some on rice. I can'te even get into the complexity of kiflis and all the variations, but some use the old method of rolling out the dough for several days others just use a bread machine, but both are excellent.

      On one hand, I like the intent behind the the author's article, but on the other hand, it's a known fact that ethnic dishes change from county to county and even village to village in the "old country". I don't believe you can get down to ONE recipe but you can certainly attempt to have a product made with quality ingredients that could be as good as our grandparents would have access to.

      I don't believe that the goal should be to copy the recipe exactly as it was, the goal should be to have the experience; cooking is a social activity that brings friends and families together. It allows people to share their stories; I learnred so much from my parents from all the time we spent in the kitchen growing up. When you share your family meals with friends it allows everyone to have an understanding of each other's world. Food always brings people together.

      February 8, 2013 at 11:13 am |
  5. jj

    Baudrillardian simulacra of a tortilla española, a hyperreal gado-gado. What??

    February 7, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  6. dragonwife1

    Of course, as Ana said above, if you ask the French about the "authentic" recipe for bouillabaise, or debate the "right" way to make chili, or try to determine the "correct" toppings for a hot dog... It's not cut and dried, no matter what you're looking for. Every cook puts his or her own touches on a recipe, so the one you may have grown up with and loved may be the one you'd consider "authentic" even though it could be quite different from the way someone in the next town made it. It's always great to use the best, and if possible locally-produced, ingredients you can manage, of course, but in my mind, "authentic" is more a composite than an absolute.

    February 7, 2013 at 11:10 am |
    • cookedearth

      Hi dragonwife1 (and Ana!) – I agree with you, and you have put it quite well: composite approaches are what make up the body of world recipes that we know. I am most satisfied with my work when I find a variety of recipes for the same dish and can cross-reference, compare and then whittle down to the essentials, with hopefully a list of possible variations. Sometimes I'm not so lucky, especially with the less-documented cuisines of Africa, and I have to start thinking logically and geographically and making some leaps of faith. That takes a lot more work, and there is also a greater risk of me looking foolish!

      Ana, mole is great example, as are all dishes of necessity – you take what you have around, make it keep you alive and, hopefully, make it taste good.

      Thanks for reading!
      Mark

      February 7, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
      • Pen

        I love hearing people passionate about food. I have kids 4, 7, and 9. They eat food from all over the world. I frequently do food from India, Thailand, Germany, (yes, bland) New Mexico, (very different from Mexican) Ghana, Ethiopia, (yes, I get Teff and make injera) Argentina, Spain and a bit of France. Many of the recipes I use people from the relevant country. My kids love the wholesome complex flavors of ethnic food. My 7 year old loves to help out, and can identify more spices than I would expect most adults could. My 9 year old starts grinding his teeth when he sees fennel bulbs labeled as anise in the food stores. People like you spread the love of real food. You make the next generation think good food is cool, not just something Mom does. The more you write things like this, the more our youngsters will want to make and eat healthy things. Spread the word! Real food is cool.

        You make cheese. I could never get the texture the same as the mother of my Persian roommate could. I have been disappointed every time. Do you do labne? Good stuff. I also do my own yogurt, sourdough and sauerkraut. My last discovery is home made preserved lemon. Fantastic.

        February 7, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  7. Lisa

    Read this this morning and I can't agree more! I immediately logged on to your site. Will be reading a lot. Thanks so much!

    February 7, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  8. Ana

    Agree with most of what you said, and have spent hours searching for the right ingredient myself. However, sometimes the definitive recipe depends on who and where you are. The slight variations are what makes that recipe your own. (Ketchup excluded, of course!) Just take the univese of chili recipes, the endless variety of components in Mole or in Red and Green curry. It is o.k. to relax the rules sometimes....

    February 7, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  9. PJ

    My number one pet peeve is reading the reviews of a recipe and finding out no one actually made the recipe as it was posted.
    Do what you want in your own kitchen, but STOP WRITING REVIEWS ABOUT A RECIPE YOU DIDN'T MAKE! You're not helping anyone.
    I'll be checking out your web site. Thanks.

    February 7, 2013 at 8:50 am |
  10. Frankie

    Awesome blog. I am about the freshest, best and local ingredient I can find. Authentic. I'm going to South Africa soon and will be looking for traditional dishes from locals there. I hope to bring some of their spices, technique and tradition home with me. And meet some incredible people along the way. Thanks for your FRESH and timely word

    February 5, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • cookedearth

      Frankie, please let me know what you learn in South Africa! First-hand observations of techniques and ingredients are PRICELESS! – Mark

      February 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
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