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Breakfast with Mark Bittman at the Ferry Building

[Photos: Patricia Chang]

We've been cooking from Mark Bittman's recipes for years, and when we were offered the opportunity to have breakfast with him on Tuesday morning at the Ferry Building (along with a half-dozen other journalists), we couldn't pass it up. The New York Times columnist and famed author of How to Cook Everything has released a new book, VB6, which explains the eating plan he concocted when he was gaining weight and prediabetic but didn't want to give up his go-go food-writer lifestyle. The plan is simple: he eats only vegan food (and not prepackaged food, but whole vegan food) until 6 pm, then has whatever he wants for dinner. So we ate a vegan breakfast and asked him questions for two hours. Here are some notes from the experience.

· First of all, for those wondering if this whole VB6 thing works: Bittman is thin. Not spectrally thin, but skinnier than he is on the cover of our 13-year-old copy of The Minimalist Cooks at Home. He was wearing a horizontally-striped shirt and looked good in it—not bad for someone over 60.

· The chefs at Boulettes Larder went all out, preparing a vegan spread of fresh strawberry juice, porridge with dried fruit and brown sugar, thick housemade whole-grain bread with fresh hazelnut butter, and Turkish breakfast with purslane, fava beans, tomato, cucumber, spinach, and pilaf. This didn't, however, keep Bittman from breaking edge five minutes into the breakfast:

BITTMAN. Can we skip out on this whole vegan thing and get milk in our coffee?
WAITER. (Taken aback.) OK...whole milk?
BITTMAN. Cream, actually.

· His explanation: "We're not aiming for perfection here. I don't want to start the day deprived. I can think of 1,000 vegan breakfasts I like, but I can't think of any substitute for coffee with cream and sugar."

· Other than Bittman, the table consisted entirely of women. It was kind of like a breakfast harem, but it obviously started to get to him by later that evening, when he told SFoodie that "I haven't spoken to a single man all day."

· On the importance of snacking on his diet: "It's a lot about availability. If you're feeling weak and tired, you don't get full, you're not going to last. Yesterday, I ate peanuts, almonds, and cashews, three ounces of each."

· His daughter, who used to live in the Mission, has moved to Boston.

· On McDonald's discontinuing their salads: "They had it because they wanted to say they had it, not because anyone ordered it. It's like how Ralph's in L.A. stocks dragonfruit. Ralph's doesn't carry dragonfruit because anyone actually buys dragonfruit."

· Mollie Katzen came to breakfast, too, unannounced. We would have never known she was there if she hadn't introduced herself.

· On calories: "A can of Coke and an apple have the same amount of calories. A calorie is not just a calorie. In 10 or 20 years, I think it's going to be shown that sugar and processed carbs are really what's bad for you."

· We really like the slightly weird (or maybe, far more authentic) way Mark Bittman pronounces "hummus." Here's a video of him making it, if you want to hear for yourself.

· On his breakfast: "I wish I could have breakfast like this every morning, but it would take me two years to cook it. Or a week, at least."

· Bittman has eaten at Applebee's, during a trip to Iowa. It was the only restaurant in town that was open, and he ordered a triple combo plate of sliders, tacos, and ribs. "I learned something, though I don't know exactly what."

· On eating fat: "I'm fine with eating olive oil! (Gesturing to his plate.) This spinach is about 30% olive oil." [It was, and it was delicious.]

· After breakfast, Bittman was supposed to lead the group around the farmer's market, but it was clear he was pretty tired of the whole enterprise and wanted to go back to his hotel to work. On our way out, he rested a long, lingering gaze on the pastrami at the Wise Sons booth. And then another one.

· As for his dining plans while in town: "I'm eating at Cotogna tonight, I really like Cotogna. You're not going to publish this until after I eat there, right?" He'd eaten at LYFE Kitchen in Palo Alto the night before.

· We took home a copy of the book and made his "Hurry Curry" recipe for dinner that night. It was really good, though probably not as good as a plate of pasta at Cotogna.

· Mark Bittman's New Vegan Mantra Leaves Room for Play [SFoodie]
· Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan Touring SF Next Week [~ ESF ~]
· Mark Bittman Loves State Bird Provisions [~ ESF ~]


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