Editor's note: One of the great things about our annual Piglet Party is that moment when we get to hear emcee Adam Sachs' speech. This time—his third—was too good not to share. What follows is his unedited words from Wednesday evening. Adam would like us to note that this sounds much better, and perhaps funnier, shouted from atop a taco table—so please keep that in mind while reading.
Good evening, food nerds —
Welcome to the seventh annual 2016 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks Awards Party brought to you by Food52, where the crowd-sourced content is free and the vintage copper jam pan costs $395.
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My name is Adam Sachs. I am the editor of Saveur, a magazine wholly unaffiliated with Food52. At Saveur, we seek to celebrate the diverse cuisines of the world and the creative personalities behind them—rather than pitting these earnest, hard-toiling cookbook writers against each other in a merciless, winner-take-all bloodbath that leaves 15 egos and reputations shattered and a single battle-hardened soul left to deal with the survivor’s guilt of having unwittingly elbowed out Ruth Reichl.
Now I’m not judging. I’m merely emceeing. So don’t blame me, just like you don’t blame the Accounting Firm of Price Waterhouse Cooper for all those white people at the Oscars.
A lot of people come up and they ask me “Adam, what are the origins of the Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks?” And I tell them: I don’t know. I work at Saveur. But I do have an idea of how it began.
Which is this: Seven years ago Food52 co-founder Merrill Stubbs was standing around in the perfect, shadowless white-grey light of the Food52 offices. And she turned to co-founder Amanda Hesser and said, “It’s just too fucking perfect in here.” And Amanda said “Riiight??” And Merrill said: “I mean look at this flawless milky grey-white light that makes everything, even this $18 R. Murphy Littleneck Clam Knife, seem to kind of float in utter fucking serenity and perfection. We need to shake things up. We need to do something radical and piss some people off.” “Riight?” Amanda said.
And they decided to give the task to their managing editor—and James Beard Journalism Award Nominee—Kenzi Wilbur. But it turned out Kenzi was too nice. So they all thought about who was the meanest, surliest badass in the business and at the same time they all said the same name: “Charlotte Druckman.”
So let’s get to this year’s showdown, a book-off so brutal and divisive even Charlotte Druckman’s own mother is boycotting this party. As in Piglets past, the judges were comprised of a Hollywood Squares-style cross-section of food-world luminaries, chefs, past-winners, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, and NPR’s surprisingly hunky Ari Shapiro, not to mention prolific Instagrammer and very huggable Andrew Zimmern. And, as in years past, their thoughtful, reasoned, necessarily subjective judgments drove Food52’s otherwise mild-mannered community of commenters absolutely fucking bonkers.
Commenter Dave Webster accused the judges of the crime of thinking that “this is all a hoot.”
While commenter Booglix pleaded: “Lighten up, people! These are not the National Book Awards.”
(As an aside: My favorite commenter-on-commenter rage came from one LB who seethed, “There is not enough exasperation on this planet to accurately describe your comment to the people fortunate enough to never see it.” LB, you are my hero.)
So if The Piglet is neither a hoot nor the National Book Awards, what exactly is it? It’s the very diabolical thing dreamed up by Merrill and Amanda and Kenzi and Charlotte, that is a riot of unbridled subjectivity, cranky personal opinion, and telling (and sometimes hilarious) user error let loose upon a selection of 16 very worthy cookbooks. It’s a chance to read and cook alongside a bunch of compelling amateurs as they grapple with and learn from and sometimes feud with these instruction manuals. It’s a chance to learn that if you want to intimidate Yotam Ottolenghi you must start by calling for 36 dried cornhusks. A chance to hear Julie Klam—an individual so outside the culinary-normative set that she puts Maldon salt in air quotes—make a very rational argument against recipes-within-recipes. And to hear Lauren Collins dismiss the photos in the otherwise-universally praised Kenji López-Alt’s The Food Lab as recalling “the aesthetics of a Time-Life primer on bricklaying.”
If it were up to me, I’d award the prize to one giant cookbook called My Zahaviolet Hot Bread Kitchen Year of Near Oman-mushka Eat-India-Mex Greens Jew-lina Spoonsenega-Lab.
The Piglet—inspired by The Morning News' Tournament of Books—is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a NCAA-style bracketed tournament. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!
I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.