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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Steve Albini on Mario Batali, Ham, Slider-Lust, Olive Oil, and Why Cooking Isn't at All Like Engineering a Record (Except Maybe It Is)

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2011 at 12:05 PM

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So we're experiencing this insane resurgence where people are more excited than ever about food. What are your thoughts on this food revolution? Oversaturated?

Anything that makes it so people can eat better, I'm fine with. The sort of celebrity aspect of cooking -- where certain chefs become famous for teaching people to cook better, that doesn't really bother me. What bothers me is when there's an inversion of that and you have people who are celebrities first and cooks second, you know? I feel like those people are doing a kind of a disservice to all of the professional kitchen people by making bad food seem cool. What's great about people like Anthony Bourdain and Jamie Oliver and Mario Batali and Jacques Pepin is they make good food; they didn't bullshit people about what is involved with making good food. They show you actually have to work at it, but it's not that hard. And their celebrity status was earned by making good food easier for people. I don't have a problem with that. I'm not crazy about the sort of celebration of the mundane, like lusting after sliders, or slapping bacon on everything.

Eat this giant burger, and try not to yak!

Yeah, the gluttony challenges that are becoming more popular, like, "If you can choke it down, you don't have to pay for it." That's not how I see food in my life. Food is necessary, but because I'm compelled to eat every day, I want to eat something that's really great if I can. If I'm cooking for somebody else, I don't want to just stuff their mouth and shut them up. I would like to make something that would give them some satisfaction in having eaten it.

  • Skirt Steak with Jasmine Rice

Life's too short to eat shitty food.

Yeah, and I didn't really take food that seriously until I left for college. My mom was a great cook, a very inventive and creative cook, so it didn't occur to me that we could eat badly. We always had home-cooked meals; we virtually never went out. My father was an avid hunter, and he brought home all kinds of game, so we had a varied menu. We ate a lot of wild game; my mom would make a lot of Italian specialities but incorporate wild game. I would have bear ravioli or elk sausage with pasta. I had a varied menu as a kid, and then when I came to college and had to start cooking for myself, I realized it was possible to eat poorly. I kind of went on a personal quest to figure out how to cook so I didn't have to eat badly.

Did you hunt much?

I didn't; I was an unsuccessful hunter. I was pretty bad at it. I shot a few squirrels; that's about it.

And did you cook squirrel?

Sure. Squirrel tastes basically like a tiny rabbit.

What do you think of nose to tail dining; do you enjoy eating heart, feet, that sort of stuff?

I'm actually a bit of a ghoul. I like awful and organ meats and all the secondary cuts of an animal. I think my willingness to eat strange or unusual food comes from the way I was brought up. We didn't have a lot of resources when I was a kid, so whatever was being cooked was what we were eating. And in a lot of cases, that just ended up being things like wild game or just sort of desperation meals made out of whatever was in the house. I'm not a terribly picky eater.

You said you've successfully fed the cats? What have you prepared for your kitties?

Well, we had a very brief episode when we didn't have any cat food in the house, and the cats were starving, and it was either a holiday or something, but I couldn't go get cat food. I ended up taking some lunch meat and blanching it to get some of the salt out of it, cutting it up, and then serving it with a little handful of mayonnaise. The cats, [laughs], they loved it.

And what ingredient is absolutely precious to you? You mentioned a love for olive oil.

There's actually a little bit of history there. My great-grandfather Serafino Martinelli, after whom I was named, started an olive oil pressing plant in Madera, Calif. My grandfather, Adolfo Martinelli, ran the olive oil plant along with his father and after his father passed. My mom basically learned to cook with olive oil and rarely used butter and any other fats. She just sort of passed that on to me; so I think olive oil is indispensable. If I have pasta and olive oil, I can feed myself and my wife.

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