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The Piglet2012 / Semifinal Round, 2012

Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar

Christina Tosi

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VS
Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch

Tender

Nigel Slater

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The Judgment

Kim_severson

By Kim Severson

Spending time with Momofuku Milk Bar, Christina Tosi's cookbook, is a wild weekend.

At the end of it, you wake up in an overdue rental convertible somewhere in the desert outside of Las Vegas, hungover and trying to remember what you did with your pants and how you got that new stand mixer tattoo on your forearm.

Likely, you will also consider for the first time the efficacy of a juice cleanse. But what a ride, you think. What a ride.

Nigel Slater's Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch, is a more like that sweet, self-effacing guy in a British film. He's the actor whose name you can never remember but who shows up late at night in the rain on the doorstep of his true love.

His simple sauté of celery and chicken, despite that shot of vermouth, seems so boring compared the thrill of Tosi's liquid cheesecake. Trying to enliven mashed potatoes with bay leaf is laughably quaint when you could hang out with Tosi and crush Ritz crackers into a topping for celery root ganache or soak cereal in milk to use as a basis for ice cream — a simple but revolutionary notion that has become her signature.

Both are experiential books based on the author's lives.

Tosi's reflects the creative chaos of her unexpected turn as pastry chef during the rise of the David Chang Momofuku empire. "Resistance to her sugar manifesto is futile," Chang writes in the foreword.

Slater, the prolific author who has mined both British cooking and his own childhood for previous books, takes a much more studied approach, winding the patient reader through life as it grew over the course of a year in 40-foot-long garden in a London suburb.

Tosi's careful and prodigious explanations of ingredients like glucose ("so many glorious things happen through the wonder and beauty of glucose") and Pam ("it's easy and convenient") are informative and just fun to read.

She will have you doing things you never imagined you would, like standing in the aisle of Whole Foods trying to figure out which freeze-dried packet of corn kernels to buy so you can go home and whirl them through the food processor to make a powder essential to the subtle quirks of Crack Pie.

Crack Pie! Even the name thrills.

Working through the recipe, though, you start to wonder if it will ever end. First, you make a huge, puffy oatmeal cookie that will serve as the crust. You crumble up that cookie, and then turn to the filling, which requires a stand mixer set only on the lowest speed. The recipes all have similarly precise bits of technique — this is a baking book, after all. These are sometimes simple but maddening. Regulating the oven temperature for Crack Pie requires opening and shutting the oven door. Pies must then be frozen for at least three hours to condense the filling. And so on.

The instructions from Slater, whose weighty book offers nearly 600 pages of recipes illustrated with simple, strong photography, are a comparative balm.

That's not to say that at first, still panting from my time with Momofuku Milk Bar, I thought Tender quite dull. Tedious, even. "Fava beans," he writes, "are gentle, soothing, calm (particularly so when they have been skinned), a vegetable without the vibrancy of spinach or even peas. Surely we don't always want vegetables to be full of fireworks?"

Instructions, particularly compared to the science-project nature of Momofuku Milk Bar, seemed Panisse simple. But like those recipes, simplicity is deceiving.

Baked Eggplant, Miso Dressing doesn't offer much on the surface. But the technique — scoring slices of slim eggplant and painting them with a mix of miso, mirin, and the ground Japanese seasoning mix called togarashi before baking them so long the flesh nearly melts — is, as the British might say, brilliant.

His understated recipes hold real gems that are thorough and seem well-tested. A Hungary-Inspired Stew Designed For the Depths of Winter (this is the actual recipe title) brings the delightful combination of caraway seeds, porcini, and paprika to a rich stew that is just a touch hot with chili pepper.

More time with Slater's book brings more rewards. You come to appreciate the breadth and depth of his work, and how handsome his book looks on the shelf. You think, in 20 years, will I be glad I took the safer route, the path sure and secure and well-traveled? Or do I want to wake up to another crack pie?

Hell, life is short. Go for the new tattoo.

And the winner is…

Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar

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Do you Agree? (40 comments)

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about 2 years ago mainecook61

This glib and rather lazy review references only a few recipes which the reviewer actually prepared---and most of them--the ones that someone might actually cook-- are by Slater, the "loser." The reviewer goes on and on about Tosi's Crack Pie, which has been immortalized in print to the point where one simply does not want to hear about it any more. Actually, the quality of the review points up the silliness of comparing books written with different intentions and for different prospective readers.

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about 2 years ago Kate P

Fantastic review - I just loved it! I love this competition but sometimes it pits books against each other that are just so profoundly different from the other that I do not know how anyone could choose! I think Milk Bar is such a wild and crazy ride, but rides only last so long, books like Tender go the distance and endure for years.

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about 2 years ago StephenBoccaBacon

I have many cookbooks like "Tender" and can go to Omnivore Books and find many more. There is only one Milk Bar book. Each recipe is a turn toward extremes that's insanely refreshing. My mother made lots of real desserts, by the way.....

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about 2 years ago ubs2007

Kudos to Milk for trying to be original, but it's desserts lack flavor and wholeness - leaving me with the question "where's the dessert?". Tender's recipes outperform on many levels: simple, scrumptious and wholesome.

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about 2 years ago kaupilimakoa

I respectfully disagree with the posters about Milk's lack of utility. I have been cooking all day (literally) from this book, and my 12 year old and I have had a blast. Maybe because I am secretly a pastry chef wannabe, but I love this book. To pair it with Tender was odd....but it is a great book

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about 2 years ago Even in Australia

I agree with Caria - I too, took Milk out of the library and am glad I did not buy it. It's a fun read but it's not useful. I haven't seen Tender yet so I can't comment on it, but I agree with other commenters that Ms. Severson's reviews seemed to support Tender as the winner, so her final choice came as a surprise.

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about 2 years ago Peony11

When we were at Williams and Sonoma today, I hung out in the cookbook section while my husband used his gift card. I loved reading Tender and can see why the book draws such praise. I certainly would have bought it had it been my gift card!

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about 2 years ago Incognito

Ms. Severson's review was quite amusing, but I simply do not agree with her. I have had Tender on my kitchen counter for about a year now and have cooked from it more than any other recent cookbook purchase. This past summer and fall I consulted it nearly daily in an effort to deal creatively with all the produce coming in from my garden. I disagree with her suggestion that Slater's recipes are boring. His chilled beet soup might sound boring if one just read the recipe, but is utterly amazing tasting. Of course the deal is this...you grow the beets and the onions and you make the stock yourself - or at least go to a farmer's market and buy superior produce. All those steps make for amazing results. Some of the recipes are a bit British, but they never taste boring.

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about 2 years ago Caria

After checking out Momofuku Milk Bar at my local library, I find some of the recipes not meant for the everyday cook. The cookie recipes (Chocolate-chocolate cookies and cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow cookies) require you to scoop out the cookie dough on sheet pan then refrigerate it. I don't know about you but I do not have that much space in my frig.

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about 2 years ago The Spiced Life

I'm coming back to add, after scanning some of the comments, that it seems some people would not have been happy if ANY dessert/baking book won. That seems a shame. Maybe we need separate Piglet categories? ;)

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about 2 years ago The Spiced Life

Awesome review no matter how you feel about the books. As it happens, I own Milk so I agree, but the Piglet has convinced me to buy Tender.

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about 2 years ago njba

That should be 'peeked'—oops!

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about 2 years ago njba

Kim looks like a gamine David Cross in that picture. I loved the review—just not the outcome. And I admit—I peaked.

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about 2 years ago njba

*peeked (oops!)

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about 2 years ago jamcook

. Crack pie and Cereal milk are gimmicks for hipsters whose mothers never let them have real desserts. Nigel Slater's beautiful writing and lovely recipes are for real cooks, eaters, readers and writers.

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about 2 years ago witloof

I was not at all surprised that this particular judge chose crack pie over the subtler delights of Tender. Last year she wrote an article extolling the virtues of stoner cuisine for the Dining Section of the New York Times.

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about 2 years ago Omnivore Books

There's just no substitute for a real food writer. A brilliant and fun review; I laughed, I cried, I almost got a tattoo.

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about 2 years ago healthierkitchen

I agree and I don't even like dessert!

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about 2 years ago jmddc

Wonderfully hilarious review! Not only will I make crack pie, I will make compost cookies and have gone to 3 Whole Foods stores looking for freeze dried corn to make those amazing corn cookies. Do you know that Tosi made a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with two of them? There are times for earnestness and times to bust loose.

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about 2 years ago Robin.Bellinger

Love both of these books...had to log in to praise the idea of a stand mixer tattoo! Hilarious.

The one time I made (and adored) crack pie, I used a recipe published in the LA Times that did not call for the elusive corn powder. ? Anyway, it was worth the work--especially with a tree-nut-allergic husband who cannot enjoy pecan pie.

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about 2 years ago Waverly

I own Tender. It is quickly becoming one of my go-to cookbooks. While it may lack the spark of an over-the-top dessert cookbook like Milk, it gives me what I want...inspiration and guidance to cook what is familiar in new ways. I enjoyed reading Kim's review and can relate to wanting those fireworks. I agree though with those below like Rivka - I would love anything made from Milk, but that doesn't mean I would like to own it. I don't need to be motivated to eat dessert - that is second nature for me!

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about 2 years ago mariaraynal

Milk is the dashing charmer you know you shouldn't drunk-dial as you stuff your face with cookies (not that I have ever done this!), while Tender is the devoted, loyal partner who chops vegetables by your side as you share a good glass of red. That's what I get from this thoroughly entertaining review. The stand-mixer tattoo reference is priceless!