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Roger Ebert: The DadWagon Q&A

October 29th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Q & A  |  5 Comments

Photo credit: M. Spencer Green/AP

Photo credit: M. Spencer Green/AP

Yesterday, I wrote about my new infatuation with one-pot cooking, a madness inspired in part by Roger Ebert’s recent book, The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker (now in paperback, from Andrews McMeel Publishing).

It may seem counterintuitive: a book about cooking from someone who hasn’t been able to eat or taste anything since his fight with cancer in 2006. But Ebert’s perspective is actually richer for not being beholden to, as he puts it, the “biological compulsion” that drives most cooks and eaters. So The Pot is not a bunch of recipes. It’s a deeper idea about bringing real food back into your home. For someone like me, who has the same addiction to Dominican takeout that Charlie Sheen has to yayo, porn stars and smashing mirrors at the Plaza, it’s a godsend.

That’s why I’m so pleased to speak with Ebert (via email) about his book, communal meals, and what his father cooked for him as a child. Bonus for DadWagon readers: he unveils, for perhaps the first time since Theseus, a recipe for Sweet and Sour Minotaur. Our bull session:

Thanks for talking with us. I’m sold on the Pot already: I’ve got two kids who turn into eeping feces-hurlers if they don’t eat on time, and the pot helps me cook fresh food quickly. But what’s in it for you? Despite what the Esquire profile insinuated, your health seems stable; you’re not speeding toward la gloria. Why not pick a more leisurely, less utilitarian kind of cooking?

I wanted to share some practical discoveries about how people can prepare healthy meals for themselves even they have little time, space or cooking skills. It’s as simple as that. I found this out by experience.

You call yourself a practical cook, but you also write a lot about the romance and “the ancient spirit of the Pot.” After cancer, did you experience cooking for others on a more spiritual level? Can looking at food that way change habits?

Yes. It focuses on the communal, or tribal, or familial, aspects of cooking. There is a particular pleasure in preparing a meal for others, and it need not be an expensive, time-consuming meal. There may even be a greater pleasure in making that meal healthy.

Preparing food seems to be a bigger part of fatherhood these days. In one lovely essay about your father, you mentioned him making you toast with honey for breakfast. Do you have any other memories of him as a cook?

Chili. He always threw in a Hershey bar. And simmered the meat and onions with some chopped-up bacon. And it was his item of faith that chili was better after being left in the fridge overnight and warmed up. And he made it a point to have oyster crackers.

Your mention being able to stew anything, even “wild boar or minotaur” in the Pot. Can you come up with quick recipe for Minotaur meat for our readers?

If you understand the principles of The Pot, you can cook almost anything. Try Sweet and Sour Minotaur. In The Pot, in a little olive oil, simmer onions, Minotaur pieces and a good deal of garlic. Add chopped peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and some bouillon. A bay leaf. Garam masala and other seasonings to taste. One jar of spicy peach salsa. Oh, and brown rice.

We here at DadWagon seem to be experts at inadvertently damaging our young children (tainted toys from China, finger-clipping umbrella strollers). But it’s time to really sear their psyches with a bad movie. What’s the worst children’s movie of the last ten years?

“Transformers 2.” It glorifies destruction and links it with the ideas of toys and entertainment. It encourages a short attention span. In general, children should be encouraged to view films with an actual narrative arc.


  1. ElliotNC says:

    October 29th, 2010at 2:59 pm(#)

    If in a pinch, is it OK to substitute Unicorn for Minotaur?

  2. john cave osborne says:

    October 29th, 2010at 3:37 pm(#)

    i’m fascinated by this.

    i loved what he said about the communal aspect of cooking. i think that’s why i like to rock the grill so hard. i just love to make a bunch of food for people. he’s right. there is a particular pleasure in preparing food for others.

    great work, nathan.

  3. Jack says:

    October 29th, 2010at 4:47 pm(#)

    Good food is transformed by the company we keep, It can enhance or detract from the experience.

  4. Nathan says:

    October 29th, 2010at 5:37 pm(#)

    @Elliot I never had a chance to eat unicorn, though from the Banksy Simpson intro, it looked like pretty gamey meat
    @JCO totally true, but I guess it would take something like what he went through–not being able to eat at all–to really get that it’s about other people
    @Jack I agree about the company we keep. That’s why I keep telling my kids to be a little wittier around the dinner table. You know, just to keep things lively.


    Man with a Pan: Fatherhood and Cooking Q&A with John Donohue - TIME Healthland

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