Cookbook (As A Literary Work)

I’m working on a few books right now, as I often do, which is probably why it takes me so long to finish anything! However, I was wandering through my local library and came across a very well-used cookbook I couldn’t resist. As many libraries do, there was a display of books and materials on recent-ish cultural events and Appetities: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain was smack in the middle.

I know, I know. I’ve recently written about Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and don’t really need to add another title of his so quickly. But, here’s the thing. I’ve already said that I love cookbooks that tell a story (see my other cookbook post) and Bourdain’s does just that. I wasn’t really planning to post about Appetites here, but changed my mind after I had the time to sit down and look through it. The back cover touts the book as a repertoire of Bourdain’s personal favorites cooking and entertaining at home that are “translated into an effective battle plan that will help you terrify your guests with your breathtaking efficiency.” Who could resist that?

Appetites (2016) certainly tells a story. Bourdain’s story, but also the culinary story of many of us. High end and exotic options and ordinary church supper favorites. You read that right. Bourdain talks you through things like ‘Octopus Stock’ and ‘Malloreddus with Wild Boar Sugo’ (you got me!) and ‘Halibut Poached in Duck Fat.’ He also includes tuna salad, chicken salad, macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie and deviled eggs. Impeccably presented, but basic fare by anybody’s standards. And, Thanksgiving! Bourdain has a section on Thanksgiving complete with turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry relish, and an assortment of sides.

The dark yet witty humor is there. ‘Chicken Satay with Fake-Ass Spicy Peanut Sauce’ is one of those “lowbrow items that even the most discerning guests go crazy for at catered parties…” as Bourdain states (or laments). He also includes the humble ‘Sausage and Pepper Hero’ that he admits he can’t resist at food trucks and festivals, even though he says “…within an hour of consumption, I’m shitting like a mink.” He knows this and proceeds anyway.

There are quirks, too, which are part of Bourdain’s don’t-give-a-rat’s-ass attitude. Exactly one page is devoted to desserts. The page has no recipes, but does have a diatribe on how much Bourdain does not like dessert. The first line is “Fuck desserts.” Basically, he says he could care less about desserts and prefers a cheese plate most of the time. That’s it. And then we move on. No fucks or recipes given.

The book includes short vignettes of Bourdain’s life and includes photos of Bourdain’s wife at the time of publication, their daughter, and his good friend, Eric Ripert. The book is sweetly dedicated to Bourdain’s daughter and he makes no bones about being delighted with fatherhood in the introduction of the book. He stresses that what we are about to read is a family cookbook and that cooking together is really a father – daughter experience for him at home. Bourdain also laments not being born Italian American, the “yelling and smacking” at the dinner table and getting “physically involved with your food.” Burgers are sacrosanct and should include a potato bun, no tomato or lettuce, thinly sliced onion, mass produced ketchup, maybe a slight bit of mayo, and definitely bacon. Don’t ask him if he wants ketchup made in-house – that harkens a fear that “Mumford and Sons suddenly emerge from the kitchen and begin playing tableside…” Breakfast is something he didn’t cook for a long time, equating it with his low times of working as a brunch cook; “the smell of breakfast to me will always be the smell of defeat…” But he got over it because he had a kid and kids like to eat breakfast.

Bourdain’s best advice for cocktail parties is, “Always keep some pigs in blankets in the freezer.” People love them and, when you start to run out of the high-end hors d’oeuvres, you can pull these out in a pinch. He is also a surprisingly considerate food planner for said cocktail party, including planning a menu around food guests have to eat standing up, will women ruin their lipstick eating these foods, can the food be eaten without making a mess? Most importantly, items like onions and garlic and lutefisk (yuck!) should wisely be left off the menu. After all, “…some of your guests will be having sex after the party. Hopefully with you…” and a good menu planner should be considerate of foods that would give negative “residual effects.” Advice that I’ve never seen in Martha Stewart’s books. It’s a good thing.

This book reminds me how much I miss this dude being in the world. Sure, there’s the occasional photo of dead or butchered animals that make me thisclose to being a vegetarian, and some of the recipes are things I would never try, but it’s also an interesting look at one man’s life based on his palate and reminds me of how much you can tell about a person from the foods they eat. I found an interesting review of Appetites when it first came out which you can read here.

Appetites is a hodgepodge but in the best possible way. There’s a photo in the book of the inside of a fridge that includes a pig’s foot, various meats and stocks, tomato paste, dressings, champagne and… a Fanta. Something for every appetite!

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Cookbook (As A Literary Work)

Do you love cookbooks as much as I do? For a long time, I scoured flea markets and antique malls for those little church potluck publications or someone’s old handwritten recipe book. I have family recipes, too, and I love to shop new cookbooks as they come on the market. Somewhere along the way, however, I started to value cookbooks for their literary value more than the actual recipes. I’m not sure when that happened for me, but my favorite cookbooks have become the ones that tell a story.

Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee is an outstanding choice in this category. You might know Lee from his 2012 turn on Bravo’s Top Chef or because he’s been a finalist twice for a James Beard award or, like me, saw him on a weekend morning news show where I was intrigued enough to go searching for his cookbook. If you don’t know Lee? Well, let me tell you. Or, better yet, let him tell you himself…

Lee was raised in Brooklyn, part of a Korean-American family. He spent formative years as a graffiti brat before getting a job at fifteen busing tables at Terrace 5, “a small, snooty restaurant” on the 5th floor of Trump Tower in New York City. This was a time in the world where “the cult of food had not yet been born.” Chefs performed well, were largely uncredited, and certainly weren’t stopping to sign autographs and take selfies with the masses in the streets. Lee, through circumstances you can read about in the book, found his way to Kentucky. He found a unique relationship between his Korean food influences and those in his newly adopted American South. According to Lee, smoke (as in bbq and spicy pork) and pickles (as in fried or kimchi) are the common ground in his culinary mashup of two distinct cultures, allowing him to add a new taste to Southern fare.

Among his recipes of Edamame and Boiled Peanuts, Pickled Chai Grapes, and Adobo-Fried Chicken and Waffles, Lee talks about his family, his passions outside of food, and his acquired love of both buttermilk and bourbon. This is a cookbook, yes. Have I actually made anything from it? No, not yet. Have I thoroughly enjoyed the storytelling that pops out between the tasty-sounding recipes? You betcha! Lee’s mantra is, “What I cook is who I am.” Pour yourself a bourbon, and discover for yourself in this great cookbook.