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'Flavor Only Comes From Good Farming'

This book is not for them.

When I went on book tour for "How to Read a French Fry" [2001], the chapters people were most fascinated by were about fruit and vegetables. People didn't know you weren't supposed to put tomatoes in the refrigerator. I thought, technique is what you use when you have bad ingredients. Maybe I ought to lift the bar on the ingredients. Because if you have good ingredients you can do the simplest things and look like a genius.

Some of this, though, can only be done in California.

It's true. My book editor lives in Boston and Vermont, and here I'm doing all this produce-y stuff, and she said to me, 'You Californians, you make me so mad!"

When you started writing, did you know some fruits and vegetables would be front and center?

I knew peaches would be before I even wrote the title, because peaches and tomatoes have profound implications. When you taste a great one, it's like listening to a symphony, there's so much going on. And strawberries are a microcosm of everything that's gone wrong. Because farmers have given us exactly what we want, which is sliced strawberries on our cereal in New York in January, and the compromises they've had to make to get it there are really fascinating and emblematic of what has happened with modern agriculture.

You can't cheat your way to flavor. You can cheat on the cosmetics, grow beautiful fruit by cheating -- and by that I mean pumping it full of water, using lots of pesticides and fungicides to knock the bugs down. But flavor only comes from good farming.

How much do you cook?

A lot. I do all the cooking for my house. And since I'm writing so much, I am testing recipes for those pieces. I wrote about roasting legs of lamb, and I roasted five legs at different temperatures. We ate a lot of lamb that week. My wife and daughter were about to run screaming from the house. There's a 90-year-old guy across the street, though, who will eat anything I take him.

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