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The Piglet2017 / Quarterfinal Round, 2017

Taste & Technique vs. The Adventures of Fat Rice

Taste & Technique

Naomi Pomeroy & Jamie Feldmar

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The Adventures of Fat Rice

Abraham Conlon, Adrienne Lo, & Hugh Amano

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Judged by: Freddie Prinze Jr

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Freddie Prinze, Jr, starred in the movies "She’s All That," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," and "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," as well as the Scooby-Doo franchise and "Summer Catch." He is a recurring guest voice on Comedy Central’s "Robot Chicken," "Star Wars Rebels," and other animated series and video games. In 2010 Freddie joined the cast of "24" for its final season. Also an active writer and producer, Freddie lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and their two children.

The Judgment

In the boxing world, they say “styles make fights.” Apparently, the same goes for cookbook tournaments. I took my time with this, having never judged anything outside of a cosplay tournament in 2002. (True story—it was a pressure situation.) 

This competition was, well, a little different—but with no less pressure. I looked at everything in both books, from the design and aesthetics to accessibility to whether or not the recipes worked and how they tasted. 

Let’s do this round by round. 

Round 1: The books themselves.

Taste & Technique is from Naomi Pomeroy, owner and chef of the Portland restaurant Beast, and her co-writer Jamie Feldmar. First: Beast and Pomeroy’s bar Expatriate will pretty much be the only places I go the next time I’m in Portland. But the book itself is a classic and proper chef’s take on making your meals at home gorgeous and delicious, from the ground up. 

Her recipes take you through all the steps you’ll need to add to your foundation as a home cook—you won’t just get dinner at the end of cooking a recipe, but you’ll walk away a better and more studied cook. And when I say all the steps, there's an emphasis on all; these recipes can be long. Take the French onion soup: The headnote specifies that the soup will “take a bit of effort” over two days, but Pomeroy assures you you’ll be glad. And what you’ll come away with? Not just a rich, beautiful soup—the knowledge that you can replace up to 2 cups of the stock in this kind of soup with leftover braising liquid. Smart tip. 

 

The Adventures of Fat Rice is from a completely different dimension in a different universe. The owners of Chicago’s famed Fat Rice restaurant, Abraham Conlon and Adrienne Lo, along with Hugh Amano, have transformed the traditional cookbook. This is a comic book merged with recipes—there are graphic illustrations and how-tos (see: “Shaping the Empada,” p. 129, and “Shaping Papo Seco,” p. 266, among others); comic strips with whole recipes (see: “Attack of the Chilli Clam,” p.158); they even have dishes spelled out in dialogue bubbles. But it’s not enough to ever lose you—there are photos of ingredients and dishes throughout for your reference. Flipping through this book is fun ride; I could tell I was in for a lot of new-to-me food and ingredients, and I was excited to dive in. 

Round 1 Winner: Fat Rice, for taking the concept of a cookbook and turning it on its head. 

Round 2: The food. 

As I mentioned, Taste & Technique is not a simple cookbook. The recipes can be long and few fit on one page. But it does simplify the complex—it takes philosophies from meals you already know and builds on them. That familiar French onion soup? You make it better with rich braising liquid. Or the the tomato soup and grilled cheese you loved from your childhood? In Taste & Technique, that’s too pedestrian, in a good way: Pomeroy urges you to make smoky tomato veloute with puff pastry Parmesan straws instead. I smoked the onions before I blended them with the tomatoes, and I wasn’t mad about it. That feeling started to wear off as I made the puff pastry straws from scratch, though. They tasted amazing, but when I have to puff my own pastry, I’m tempted to tap out. 

 

The Balsamic Braised Short Ribs I made were delicious, as was the Crispy Fried Egg with fresh Corn Polenta, which is now a brunch staple at my house. I’ll be making these again. This book is not for the faint of heart, and it’s for the right kind of cook: If you’re invested, you’ll end up with amazing food. 

The Adventures of Fat Rice is crazy awesome and at times, crazy hard. The introduction reads: “The recipes in this book reflect a cuisine that at once combines and contrasts aspects of the many cultures it has grown from. As such, many words and names will be foreign to you; others will seem familiar but might have different meanings than you are used to. A daunting aspect of our study of Macanese cooking and its related cuisines is the sheer number of countries and people that have left their mark on how we interpret the food today.” As promised, the recipes can be intense—filled with ingredients that need to be sourced, or techniques you may not have heard of. In other words, those graphic illustrations and how-tos will be your friend. Going through this book, I’m blown away by the work and involvement of the food they serve in their Chicago restaurant. 

I land on the Potstickers Royal with Crispy Crepe to cook first, a four-page recipe with a 2-page graphic spread on how to fold, pinch, steam, and flip the potstickers. It’s a tricky recipe, but the flavor here is some of the best I’ve eaten—they land in my top 3 potstickers of all time. And the authors try to ease any intimidation in the headnote: “And remember, you aren’t selling these in a crowded restaurant (you aren’t, right?), so even the ones that don’t pop out under a perfect crepe will still taste delicious.” 

The Malay Style Vegetable Curry was up next, served with their coconut rice. It was fantastic, but was super hard for me to make. I had to reference 5 different recipes in the book to make this right: The curry itself, their Malacca sweet curry powder, the Malay curry sauce, Balichão (Macanese shrimp paste), and their coconut rice. (Though the powder recipe makes a whole cup and keeps for up to three months; the more you cook from this book and the more you amass components, the easier it gets.)  

Round 2 Winner: Taste & Technique, for already giving me new staples. 

Each book won a round, which means we will need a deciding championship: At the end of the day, which book will I use more? Which one will I return to? Which will I keep in my kitchen? While The Adventures of Fat Rice is more fun to discuss with friends—and more fun to flip through and learn tips by way of comic strips—I just can't see myself using the book as regularly as I do Taste & Technique. I felt myself wanting to make and eat the food in Taste & Technique more than I did Fat Rice; recipes like their Roasted Pigeon or Pig Ear Salad didn't get my creative juices flowing, but they do get points for piquing my curiosity.

And so, moving on to the next round, my winner, is Taste & Technique. 

And the winner is…

Taste & Technique

Taste & Technique

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Do you Agree? (36 comments)

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4 months ago Transcendancing

What an excellent review!

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5 months ago capers

Fabulous review!!!

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5 months ago karen wyon

Super interesting review.

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5 months ago garlic&lemon

OK, I'll bite: Where do you find fresh corn in the middle of winter for the fresh corn polenta? (I wait all year in NM for September to make Ottolenghi's fresh corn polenta with eggplant sauce.) Does she sub in frozen corn?

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5 months ago lilroseglow

In Michigan, I find it practically year round at my local grocery chain. Not locally grown obviously, but still available.

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5 months ago petalpusher

What a nice review! I appreciate those who are respectful in their mannerism. To me he seemed to express the 'loser' of the review was all about his own shortcomings, nothing they did. What a good guy. He's the important to be nice, instead of the nice to be important judge. A happy life to you Freddy Jr.

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5 months ago petalpusher

oops, Freddie.

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5 months ago Peppa

Agreed!

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5 months ago Sauertea

I think this is one of the best reviews of the Piglet. Thoughtful, thorough and well written.

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5 months ago Miachel Breton

I completely agree.

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5 months ago Rick

Oh great. I was going to be good and not buy new cookbooks. Then I read this review of Taste & Technique and I can feel the pull of of the Visa™...

Nice review, by the way. I really liked the sections and the clear writing.

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5 months ago Rick

Bought Taste & Technique at a local cookbook, er, bookstore. Almost succumbed to several other volumes. See what I do for you Piglet??

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5 months ago averything

I really enjoyed this review! It is well written and engaging and I thought going in that Taste & Technique was the book I would buy (& actually use) and this confirms it. Also - as a home cook who loves to challenge herself I laughed out loud at "...but when I have to puff my own pastry, I'm tempted to tap out." I'm with you on that one Freddie Prinze Jr. It also great to see lots of diverse judges in the Piglet - makes every day an interesting and different read.

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5 months ago LittleKi

I don't know why I am always pleasantly surprised when an actor also knows how to write given that so many of them write quite well, but this was a super review. It covered both the style and content of the books, something that will make Piglet readers happy with the outcome. I don't think I need another "technique" cookbook, but if this book keeps moving up the ranks, I may start to want it!

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5 months ago Ileana Morales Valentine

I love Taste & Technique! This also may be my favorite review so far in this year's Piglet.

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5 months ago James Felder

Nice review!

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5 months ago Leger Claudia

I love the organization of the review- written from the standpoint of a creative spirit who actually cooks.. Bravo!

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5 months ago Catherine

While I thought the last reviewer did a masterful job with two books from nearly the same region, Freddie did a bang up job. He laid it out well, and his review for each book was thoughtful, organized and presented well. I hope we hear from him in future challenges. Well done!

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5 months ago GigiB

What a great review! I'm looking forward to checking in later to see what people say about Freddie's commentary on both books. I'd love to add Taste & Technique to my collection. It's also quite cool to read a review from the star of all the major high school movies when I was in high school. Finally, a trip to Chicago to visit Fat Rice is warranted after reading this.

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5 months ago Shem Aronofsky

I was a fan of Freddie's or is it Mr. Prinze, Jr? Ok both sound weird to me. Anyways, I have been a fan since the late 90's and early 2000's. When I learned he loves to cook and had a book of his own I was intrigued. So when I saw he would be a judge I was cautiously optimistic.

Even with my bias I think this is the best review yet. What I love about it is how he broke it down. One as a book and one as a source of usable recipes. I know plenty of people who will rave about Mastering the Art of French Cooking or The Joy of Cooking. I have a hard time ever going to either as neither "clicks" with me. So to get a review on just the book it's self can help me understand what I would get out of both the review and the cookbook.

I am fairly certain both books are going on my Amazon wishlist but I liked how he chose to reach his conclusion and what his conclusion was.

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5 months ago ariane baayens

awesome fun review

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5 months ago clare

Solid!

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5 months ago Rachel

I'm so glad the review was split into sections like this! Makes it so much easier to gauge the strengths of each book and helps the reader determine whether they agree with the decision or not.

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5 months ago Victoria Carr

I really love this review. I have read the review a few times, and even though Freddie, Jr., doesn’t talk about how regularly he cooks at home, it’s clear, based on his approach to cooking from both of these books, his enthusiasm for the challenge The Piglet presented, and his comment that Taste & Technique gave him new staples, it’s clear at the outset he wasn’t a newbie in the kitchen. He gave each book the attention it deserved and a fair shot at moving forward. I own and love the book he chose and have given it four times as a present. Taste & Technique is a beautiful and accessible book I thought would be vying for the top slot with Simple at the end of the day so I’m not surprised at this result. What am I surprised about is I have decided I want Fat Rice too even though I know I will be working hard to source the ingredients. Thanks so much to Freddie Prinze, Jr.! (P.S. I had to Google cosplay. Also, the only thing I knew about Macao was what I read about in James Clavell’s Asian Saga novels so I also Googled Macao; it is fascinating.) And, Diana Henry, please stay engaged with us here. I have eight of your books, love them all, and am waiting for the next one, which I think is supposed to be called North.

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5 months ago Deborah Kim

I think Freddie Prinze Jr. is being too modest. He is, indeed, quite a good cook - he even published his own cookbook a few years back! I agree, this is a fair, evenly-written review and I liked reading it a lot.

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5 months ago Shem Aronofsky

Freddie is an accomplished home cook. Check out his cook book here: https://www.amazon.com...

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5 months ago Victoria Carr

Hey, thanks for this. That looks like a fun book! Do you have it? Do you use it?

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5 months ago Shem Aronofsky

It's also on my amazon wishlist. I don't have it yet but I think I will be getting it with my next cookbook order. I did thumb through it in a bookstore and it looked interesting enough. I enjoy cookbooks with a personal story and his offers that.

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5 months ago Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

You might be interested in this review of his book! https://food52.com/blog...

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4 months ago Vy Tran

I love Diana Henry's cookbooks and always looking forward to new ones. Victoria, where did you find out about this North cookbook?

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5 months ago Pomme d'Amour

Well done review, enjoyable read and results based on a solid premise.
And Diana, so love that you're an active part of this Piglet. Thank you!

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5 months ago SandraH

I agree on both counts!

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