The Piglet2019 / First Round, 2019

How to Eat a Peach vs. Soul

How to Eat a Peach

Diana Henry

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Soul

Todd Richards

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Judged by: Antoni Porowski

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Antoni Porowski is best known as the Food & Wine Connoisseur on Netflix’s Emmy-winning hit series Queer Eye. A self-taught cook with experience in kitchens from Montréal to New York, Antoni is also part-owner of the Manhattan eatery, The Village Den. Antoni serves on City Harvest’s Food Council of top chefs and culinary experts, where he supports organization’s work rescuing and delivering food for hungry New Yorkers. His own cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen, is slated for release Fall 2019.

The Judgment

 

Transcript [Editor's Note: This judgment was originally recorded as a video, and intended for that format. The below is an unedited transcript of the video judgment. We recommend that you watch the video to get the full experience of the judgment!]

Hi, guys! So, I've been chosen by the 2019 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks to judge two cookbooks by two real chefs. The first one is How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry, and the second is Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes by Todd Richards. Both books are very strong in certain respects. And it was a little bit about apples and oranges, but what I tried to remind myself is sort of how I approach food and what my point of view is, in terms of how I use it to relate to people. For me, food is a story. Food is how I share my love for people. It's how I say thank you, it's how I say I'm sorry, it's how I say I love you.

I. How to Eat a Peach

I guess, let's get started. It's basically—my understanding of it—a collection of menus which are beautifully crafted. Aesthetically, the book sort of has kind of like this filmy moodiness, kind of like there was this little smoky lens or something that was going on with a lot of the photos. That's very romantic; "aspirational" is a word that I would use to describe it. It just sort of has this, like, really clean, but very elegant upscale quality to it.

The first recipe that I tested out was Leeks with Breton Vinaigrette. I love a recipe that kind of changes the way I look at an ingredient. Usually I tend to cook leeks until they get almost jammy-like, or dark brown. But these are cooked so that there still is a nice firmness to them—you really get to bite into them and taste that delicious fibrous nature. So I like something that lets me kind of, like, visit something in a new way. The ingredients are also all really accessible; these are all things that you can pretty much find in your pantry. It's pretty easy but at the same time very traditionally French. I don't know if I'm just being, like, needy, or if I want to, I don't know... but I wish I knew a little more about the backstory of it—the emotional components of the dish. Because I think every dish should have an emotional component. And I think they do, if you think about it, because you try something and you fall in love with it. I'm like, "Why? Were you with someone special? What was going on in your life then?" 

OK. So, the Crêpes Dentelles with Sautéed Apples and Caramel Sauce. The photo in this was just really stunning. And it just reminded me of when my father, who's obsessed with crêpes, would make crêpes when I was a kid. I really liked the way that the recipe was laid out, in terms of explaining how to make crêpes. Steps were all really nice and simple, and for somebody like me, who doesn't make desserts, this is something that anybody can make. And probably my favorite moment of this entire book actually is in the introduction of this: She goes on to explain the dish and then she ends it with "The first pancake is always a dud, so don't worry." Fact! The first two, if you're me. "I was taught to make these by my first French boyfriend. He was called Christophe. I was 15. So for me, this is more than just a recipe." That's it. That, for me, is like gold.

And then the last recipe—oh, yes—the Shaved Fennel, Celery & Apple Salad with Pomegranates & Hazelnuts. What I love about this recipe is... I'm really big on trying to utilize the entire ingredient and not just throwing other parts away. Like, fennel fronds are such a beautiful little thing to add on top of your salad and just make it so chic—and why waste that? And I love a dish where you can really see all the ingredients and right away just kind of get excited to eat it. And that's what this dish sort of did to me.

It's a beautiful book, but I will say—and I'm not sure where this is... again, this is only coming from my opinion—there is something vaguely a little intimidating about it, and I think it could be a little intimidating to somebody who's an amateur or who is not really well-versed in certain things. Intimidating because it's so nice and chic, and I feel like I'm not? I don't know. But anyway. 

 

II. Soul

OK, so, we have Todd Richards' Soul. I kind of really love how he goes directly into his backstory and sort of where he was raised and the different cultural influences that he had growing up. This book has really changed my opinion on Southern cuisine. It's really—like, my understanding of that or the access that I've had to it, or whatever limited knowledge that I have has been exactly that: limited at best. Again I don't want to make assumptions, but I feel like there was a little bit of a lack of understanding or a shame that he had about his own food, about what Southern cuisine was like growing up. But then as he grew up he really got to appreciate it. And what I loved throughout this book is his influences of you know, Jacques Pepin, like traditional French preparation and technique applied to Southern cooking and what he knows. And I just love that sort of melding. 

"It starts with honoring our culinary heritage, like Chef Pepin does his, and which took me some time to embrace." That was my understanding about the, like, kind of not really understanding, like, appreciating where you come from and what your roots are, and your history—like, who are you, and who are your people, your tribe, whatever you want to call it. "The next step is to acknowledge one another's. Doing so enriches our lives, our communities, and hopefully opens minds so that we can begin to appreciate what we all bring to the table." Like, that's, like, such a mic drop moment for me. 

You know, he writes that "creating and sharing are both spiritual acts." I really believe that. It's a love language. It's an act of service. It's how we get to you know as I mentioned earlier, it's how we get to tell somebody "I really care about you, and I made this from these raw ingredients." Or, "I'm sorry for screwing up or pissing you off"—whatever it is. 

I was really affected by this book. I love this dish: Pickled Strawberry Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette, Black Pepper Crème Fraîche, and Smoked Pecans. Incorporating heavy cream with buttermilk and basically making your own crème fraîche had a beautiful [texture]. I always buy this stuff—sorry, not sorry—I don't have time... all the time. But what's nice about this one is that it had, like, the texture of a labneh, but not as tart. It was really lovely. Oh, and the acidity on the pickled strawberries is really delicious.

Next recipe that I did was the Merguez Sausages with Preserved Lemon and Pickled Carrots and Turnips. I'm obsessed with farro. It's one of my favorite grains—it has a really nice nuttiness and it holds really well. And what I love is incorporating cream into this and it's adding another layer of texture. The pickled carrots are really lovely—they bring a nice sweetness to it, and acidity. Tons of different textures going! Great for a party.

This is my favorite favorite recipe of the book—I'm sure there are other really amazing ones—but it's Broiled Lake Perch and Tomato Aspic in Lettuce Wraps. It's basically a fish taco, reinvented—great for a weeknight. I love using coffee in different rubs for meats; I have never thought about using it for fish. And it's brilliant! I don't like to use "flavor bomb," because it's so overused, but that's kind of what it is. The right amount of acidity, you have a bit of a bitterness from the coffee on the fish, and then just, like, the nice, delicate lettuce cup. This is a fantastic dish. Yeah—like, coffee grounds on fish. I feel like that's so badass.

III. The Verdict

It's really—yeah. It's hard and it's uncomfortable as a home cook—let me remind you all—to judge two bodies of work. I know what it's like to write a book (shameless plug: book coming out late this fall). I know what a personal work it can be. Both of these, with Diana and with Todd, like, they put their their hearts and their souls into it. So it's really kind of... it's weird to kind of critique it. But I can only, again, come from my own experience. And my own experience is that when I was writing my book, the recipes I think that came out the best were the ones that had the best personal story, and the reason for making them—the ones that I fought for. That attachment to who you are and where you came from and who you are as a people. And I really got to feel like I got to know Todd a little bit throughout his stories of the book, using traditional dishes and tying it into the life that he's chosen for himself and the training that he's had. And tying in skill into his backstory into where he comes from. And I kind of liked how uncomfortable I was with Todd's book,  because there was a lot less that I knew, but yet I wanted to cook from it more as a result of reading it. And it just got me really interested in just exploring that.

I always strive for connection with anybody that I meet. Being on Queer Eye has sort of made that a drug for me. I need to figure out how I can connect with somebody, and I feel like Todd did that more successfully. So, I have to hand it to him, though they're both beautiful books. I really recommend getting them—they're lovely additions to anybody's collection. 

So, thanks for listening to my incessant rambling, and the shadow in the background as I recorded this myself. But anyway, gotta make sure I got all my points in here ('cause I gotta be a good student, 'cause I'm Canadian!). That's kind of it. I think Soul should continue to the next round. So, thank you so much for listening to me. This is very long. And, yeah, bye! 

 

And the winner is…

Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes

Soul: A Chef's Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes

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Do you Agree?

27 Comments

Ida B. March 10, 2019
I love the reviewer (“Queer Eye” always makes me cry) but this review was a disappointment. If you are doing a video review. SHOW ME what the dishes looked like when you were cooking them - SHOW ME some reaction from you and your guests when eating them - SHOW ME what your kitchen looked like afterwards. Sigh. I have no idea if the food was good, although he did give a little shoutout to detailed crepe instructions, but more importantly, I am not actually convinced he actually MADE THE DISHES versus read the books, named a couple of recipes, and got a check for doing a quick video blog. Very disappointing because I did expect a better job, especially after three stellar reviews so far.
 
Morningside H. March 10, 2019
I am disappointed that the gorgeous and evocative HOW TO EAT A PEACH has already been eliminated. Full disclosure: I'm a complete Diana Henry Fan Girl -- I own all her books, and basically am following the trail she continues to blaze, so I am somewhat biased. And I have haven't read SOUL, but I want to say that there actually IS personal narrative in HOW TO EAT A PEACH and enough context to feel a connection to the author and her recipes. I'm also bit puzzled that he found it intimidating ,as it sounds like he knows his way around the kitchen. I, too, was annoyed by the overuse of "like". I didn't realize this was transcribed from a video until I had read through it. Even when trying to write in colloquial tone, one ought to leave out fillers (i.e. like, you know, um, etc..). It's just bad writing and although I find him appealing in his manner, his using like in every sentence is distracting and makes him come across as less intelligent than he is. Still, I'll give SOUL a look but I'm still sad about PEACH failing to progress to the next round because it's so wonderful.
 
beejay45 March 18, 2019
FYI, that was a transcript of the video, not something the reviewer wrote.
 
workingstiff March 10, 2019
Maybe it’s generational, but this “review” is useless. And saying “like” every third word was incredibly annoying. Please get more experienced grown up cooks to write these reviews.
 
Julie March 9, 2019
My reaction is that both books are probably very good. Obviously he prefers Soul because it has what he likes most about cookbooks. I have a friend that buys cookbooks for the stories too. I, on the other hand, am all about the recipes. So everyone is different. I have a Diana Henry cookbook "Change of Appetite" -- I love the interesting flavor combinations and unique ingredients she tries but for some people that may be intimidating. I enjoyed the video and thought his perspective was thoughtful.
 
klclark March 9, 2019
I watched the video and thought he slept in on a Sunday morning and forgot to send his review on Friday. He was waking up as he went along. A phrase my mom used to say was ringing in my head "Always give your best effort and look your best when out, you have no idea who you will run into." Sounds mean but it was how I related to the review (my backstory) much like how he relates to cookbooks. I'm not sure I relate to his reasoning that he needs to know why each recipe is important to the author. I like a short intro for each recipe in a cookbook. I enjoyed the review mainly because it made me think of my mom. I miss her.
 
lynne March 8, 2019
I have neither of these books, but after reading this essay, I have little inclination to have either! Why doesn't he stick to novels or biographies? His report leaves me totally clueless as to the flavor,ease of prep, ingredients, or any intrinsic value for the two cook books. I have no clue why these books might be better choices than the nearest childrens story book!
 
zooeybechamel March 8, 2019
I don’t understand why there isn’t an option on voting that reads something like “I wanted the other book to win” or simply “I disagree with the author”. “This was a complete upset” feels like a huge statement when you just don’t share the same opinion. (Which I don’t. How to eat a peach is by far one my favorite books of the year - so beautifully written! But I’m not upset....)
 
Vivian March 8, 2019
"Upset" doesn't mean you were upset.

"An upset" means "an unexpected result or situation," i.e., "I wanted the other book to win."
 
zooeybechamel March 11, 2019
Oh. I didn't know that! Thanks for pointing that out Vivian. English is not my first language (or second to be honest). :)
That makes more sense, but I still feel like, and it might be just my own interpretation, it's more emotionally charged than the other options.
 
Diana March 8, 2019
Cannot agree with this review, How to Eat a Peach was one of the most beautifully written cookbooks, like a novel with great recipes, not intimidating at all; both books are great but this one stands above the rest.
 
zooeybechamel March 11, 2019
well, sure, but isn't that a bit of a biased opinion? I mean, considering that you wrote it?
 
Joe March 14, 2019
Aaaaah you got the wrong Diana there, madame Bechamel. The real Diana Henry would've been far more eloquent, scathing AND sweaty at the same time. Just have a decent look at some of her writings....
 
zooeybechamel March 14, 2019
I was kidding, Joe - sorry if it wasn't obvious! :)
 
Jennifer K. March 8, 2019
I kinda...I dunno...maybe it's just me, but I'm like thinking it would be better to get someone who uses a lot fewer, I guess, filler phrases from high school, maybe, and--o.k.: put some substance into the review? (Sheesh.)
 
Erin P. March 8, 2019
I really enjoyed this personal review. I agree, it’s probably best to watch the video. I own and love both these books and find them to be personal in different ways. While I don’t find Henry’s book intimidating, as someone who regularly recommends cookbooks to readers, I’ve been surprised how often I have had to encourage a home cook to not overthink it, and just cook from a Diana Henry cookbook (If you’re reading this, LOVE you Diana! “Bird in the Hand” is my go-to wedding gift!) and not be scared off by how beautiful it is or new some of the flavors sound. Like Antoni describes, “Soul” took my understanding of Southern food to a new place too. Todd layers flavor upon flavor (hello, homemade sausage on black pepper biscuits with so-good peach chutney). Funnily, when I initially cooked from it I had to tell myself what I’ve had to tell others about some of Henry’s books, to just keep going, trust the recipe and make all the components. I could see how both of these cookbooks could be considered to have a challenging aspect, but not too great ... more like a little push with the right amount of challenge. This pairing is a very difficult one to decide between. I appreciate the variety in review styles and how personal each critique has been thus far in the competition. Thank you Piglet, you always show me something new. (After the review of Nigella’s book ... which I had chosen to lose to “Harlem and Heaven” ... I went straight to the kitchen to try that vegan lemon tendercake. OMG.) 💛
 
stefanie March 8, 2019
I think Antoni tried to judge each book as kindly as he could and people are misreading that as "oh he knocked out a book for not having enough meaningful backstory"; for those who disagree with his assessment of Henry's book, note how he describes the taste of Richards' dishes vs. Henry's - he was much more complimentary of the flavors and textures in the dishes from Richards' book, and that's why he advanced it.

Also, I agree that the transcript does not read well; to fully enjoy this review and Antoni's warm personality, you really have to watch the video.
 
Sophie R. March 8, 2019
I think this is one of the worst reviews. Not because he didn't pick my choice. Because I came away without getting a feel for either book. I am a Diana Henry fan so this review won't deter me from buying her book, but I don't have a clue about Soul.
 
Jesi N. March 8, 2019
After three years, I think I can safely say that video reviews just don't do it for me-- I'd much rather have a well-written judgment than a casual fireside chat.
 
362Heather March 8, 2019
I completely agree. However, I think it is like the restaurant menu "dog", low-margin, low-popularity, but there for the 1 person in the group of 50 that must- have-spaghetti-with-red sauce-at-the-local-taqueria-or-else-they-refuse-to-eat-with-the-other-49-people.
 
prettyPeas March 9, 2019
Ha ha, I didn't even realize it was a video until I read the comments, as I usually skip over videos and ads mentally. I just thought he dictated it into his phone in an extrememly casual voice.

This "confessional" style video adds nothing, and we would be better served with a more edited written piece. If you want to push videos, encourage the testers to show some of the dishes they made or techniques that they tried.
 
Tippy C. March 8, 2019
Disappointed with the criterion--I think that the recipes themselves should be the standard of evaluation, rather than whether there is a back story or not. I find Diana Henry's books extremely accessible, and her recipes have never failed to translate from the page for this home cook. I am not familiar with the other book, so can't comment on its recipes in comparison, but to knock Henry out on a leek recipe because she didn't provide a meaningful back story just feels random to me.
 
Cary March 8, 2019
I don't know, the other reviewers talked a lot about the food story the books told as a whole, seems similar to me. I do wish there had been a little more talk about the actual recipes, process, and results. I don't care for videos, so the transcript did not read as nicely as the other reviews, but it seems fair.
 
cookbookchick March 8, 2019
Ok, so, I’m like really underwhelmed by this review.
 
362Heather March 8, 2019
I don't think a review can possibly be worse than that "chef" from Canada last year. That review was dreadful and offensive. However, we have only just begun so we should all probably hold our breath. On the bright side, at least Antoni seemed to respect both authors and the work they put into their cookbooks. Thankfully, he also tried some of the recipes, so video format issues aside, we at least have that insight!
 
txchick57 March 8, 2019
Cue the Diana Henry outrage. LOL
 
Rachel P. March 8, 2019
Are you really a home cook if you've worked in kitchens? Anyway, I'm curious what is going to be in his new cookbook if he finds Diana Henry's books and recipes intimidating...

While I'm upset my favourite book selected for this years Piglet is already out, I'm looking forward to reading the next verdict on Soul, as unlike all the other reviews this year I've left this not feeling like I know anything about it, and feeling like I've just been told about the press release for How To Eat A Peach, not the actual book (for those of you who own a copy, you really need to try the recipe for Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream!)