I am always so hopeful that young cooks with a lot of passion and talent will write books that help to transform the North American diet in a positive way. That is why I have to admit that I am more than a little disappointed in the two finalists for this year's Piglet. Not because the authors are not talented, both obviously are, but because both books seem to contribute to feeding our addiction to sugar and fat. I am predictable and I always want to celebrate books and cooks that are helping people to fall in love again with fruits and vegetables. It will then come to no surprise that I hoped that Nigel Slater's wonderfully thoughtful Tender would make it to the end.
Both books — Momofuku Milk Bar and The Art of Living According to Joe Beef — have forewords by my friend David Chang and I enjoyed the personal reflections on the characters behind the restaurants. Christina Tosi's introduction and personal story about how she came to Momofuku Milk Bar is refreshingly matter of fact, unaffected and concise. In her words you begin to get a sense of an organized mind at work, something that is reflected in the precision of her recipes. All pastry chefs have that same kind of focus but the truly clever ones are also creative, a quality that Christina has in abundance. Sadly, it is in the ingredients that Milk Bar really loses me — it seems that they don't have real ingredients in their pantry. I understand the creative appeal of turning something bad into something surprising but I can't support the choice of highly processed ingredients when fresh and organic ones are increasingly so readily available. Across the board the Milk Bar recipes are too rich, too sweet, and just too intense for me. The fact that "Crack Pie" is their most famous recipe is quite telling.
When I first opened Joe Beef the page I landed on was Smoked Cheddar with doughnuts, an ominous sign. Many of the recipes in The Art of Living According to Joe Beef are heavy-handed and high in fat, but not all of them. As I leafed through the pages I came to be charmed by their story and the unconventional way the book is laid out. There is a sense of history to the book and their deep love of Montreal is evident throughout. There is richness in detail and usually a lovely idiosyncratic story for each recipe that makes the book as much of an engaging read as a straightforward cookbook. I loved the story of "Building a garden in a crack den" and the recipes that accompanied that chapter like Pickled Rhubarb, Carrots with Honey, and the lovely Herbes Salees. They speak with such affection about how they have replaced "pop cans, plastic bags, and cigarette butts that littered our yard with tomatoes, kale, and turnips." They say that building their garden was "not an environmental statement" but whether they want it to be or not, to me and I am sure to many who read this book, it is.
Appropriately, the decision between who wins the Piglet award this year between Joe Beef and Milk Bar came back to crack, and ultimately, I would rather be building a garden from a den than to be an addict.
It is my honor and pleasure to announce the winner of this year's Piglet is...The Art of Living According to Joe Beef.
Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California, has championed local, sustainable farms for over four decades. She is also the founder of the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, a model public education program that brings children into a new relationship to food with hands-on planting, harvesting, and cooking. Waters is also the author of ten books including 40 Years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering, The Art of Simple Food: Notes and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, and The Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea.
Photo by Brigitte Lacomb
SQUEAL!!! That was an ambivalent exclamation. I couldn't be happier to see Joe Beef win or sadder to see Milk lose. What I'm most proud of is that the final round came down to these books. I hear what our peerless, gracious, and wise judge Alice Waters is saying about health and moderation and ingredients and crack, but I do think one thing these volumes both do is highlight a certain slow aspect of cooking. These are recipes to be pored over as both readers and as cooks. They can't be tackled in a half-assed manner; only with love, attentiveness, and time. They are directions for those who truly enjoy cooking (or would like to) and they yield results for those who truly love eating, and doing so together. And as much as I too adore Tender, I see it as a the sort of cookbook that reflects where we have been the last couple of years, and, to some extent, where we still are. What Christina Tosi, Frédéric Morin, and David McMillan have produced are cookbooks that show us where we're going. It's exciting, and, in part, it's why we started this tournament; to mark and celebrate such moving forward.
We want to thank all of our generous, brave, and generally awesome judges for making this year's tourney as entertaining and enlightening as it has been. And we also want to remind everyone how much all 16 of the cookbooks nominated mean to us. We only pick the ones we love ourselves.
Inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books, we got together with
our friend Charlotte Druckman and created the Tournament of Cookbooks.
Here on Food52, you can watch the action and weigh in on the results as
the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year vie for the coveted Piglet
trophy. The tournament features top food writers and chefs as judges.
Play will take place over the course of 3 weeks, with a decision
published each weekday.
The 2012 Judges