The 2013 Piglet: Food 52’s cookbook tournament of champions

piglet

Cookbook nerds. We are everywhere. We frequent bookstores that only carry cookbooks. We think we have enough cookbooks. But we never have enough. We sometimes forget which ones we have and find ourselves doubling up on copies. And we love them. We love our cookbooks. Their stained pages. The stories they can tell. And like sports fans have March Madness, we have our tournament; The Piglet. There is even a bracket (PDF). From the fine folks at Food 52, this is their fourth annual cookbook tournament and it launches later this week. I heart the Piglet. You should too.

I wrote about the Piglet last year and touched on why I loved this series. The varying ‘judges’ that weigh in on the winners. The books that were the ‘competitors.’ Last year was particularly entertaining because of the championship round. On one side was the book of decadent indulgence from the Joe Beef crew from Montreal. On the other side, was the mad scientist baked goods book Momofuku Milk Bar. And it was judged by Alice Waters. Alice Waters. The chef that raised the bar for thoughtful, seasonal, and considered California cookery. The chef whose highbrow nature didn’t exactly jive with the debauchery of Joe Beef or the addled sweet tooth of Momofuku Milk Bar. The chef whose recap of the championship was dripping with disdain for the two books. Can there be a reluctant champion? Because that is the crown that Alice Waters bestowed Joe Beef.

As with any new year, things start anew and we are onto the next Piglet. Of the 16 books in this tournament, I have five of them. Of the judges, I’m only familiar with a handful of them. Which is a big reason why the Piglet showdown is entertaining. Different voices, different books. While I couldn’t fathom the bile Alice Waters had for last year’s finalists, at least she stayed on brand. And I’m curious to see how the judges insert themselves this year.

I’ll be sure to follow the tournament along. In fact, I’m betting on Canal House Cooks Everyday by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer. It was one of my favorite books of the holiday season. We’ve been fans of the Canal House and their thematic food volumes for a few years. We were fortunate to have conversations with Melissa and Christopher on their recent visit to Seattle, where we got to hear their stories and how much fun they had with compiling all of their Canal House lunches. Which is the emphasis of Canal House Cooks Everyday. I particularly enjoyed the weather reports sidelining the recipes. Their writing has a way of welcoming us into their world. And now with the Piglet, cookbook nerds have the chance to feel a little closer to a bunch of new cookbooks, their recipes, and the chefs behind them.

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Food 52’s 2012 Piglet

Photo courtesy of food 52

We’re through the first week of the Piglet – Tournament of Cookbooks; Food52’s annual cookbook battle royale. For cookbook nerds like yours truly, the Piglet is great fun. It’s a tournament where the folks at the food community website Food52 take 16 cookbooks published over the last year, pit them against one another bracket-style and have the books judged by various food-loving celebrities. It could be someone like Mario Batali or Nora Ephron weighing in on a winner. Like anything involving a bracket and a chance to place your bets to a winner, The Piglet is a fun read into the biggest, baddest, and boldest cookbook in the land.

This is the third year of the Piglet. The first year’s winner was Seven Fires by Francis Mallman with Peter Kaminsky. I have this book and yes, it is awesome. I particularly like the recipe for cooking an entire cow. But my personal favorite that year was David Chang and Peter Meehan’s Momofuku. Year Two’s winner was Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood. We’re now into the 2012 edition and I’m looking forward to seeing how this Piglet shakes down.

If the first two days of this Piglet is any indication, we’re in for a fun ride. Day One had the domestic goddess Nigella Lawson seducing us with her words. Day two had the delightful Celia Sack of San Francisco’s Omnivore Books weighing in. The third review by James and Caitlin Freemand of SF’s Blue Bottle Coffee, didn’t quite have the lushness of Lawson’s review or the perspective of Sack’s review. Conversely, the Freeman’s felt a bit stilted in my mind, and I couldn’t identify with their viewpoint. Reading these editorials often provides as much perspective about the cookbooks as the critics.

Which is one of the fun things about the Piglet. Because they have reviewers from various disciplines and industries; there will be unique and divergent opinions on cookbooks. Some might love the photographs, some might enjoy the clarity and detail in the recipes. One of my favorite reviews was from the 2010 Piglet when Grant Achatz’ review pitted Canal House Cooking Vol. 1 vs Real Cajun. What I enjoyed about the review was that Chef Achatz’ critiqued two books, each with recipes and styles radically different from his restaurants. His voice made for a great read. I loved it.

There are a few more weeks left in the Piglet, a bunch more reviews, and plenty of opportunities for some upsets. Like the glory of March Madness, we should be in for some surprises. Until then, visit Food52’s Piglet and stock up on those cookbooks. I’m at 336 and I’m getting a bit of an itch to go shopping.