Aaaaand, we’re off! The first round of The Piglet lives, and boy did these judges put the 16 competing books through the wringer. Their arguments were so ironclad, it’s like they wanted commenters to boing right off and over to the next review.
To catch up on the fun, here’s the tl;dr version:
It seems whoever picked the Piglet heats were plotting a rowdy first heat: “Let’s take the two big-time cookbooks of the year and make someone pick a favorite—in the first round! There’s bound to be an upset! Commenters will go wiiiild!” But there was no upset, only applause: Brett Martin did the impossible job of building a faultless argument for why Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat would be the advancing to the next round. There was Caesar salad. There was pizza chicken. There was even applause for his Michael Pollan stab. Martin: 1, Editors: 0.
The most shocking revelation in Evan Kleiman’s review of Gather and Six Seasons is that she hadn’t heard of Six Seasons before The Piglet. How? The book has been drooled on all over the internet. The author started the kale salad trend, for goodness sake.
While flabbergasting the book hadn’t hit her desk before now, this fact also made Kleiman the perfect, unbiased judge for this heat. She moseyed through the two very seasonally-driven, location-specific books in her seasonally-driven Los Angeles kitchen, and while Six Seasons unshockingly won, you've got to feel a tad bad for Gather. It was originally published for the UK market. Its imperfect metric conversions are more common in UK translations than anyone would like to see, and its landscape-based organization makes it difficult to translate to, well, just about anywhere else. To even the playing field, what would a UK writer say about Six Seasons? They might bat a snow-frosted eyelash at the two additional seasons those West Coasters enjoy.
In the first month of 2017, we may or may not have called it: 2017 will be the year for Asian cookbooks. Oh, what's that? Three Asian cookbooks in The Piglet? And, oh, what’s that? All three won their first heat? Moving right along…
Garrett Oliver was having such success with his cookbooks, he was at risk of getting smug. But ultimately Bangkok advanced to the next round because it "is more fun to hang out with; [the author's] descriptions of life in that city are like paintings; she isn’t judging me; her recipes work and the food was totally slammin’." Even without finding duck eggs. (New York, where are the duck eggs?)
Some people’s stories are so singular, they can’t not turn into books. Many people felt that way about Asha Gomez’s My Two Souths, which won last year’s Piglet. Others feel that way about Bonnie Frumkin Morales’s story and the resulting cookbook, Kachka: her big, rowdy family; her uber-popular, vodka-soaked Portland restaurant, her refined but homey takes on her family’s home cooking. Even the story behind the name “Kachka” is memorable (it’s waiting for you in the introduction of the book). Wendi McClendon-Covey fell for Kachka’s upbeat infectiousness (and its shkvarky with buckwheat blini) over the sumptuous, languid, delightful Ducksoup. Then again, if her roles say anything, McClendon-Covey likes a rambunctious dinner party. (Hey McClendon-Covey fans, she’s going to be in the next Goosebumps movie!)
In her review of Onions Etcetera and The Pho Cookbook, it’s clear Bonnie S. Benwick hangs out with cookbook nerds. You know, the ones who know Ina Garten’s Rule of Ingredients Lists. The ones who have a radar sense for images that don’t match up with their recipes, who totally understand why there are cookbooks devoted entirely to jerky, schmaltz, and 5-ingredient instant pot recipes—even if they themselves would never use such books. (Yep, these are all real books.)
After putting these books to the test (through a pizza lens...), Benwick ultimately chose the one that taught her more—and it happened to be 198 pages shorter than its competitor. But she didn’t judge these books by their appearance—you can “bet your fine-mesh skimmer” on that.
The Prinze household loves The Piglet! After Freddie judged last year, Sarah Michelle went for it this year. She was tasked with judging two rather demanding, not-entirely-usual cookbooks: The Art of Flavor and Night + Market. She made one multi-course dinner from each—over one weekend—and chose a winning book using one of the best barometers we’ve seen during this competition: the energy around the table. “As we sat down and ate, the moment felt livelier, the flavors more exciting, and the memories unforgettable,” she writes. Even if you did hustle to a thousand markets and dirty every utensil in your kitchen, does any of it matter if the people at the table are entirely enthused and enjoying the meal? Good happy ending, Buffy!
Kenzi Wilbur edited this fine tournament for years, and she always instructed judges to read the introduction to every book first. What's the first thing she did with her two books? It wasn't read the introductions.
Nevertheless, she eventually does her due diligence with these two titles—one of which is a perfect cookbook with no faults whatsoever. (Could it really be?) She baked her way through BraveTart and cooked and baked through Tartine All Day, and it wasn't the flawless cookies or cakes that led to BraveTart's triumph. It was the history lessons of each sweet. Really! Did you know there's a precursor to Snickerdoodles called Snip Doodles? Now you do.
Stephen Satterfield’s work is never just about the food, but connecting what’s in the kitchen to history, people, and politics. So when he chose the book that was more cookable and not as expansive in narrative (though still full of story), it came as a surprise. His stomach had a big say in this decision. When speaking about King Solomon’s Table, he writes “[Joan Nathan’s] display of knowledge becomes an avalanche.” Also, he doesn’t like how she cuts her bell peppers. The stomach gets what it wants.
Ready for more Piglet? Tune in next week for our 2018 Community Picks and March 26th for the start of round two.