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Make Better Meals In Less Time

Entrepreneur, writer, traveler and tireless self-experimenter Tim Ferriss wants to help you get smarter, faster -and eat better along the way. The author of The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body returns with his third book, The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life. More than just a cookbook, Ferriss' latest offering posits that you - or anyone - can become world class at any skill in just months, rather than years or decades. And in 4-Hour Chef, as he often does in his lectures, Ferriss educates through food, showing how people can make tasty, more affordable meals, in less time. Added bonus: Ferriss asserts that by eating a diet of the meals presented in his latest book, readers can drop up to 20 pounds of fat in 30 days.

LIVESTRONG.com reached Mr. Ferris just before he gave a two-day guest lecture at creativeLIVE, and asked him a few questions about his latest offering, which hits stores Tuesday, November 20.

LIVESTRONG.com: Your last book, "The Four-Hour Body," put forth several controversial health and fitness ideas - techniques for losing more weight with bags of ice, feeling fully rested on 2 hours of sleep, even adding 150 pounds or more to lifting max in half a year. What sort of surprising tips will people find in your new book?

Tim Ferriss: This book, The 4-Hour Chef, is a bit of a Trojan horse. It is a book that my readers have been asking me for five years, but I'm just now doing. It's really about accelerated learning, but taught through the world of food -which is a good platform for learning because you eat three meals a day.

A lot of my past experiments have been taught through food. It turns out that if you want to learn a language, cook a really great steak, or just get good at archery, the process is always the same - you need to break things down into a step-by-step process, and then learn those steps one at a time. That's what this book is really about, the step-by-step process, or meta-learning, which can be applied to any skill. In many cases, people can use it to go from having no experience to becoming world class at anything in six months or less.

LS.com: Many people say they don't have time to learn how to cook, but you say your book applies the 80/20 rule to help people produce more with less. What are some common time-wasters in the kitchen? What's slowing people down?

TF: When people try to learn to cook, they are really trying to learn four or five techniques at once. Take a bachelor who never cooks, and then suddenly decides he wants to start making meals for himself. He'll need to learn to plan out recipes, shop for himself, prep food, cook it appropriately, and then clean up -it's a lot of new information. So of course he's going to fail.

When you get down to it, the actual cooking of any meal usually takes up the least amount of time. Most of your time in the kitchen gets eaten up by common time wasters like excessive prep time, using too many ingredients, and a prolonged cleanup. So I recommend that at first, people avoid those failure points entirely. Try eating on a Wasara or Bambu disposable plate for your first six self-cooked meals. Limit your ingredients to four or less. There's a misconception that you need a lot of herbs and spices to cook, but nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, I recommend that new cooks eliminate all herbs and spices except for salt, acid, and pepper. You can get incredible flavor by using two types of salt, a traditional kosher salt for cooking, and Maldon salt for finishing, acid, usually from lemons or sherry vinegar, and pepper -I recommend Tellicherry peppercorns and a pepper mill that allows you to grind it coarsely. The only other thing you'd really need is olive oil, ideally a big tub of the cheaper stuff for cooking, and a nicer one for salad dressings and for putting on food just before you serve it.

I guarantee that if you cook fish in regular olive oil, and then finish it with a higher quality oil like McEvoy, it'll be one of the best dishes you've ever eaten in your life. Simple can be very sophisticated.

I'm trying to create self-reliant cooks -and ultimately, self-reliant people- who can cook without recipes. The only way you can do that is to get people to enjoy cooking. And the only way to make that happen is to teach them only one thing at a time.

LS.com: You aren't a chef, but totally immersed yourself in culinary culture for this book. What were the most interesting things that you learned along the way?

TF: Well, first I was surprised at how many tools chefs use that home cooks don't use - even websites. There's a great site called Foodpairing.com that helps you figure out what should be paired with any ingredient. You can also enter an ingredient you're missing, like saffron, and find good replacements. A lot of top chefs use the site to create whole new recipes. You can learn about a lot of surprising flavor combinations that work-oyster and kiwi, for example. Or hamburger and almond butter. People would never guess that they work, but they do.

There were lots of other tools, like a microplane or zester, that chefs use for many, many things. Or how chefs can use a cake tester to test the doneness of almost anything - vegetables, meats and more. There are a lot of cheap tools costing $20 or less that pro chefs use all the time, but you never see them used at home.

LS.com: What are some of the common misconceptions people have about cooking, and about healthy cooking specifically?

TF: Wow, there are so many that it's hard to know where to start.

First, people think that eating healthy has to be expensive, which isn't true at all. A guy who is working for me right now is doing an experiment where he's spending only $7-$9 a day on food by following the slow-carb diet. And actually there's another experiment being done by a guy names Andrew Hyde who's averaging $1.32 per meal by buying ingredients from ethnic food stores and using simple cooking methods. You don't need saffron to make extremely good food.

There's also a misconception that to eat healthy, you have to eat organic. Look at the "dirty dozen" and "clean 15." Yes, those 12 foods are almost always exposed to pesticides, but those other 15 foods usually come out cleaner in tests, even when they're not organic.

LS.com: Did you gain any favorite new meals from this whole experiment?

TF: My favorite meal is a Osso Buco that takes 5 minutes of total hands-on time to prepare. It's the first recipe in the book. I like that with sweet potatoes with coconut oil on the side, and the perfect cup of coffee, prepared with a Chemex or an AeroPress.

LS.com: Did you learn anything in your research for "4-Hour Chef" that changed your diet long-term?

TF: Well, I've been eating a slow-carb diet -which eliminates white carbs six days a week, and then gives you a seventh "cheat day" where you can eat bear claws and donuts -for eight to 10 years now. And every recipe in this book is slow-carb compliant, so people who eat out of this book should be able to lose 20 pounds of fat without really even trying.

What my research for "The 4-Hour Chef" did for me was take my diet and move it from black-and-white on an eight-inch square TV and put it on a high-definition big-screen, because I understand flavor now. There is so much more to flavor and taste than I'd realized. Foods used to be "good" or "bad," "hot" or "cold," but now it's "hm, I taste a hint of cumin," or "there's a bit of cardamom in here." It's a totally different world.

I don't expect that people will read this book and become full-time cooks. But I do encourage people to experiment and try to understand flavors.

LS.com: You're a pretty fit guy. What's your workout like nowadays?

TF: I'm decently fit, but I'm pretty lazy too. (Laughs.) I'm really keeping it minimalist, doing sumo deadlifts, kettlebell swings and swimming. That won't give you the peacock chest muscles, but I don't really care about that. I'm more interested in my posterior chain than my pecs.

Lately I've been feeling very good when I do very low-rep, very high-weight deadlifts, followed by long-distance swimming. And what's fun about that is that I couldn't swim three years ago.

LS.com: You're also a pretty busy guy. How do you fit it all in?

TF: The way I operate is to believe that you can have it all, but you can't have it all at the same time. So number one, I don't feel rushed. Number two, I focus on being effective - doing the right things, as opposed to being efficient, or doing a lot of things quickly.

I also expect that to do the really big, good things, you have to allow lots of small, bad things to happen. You have to ignore little things that get in the way -high maintenance friends, "emergency" emails that aren't at all emergencies. You have to allow the small things to fail, so you can put in the hours towards the things that really matter.

Brian D. Sabin is a writer and editor for LIVESTRONG.com. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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