Peter Kaminsky’s latest isn’t a diet book, not in the traditional sense. There are no chapters called “Getting Started” or “Phase Two” or “Keeping It Off,” and the title isn’t anything as sexy-sounding as “Engine 2” or “Paleo” or “South Beach.”
Instead, with “Culinary Intelligence” Kaminsky has laid out a compelling logic for approaching food in what seems like an entirely new way, although it probably shouldn’t be new at all. Whether readers are cooking at home or foraging for sustenance at a neighborhood dive, through the aisles of a roadside convenience store or even at a restaurant of the highest ambition, Kaminsky argues against deprivation and in favor of pursuing something you don’t see written about in enough health-focused books: flavor.
(Knopf) - ’Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well)’ by Peter Kaminsky
Perhaps the problem is that too few of those other books have been written by people with backgrounds like Kaminsky’s. He’s neither nutritionist nor chef, but a food journalist with decades of experience in cooking, eating and writing. As with so many in his profession, the job hazards piled up, on the scale and around his midsection. He prophesied as much in his introductory “Underground Gourmet” column at New York magazine in 1994: “There is a thing I call Kaminsky’s Constant: namely if a man lives long enough, eats long enough, and drinks long enough, there comes a time, usually in his early forties, when his age, waistline, and IQ are the same number.” He was half-joking, but the point was taken.
Kaminsky’s slide was gradual, and he caught it before anything dramatic; no heart attacks, no near-death experiences. By the time he turned 50, he described himself as not “John Candy fat, maybe more like Seth Rogen pudgy.” But when his attempt to renew his life insurance was denied and doctors told him his weight made him an excellent candidate for diabetes, “I permanently disabled the snooze setting on my life’s alarm clock. . . . But how does a guy who loves food and wine — in fact, makes his living writing about them — gain control of what he puts in his body?”
He lays out the eventual answer in “Culinary Intelligence.” The title is his term for a principle that emphasizes what he calls Flavor Per Calorie. When he throws around the acronyms CI and FPC, Kaminsky runs the risk of sounding a little gimmicky, reminiscent of “Galloping Gourmet” Graham Kerr and his 1990s “MiniMax” books (minimize health risks, maximize deliciousness). But this is no gimmick, as Kaminsky proves by avoiding the bog of nutritional analysis or comparisons and instead arguing something more powerful and easy to remember: that high-flavor foods can satisfy us more, so we can therefore eat less of them. While nutrition guru Marion Nestle summarizes her food advice as “1. Eat real food. 2. Move,” and sustainability advocate Michael Pollan boils his down to “Eat food, mostly plants, not too much,” Kaminsky (who mostly agrees with them both) has his own three-point distillation of the Culinary Intelligence mind-set:
“1. Don’t eat processed foods.