The 2017 publication of Salt Fat Acid Heat, winner of the James Beard Award for Best General Cookbook, established author Samin Nosrat as a major culinary authority. But the Netflix series adapted from her book has gone even further—turning her into a television star.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Nosrat says of reaction to the show, which is now competing for Emmy nominations in multiple categories. “I have received responses from every type of person, from every age, every background, every gender, and it’s all overwhelmingly positive…It’s just beyond my wildest dreams.”
Caroline Suh directed Salt Fat Acid Heat—each episode focusing on one of the four essential components of delicious food identified by Nosrat: salt (enhances flavor); fat (amplifies flavor); acid (“brightens and balances”), and heat (“determines the texture of food”).
“She’s first and foremost really a teacher, so, I think it’s natural and organic for her to then get on TV and try and get people to understand how to cook and get people excited about food,” Suh tells Deadline. “Her sincerity comes through on screen and I think it’s appealing to people that she’s not a manufactured celebrity, but she’s someone who really cares deeply.”
The series follows Nosrat around the world as she explores cultural traditions that tie into these four fundamentals of cuisine. In Japan, master salt makers reveal their secrets; in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula Nosrat spends time with maestros of marinade and salsa. In Italy it’s an ecstatic experience of cheese.
“Some people’s dream might be to, I don’t know, visit Buckingham Palace, but hers was to visit this Parmesan factory [in Emilia-Romagna],” Suh shares. “And truly she almost did burst into tears of happiness when eating the Parmesan.”
Nosrat acknowledges becoming emotional when she witnessed intense dedication to craft and gastronomic tradition in her travels.
“I mean, I cried so many times during filming,” she recalls with a laugh. “The soy sauce maker—I had never seen or imagined anything like that…And then to actually see this incredibly labor- and time-intensive and careful way that it’s made and that this person is doing something that was taught to him by his father and grandfather that’s under threat of disappearing.”
To those who don’t give much thought to cooking, food may seem utilitarian. But for Nosrat, food is profound.
“It’s something that we all experience multiple times a day. It’s one of the most intimate parts of our lives,” she notes. “We literally put it in our bodies and it becomes a part of us. We all have incredible relationships to what we eat, to what we don’t eat, to what we’ve eaten since childhood and what we were fed, to what food means to us. And so I find it a really powerful tool in storytelling and in opening people’s hearts and their minds.”
Food often provides comfort, of course. Seeing it lovingly prepared and considered in Salt Fat Acid Heat has resonated with viewers, the director says.
“I think [Samin’s] message gets through at this particular time that’s super appealing to people who want some kind of warmth,” Suh notes, “and a good feeling from the world.”
Nosrat grew up in San Diego, the daughter of Iranian émigrés. Among her favorite dishes was tahdig, a kind of scorched rice that a writer for The Splendid Table described as Persian “soul food.”
“Iranians really like to cook everything really, really, really well-done,” she comments, adding that her taste for well-cooked foods may explain “my childhood aversion to raw bars.” She confesses, “If someone brings me their greatest delicacy and it’s a tray of oysters, I’ll 100-percent eat them, but I have to close one eye, count three chews and swallow.”
That humorous description points to the secret sauce of Salt Fat Acid Heat—Nosrat’s personality. She takes joy not only in food but in her interactions with others, from butchers, to bakers and miso makers.
“I do fundamentally love eating. I’ve always loved eating, and I’ve always loved people. And so, for me, the great gift of this opportunity is to share it with the world,” she tells Deadline. “What I never could have expected was that people would have responded so positively to just me… So many brown women have come up to me and said, ‘I’ve never seen anyone who looks like me on TV before. I’ve never seen anyone who looks like me enjoying eating on TV before.’ I think a lot of people just want to feel seen and they want to feel heard and they want to feel represented.”
Among the many Nosrat has influenced with her work is Suh, director of the Salt Fat Acid Heat docuseries.
“I feel freed up to kind of just cook without recipes and the acid thing to me thoroughly changed my world, the idea that you need to add acid to something to really make it complete and ultimately delicious, I never had a thought about that before,” Suh comments. “I think the book, and hopefully the series, really helps people reframe the way they look at cooking and food in a very basic way.”