Book Review: 'Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix'

Master kitchen experimentation with Mark Bittman's new cookbook

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Nobody can be told what the matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. Or just let Mark Bittman show you the way.

Bittman loosens the reins on traditional recipe writing in his new book, Mark Bittman's Kitchen Matrix: More than 700 Simple Recipes and Techniques to Mix and Match for Endless Possibilities. The book is a result of his five-year New York Times Eat column and includes formulas, recipe generators and a plethora of ideas for both single ingredients (potatoes) and full dishes (pasta primavera). "It always seemed like if you could cook one thing, you could cook five things, and if you could cook a hundred things, you could cook 5,000 things," he says.

Despite the buzz of his announcement that he joined Purple Carrot, a year-old start-up that's a vegan version of Blue Apron, Bittman is focused on the book. "This is a really good book. I don't want the start-up to rob it of the attention it deserves." And we agree—with endless options and beautiful photographs, the book is an invitation into your own kitchen. Though the focus is on improvising, Bittman isn't eschewing standard written recipes by any means. In fact, you'll find some of those in the book as well, including a satisfying apple-stuffed pork loin with Moroccan spices and traditional pastry cream. Rather, he's "shaking the recipe world up," which he finds exciting.

He talks about the book with the pride generally reserved for one's own children. "I love looking at this; it's incredible." He finds it just as imaginative and creative as we do, and the dedication he put into its creation is palpable. We're particularly fond of his nine burger variations and foolproof grain salad formula. While he doesn't have a favorite ingredient to cook with, he's been eating a lot of cabbage lately—which he'll give you 12 ways to do in the book, from braised to raw to stir-fried. He's also a fan of socca ("chickpea flour's the greatest"), also known to Ligurians as farinata.

Though he's in his mid-60s, he doesn't plan on slowing down. Kitchen Matrix was written at the same time as his recent book A Bone to Pick, admittedly causing him to be rather busy. "I'm a recipe writer. It's not the only thing I do, but I will write recipes the rest of my life." This seems to be a theme: He's also a seasoned marathon runner. In the way that one might clean the basement every 10 years, Bittman has gotten into the habit of running a marathon at least every decade: "I ran one in my 30s, 40s, 50s, and I've run one in my 60s."

And, yes—he is a fan of the Matrix trilogy. "It was a coincidence," he claims—but we think the Oracle states that he's the one to bring variety to your cooking habits.