“Cooked”: Exploring culinary experiences in the Sierra Foothills

AWARD-WINNING FOOD AUTHOR Michael Pollan and Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney are receiving widespread praise for their Netflix documentary Cooked.

In Cooked, Pollan explores how cooking transforms food and shapes our world. Each episode examines one of the physical elements used throughout the ages for cooking: fire (barbecue), water (pot cooking), air (bread making), and earth (fermentation).

Our magazine has come up with an edition of Cooked that explores culinary experiences in our own region through the four cooking techniques:


In fire, Pollan learns from Australian Aboriginal hunters and a barbecue pit master in North Carolina.

In our region, we are reminded of some sublime barbecue experiences. At Bam Dazy BBQ in Auburn, St. Louis-style pork spare ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken are slow cooked in a Cookshack SM360 smoker (AKA “Smokezilla”)—14 hours for the pulled pork alone—using peach wood grown in Chicago Park. Owner Brendon Sullivan is a member of the prestigious Kansas City Barbecue Society and winner of multiple regional competitions.

Besides sampling slow-cooked ribs, what about experiencing an Argentinian Asado, where meat is grilled over an open fire? Each summer, the Lake Tahoe Ski Club Foundation holds a unique fundraiser that features an authentic Argentinian lamb Asado. The meat cooks slowly over a medium fire much of the day, fed by wood and natural coal. It is a one-of-a-kind culinary experience.


In water, Pollan visits the kitchens of India to learn the value of pot cooking. When it comes to pot cooking in our region, we think of “hot pot” dishes at Asian restaurants such as Taste of Thai in Grass Valley. Want to cook Thai at home? Visit Sopa Thai in Nevada City, which has a small store that sells ingredients for Thai cooking at home.

On the other end of the spectrum, locals can enjoy sous vide cooking at four-star restaurants such as Restaurant Trokay in Truckee. Fresh food is sealed in airtight plastic bags, then placed in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times at an accurately regulated temperature.

At Trokay, owner-chef John Weatherson is a master of four-star, sous-vide dishes, such as such as trout, with fir-needle smoked potatoes, chard, pinot noir sauce and buerre bubbles.


Air explores the science of bread making. In our region, Shana Maziarz, co-owner of Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. in downtown Nevada City is an accomplished baker.

Three Forks’ artisan breads — cooked in a Mugnaini wood-fired oven — are exceptional. Examples include Heirloom Sonoran Wheat, Whole Wheat Seeded and Challah. The bread on Three Forks’ sandwiches is homemade.

In Grass Valley, Summer Thyme’s Bakery & Deli makes delicious artisan breads, thanks to co-owner Amy Cooke’s expertise. Breads might include Pepe Fromaggio Ciabatta (a customer favorite), 9-Grain Indie Bread and Challah.


Earth looks at fermentation to create delights such as chocolate and cheese, and craft beer and spirits. Pollan visited a cheese making nun at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut, as well as a cacao farm in Central America.

In our area, we have learned the art of chocolate making from Ned and Debi Russell of Cello Chocolate in Nevada City. Ned and Debi have lived with a Mayan family in Belize, experiencing how cacao is grown at its source.

Our region’s premier cheese monger is Mary Dedrick of Dedrick’s Cheese in Placerville, with satellite stores in South Lake Tahoe, Homewood, Truckee, Plymouth and Grass Valley. Sample her selection of cheeses, such as Cypress Grove’s Humbolt Fog—her best selling cheese last year. Wheyward Girl Creamery in Nevada City sells artisan cheeses and is now making soft cheese.

Award-winning craft beer is brewed at ol’ Republic Brewery and Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. in Nevada City, Loomis Basin Brewing Co. in Loomis, and Fifty Fifty Brewing Co. in Truckee.

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