Nov 9, 2018

[TV] Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Review

With documentary shows like Chef's Table and even copies of The Mind of a Chef in their content library, Netflix certainly helps scratch the food-related documentary itch. When I don't feel like diving into some highly involved drama series, I can trust Netflix to come up with delicious shots of food to celebrate and drool over.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is definitely more instructional and informative versus some of the other documentary shows on the platform and one of their original creations as well. More than just being about the celebration of food, this show is really an exploration of flavors and what makes our favorite dishes so delicious.

I appreciated the general mindset and approach in this series and what they tried to achieve. You can feel the literary drive behind it and how it influenced the narrations for the show. But there was also something somewhat lacking in the actual performance, that made the show fall just a wee bit flat.

Synopsis: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a documentary series directed by Caroline Suh. The mini-series is based on Samin Nosrat's cookbook of the same name that explores the four different elements across four episodes.

In her cookbook she breaks down how a lot of the most interesting dishes are those that somehow master or combine four different elements of flavor, hence the title of both the book and the series. And thus each episode has Samin and her crew traveling around the world to learn more about how different cultures use these different elements well and create such diverse flavorful dishes.

For Fat she travels to Italy to explore Olive Oil and other creative uses of fat elements in cooking. For salt she travels to Japan and learns more about how they create special varieties of salt and other special ingredients. For Acid the show goes to Mexico and their rich variety of piquant dishes with sharp flavor contrats. And then for heat the show returns to the United States to wrap everything up.

What I Liked: The discussion of flavors and not just ingredients truly fascinated me and the way the show progressed through the different elements really felt like a smart examination of good food. This is really a show about cooking and not just about food and there are actually a lot of great tips that you're bound to pick up in these four episodes alone.

And I really appreciated the effort to travel around the world and experience different cultures through the flavor profile of their respective cuisines. Naturally I loved the Salt episode the most because of Japan (I can be that easy at times) but each episode certainly had their moment to shine.

What Could Have Been Better: I feel like it wasn't necessarily the best idea to have the show structured around a lot of narration and to have Nosrat be the narrator. She takes on a very professional, almost newscaster tone in a lot of her narrations but is so much warmer and animated during her actual on-screen moments. The different stands out and it makes some of the narration feel odd or at last overly cold at times.

And despite the cleverness of the overall structure of the show, at times it feels the actual discussions felt a little shallow or hardly as detailed or informative as they could have been. Some of the most confusing bits were the times we'd have Samin cooking in her kitchen and making dishes inspired by the episode's journey. What's going on? What are you doing there? Why do your chickens long wrong? And so on.

TL;DR: Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is still an interesting little series and there's some great cooking insights in the show as we all need better flavors in our meals. It's not super exciting or dynamic but it's very thoughtful and well-felt. And thus the show gets a good 3.5 interesting flavor combinations out of a possible 5.

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