Piglet Community Pick: Coi: Stories and Recipes

February 19, 2014

Read up on some of 2013's most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.

Today: Cookbookchick considers Coi: Stories and Recipes.

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If the book had not been shrink-wrapped, thus preventing me from taking a look inside, I might have gone running from the bookstore empty-handed. When I got it home, released it from its plastic prison, and opened it, my reaction was, "What is this?”

Here's what it isn’t: a cookbook. Even its author, Daniel Patterson, says so, right in the beginning of the book: “This is not a cookbook. This is the story of Coi written through food.” (Coi, pronounced kwah, is French for "tranquil" and the name of Patterson’s San Francisco restaurant.)

Paging through this large and expensive book, I found lots of pretty pictures of California and cooks and farms, nice enough for my coffee table. And, yes, I also found recipes. Each recipe page is identically formatted with an essay, column-left, in finished-book readable type. The recipe, column-right, is printed in faint, draft-like type, making it seem, quite literally, beside the point. On the facing page is either a photo of the recipe’s deconstructed ingredients or a stark picture of the finished dish. It took me a few minutes to notice what was missing: the ingredient lists. You will find them, as I eventually did, beginning on page 288 of this 304-page book, in the section called “Weights and Measures” that also serves as a sort of index.

More: Here's a recipe from Daniel Patterson you'll actually end up cooking, quite often.

I scanned the dishes, looking for something I could cook to meet my obligation to test a recipe. I found only two that I thought I could do without all sorts of hard-to-source ingredients and special equipment: Popcorn Grits, and Carrots Roasted in Coffee Beans. In the end, I decided not to cook anything from this book, because to sample its simplest recipes would not be a fair test, and because few of us will ever attempt the more complex ones. The recipes are there, as Patterson points out, to serve as his personal record of Coi’s dishes (which had never before been documented), as well as for inspiration.

That said, there is much to savor in this eccentric book. Patterson is an engaging and talented writer and the essays are well worth reading. There is also much to learn from the essays and from a section (“The Coi Kitchen”) on ingredients, equipment, and techniques. As Patterson says, “This may not be a cookbook in the traditional sense, but it is very much a book about cooking.”

But in the end, as Patterson himself admits, it's about cooking in a sophisticated restaurant kitchen with equipment you might never have at home and ingredients you won’t easily find. It is also, in my experience, the only cookbook -- and I have a lot of cookbooks! -- that comes with warnings, should you want to attempt to cook from it: “Some of the recipes require advanced techniques, specialist equipment and professional experience to achieve good results.” The words “exercise caution” are repeated three times.

Now, repeat after me, three times: This is not a cookbook. This is not a cookbook. This is not a cookbook.


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!


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Written by: cookbookchick

I am retired from CBS News, having worked in both NYC and Washington DC, my native town. I'm married, mother of three, grandmother of two. I've been a passionate cook since I was a child, and have collected recipes since then. I am shamelessly addicted to cookbooks -- hence my moniker -- but I figure it's not only less harmful than other addictions, but also produces a better outcome for those around me. My family call me "the food lady," so I guess they agree!


healthierkitchen February 19, 2014
Well done, cbc!!
Maimsie February 19, 2014
Great review. Pretty tricky of the publishers to shrink wrap the book so you can't browse. Thanks for the warning.
jenna_lee February 19, 2014
haha, loved this review! I was actually quite surprised that Coi was coming out with a cookbook based on what I know of the restaurant--- so I appreciate the confirmation, this is NOT a cookbook :)
dymnyno February 19, 2014
Good review! I took my husband to Coi a couple of years ago and I thought the food was beautiful, but too thoughtful. My husband thought it was too precious. I have made my own coffee roasted carrots which make a great side dish...his carrots at Coi would just be a little bite, as it is with all of his dishes. (
dymnyno February 19, 2014
Coi is a very small elegant restaurant on Broadway in the midst of former strip clubs. The food is good, but small, small portions. One block down the street is Cotogna (sister restaurant of Quince) which is one of my favorite restaurants in SF.
aargersi February 19, 2014
Great review! This is not a cookbook! Seems like a lot of memoir / essay type books in the Piglet CPs this year - but good reading nevertheless