The Piglet2014 / First Round, 2014

Robicelli's vs. Fresh Happy Tasty


Allison and Matt Robicelli

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Fresh Happy Tasty

Jane Coxwell

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Judged by: Kerry Diamond

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Kerry Diamond co-owns three Brooklyn eateries: Seersucker, Smith Canteen, and Nightingale 9. She is also the editorial director of Cherry Bombe, a biannual magazine about women and food. The Cherry Bombe team will host its first conference, Jubilee, in March 2014. Diamond resides in Brooklyn with her boyfriend and business partner, Chef Rob Newton. She has a wicked sweet tooth.

The Judgment

For me, personality is crucial in a cookbook, and Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with Cupcakes oozes personality. As a result, pitting it against Jane Coxwell’s Fresh Happy Tasty is almost unfair. It’s like 1970s-era Muhammad Ali jumping into a schoolyard fight. Did I mention the Robicellis are from Brooklyn?

Robicelli’s is what all cookbooks should be: an intensely unique affair, packed with good recipes, salty language, and solid advice. I’m not just buying recipes when I buy a cookbook. I can get all the recipes in the world online. Fresh Happy Tasty? Six pages of biographical information on a woman who worked as the personal chef aboard Diane von Furstenberg’s yacht, who sailed around the world and who hails from South Africa is not enough in a 310-page book. Where are the personal snapshots, the maps, the travelogues? 

Still, Coxwell’s recipes have a beauty and a simplicity to them that makes you wish she were your private chef. I made her Grapefruit, Watercress, and Carrot salad and could have wept over how delicious and easy it was. But the cookbook is plain Jane, when it should have been globetrotting, awesome, woman-of-the-world Jane. 

The Robicellis could have taken the easy path and pumped out a formulaic cookbook consisting of generic pictures and recipes. The latter (spoiler alert!) are for cupcakes and cupcakes only, and I’ll admit, that’s slightly limiting. But their cookbook category is one of the few bright spots in the world of publishing; I’m guessing baked good cookbooks, particularly ones about cupcakes, sell well no matter how dull or sparkly the content. The Robicellis went for sparkly, and they deserve your $35 (the cover price) and probably even $70 for their wit and effort.

You will read this cookbook and actually laugh out loud. Perhaps you’ll even bake from it. I made an attempt, only to discover my boyfriend had stolen my scale, candy thermometer, and cupcake tins and brought them to the kitchen at Seersucker, one of our restaurants. (“When is the last time you used them?” he asked, not a bit contrite.) I wound up making the recipe for American Frosting. If you are on a diet, skip ahead to the next paragraph. The recipe consists of three sticks of butter, two cups of powdered sugar, mascarpone cheese, and heavy cream. I used a hand mixer, even though Allison Robicelli really, really wants you to use a stand mixer, which I don’t own. 

I fully intended to make some other recipes, but the weeks leading up to the due date for this essay, which the Piglet gals refer to as the “judgment,” (such a harsh word for a competition I’m assuming was named after Winnie the Pooh’s bestie), were busy ones. The new issue of Cherry Bombe finally arrived and needed to be distributed. And then, Time magazine published the now-infamous “Gods of Food” issue and made the mistake of slighting every female chef and food entrepreneur on the planet. (If there are babes baking on Mars, they should be pissed too.) To say I got angry and distracted would be accurate. So no mise-en-placing took place, no bringing sugar to the softball stage, no rushing around to buy the stand mixer I should have bought years ago.

My hunch is that the same folks who dismiss women in the world of food get apoplectic over the existence of cupcakes. A macaron is bad enough, but a cupcake? A cupcake?! They can’t stand to be in the same room or breathe the same oxygen as a cupcake. The Robicellis don’t care. They tackle this subject in the book. It pisses them off and amuses them in equal measure. Bring it on, they say. 

But I caution you: Please don’t. They will win. They are from Brooklyn, as I mentioned earlier. And not the twee part of Brooklyn where I reside.

I’m about to go out on a limb (I hope it’s a sturdy tree) and say Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with Cupcakes is one of the best cookbooks ever. Fresh Happy Tasty is a lovely book with recipes for food you would like to eat every day and that you should eat every day, but it needs more of the author. There was lots of quinoa, but I wanted more Jane Coxwell.

To hate cupcakes is to hate life. Maybe this book is in the wrong category. Maybe this is a self-help book masquerading as a cookbook. There’s a blurb on the back cover from one of the Big Gay Ice Cream guys, but next time? Oprah all the way. 

And the winner is…

Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes

Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes

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Do you Agree? (85 comments)

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Wow this is the first time that I'm disappointed with Food52. This is a really sad way to review cookbooks- this sounds more like a blogpost that's trying to be funny rather than a review. The author fully intended to make more recipes from both books, but got busy as the deadline inched closer?

I expected more from F52 and Kerry Diamond. As an editor of Cherry Bombe and someone who is all about giving more time and attention to women in food, this review has actually been disrespectful to Jane Coxwell.

And while I adore good writing in cookbooks, at the end of the day, they are supposed to help you cook in the kitchen, so it's a little unfair to penalize a book for not having "personality." The Prune cookbook, for instance, isn't very chatty but still has plenty of personality!

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I brought Fresh Happy Tasty home from the library because of its inclusion in The Piglet. I'd already read the judge's decision before hand but wanted to give the book a try anyway. I can't begging to adequately communicate my shock as I discovered the wonderful pictures from the distant locations Jane has visited and the delightful descriptions of the brightly colored food. I have added to all of the color in the cookbook with my own sticky notes placed "around the world" of Fresh Happy Tasty which mark the many, many dishes I plan to make from it. I agree with the masses, what an awful bit of judging!

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Hi Gretchen -- Thank you so much for getting my book from the library! And for saying such lovely things about it. I'm really thrilled that you've seen things that you'd like to try out. Happy cooking and eating to you. Jane

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Hey thanks for your comment. I had Fresh Happy Tasty on my wish list and finally bought it, waiting for it to arrive! This is just a really sad way to review cookbooks.

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A fun review, although most of it was about the reviewer's own life and excuses for not making much from either book. Still, it was entertaining and life happens!

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Give me cupcakes any day.

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Hate to join the chorus of "Booos!" but really, you buy cookbooks to read about the authors, not for the recipes??? Up front, I am not a cupcake person, not even when I was a kid -- after you pull off the cute little pleated cup, it's just a piece of cake that gets frosting all over you fingers...of course, not much of a cake eater either. ;) I, too, would have like to know more about the recipe content of these books, but with my built-in bias, I'd have to lean toward Fresh Happy Tasty for content, but that title...

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Great review of the review! "...cute little pleated cup...", made me laugh out loud.

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Any piece of writing that takes on the pissed-offness that cupcakes mysteriously inspire, including this review, is aces in my book.

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I learned more about the reviewer, sadly, than I did about the merits, as a resource for cooks, of either contender. That's all I have to say. ;o)

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I didn't think I wanted a cookbook that featured JUST cupcakes, this review changed my mind! It will be added to my collection, pronto!!

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I think fresh happy tasty looks great!

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23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar

Hmm - a cookbook reviewer where the reviewer seems to have barely cooked from the books...? As a Food52 reader, I expect better.

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Why did I learn about the cookbooks based on this review? Not a cupcake hater, but really, what criteria. Ooooo they're cool, ooooo they're from Brooklyn, ooooo they swear. Kinda like a middle schooler picking a clique. Insulting to Jane Coxwell.

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This review isn't up to the very high standard of the earlier reviews.

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Behind the judgement, but not the review. I have both books and one I use for everyday cooking and the other I use to bring treats to my buddies at the office. I found the review self-promoting with an arch tone, excuses, and a boyfriend. Boyfriend?! Now that's twee!

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This was weak. Sounds like Kerry did very little recipe testing from either book. And even if the writing and personality I a cookbook are what's most important to you , it still is, after all, a COOK book, so the recipes should be awesome. I'm disappointed in this excuses for a proper review

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I bought the Robicelli's book today, based on this review. I'm drawn to a great food story and this book is delivering. It's engaging, funny and makes me want to make some f*&king great cupcakes. I'd been looking at this book for a while and I'm grateful to the reviewer for giving me the push to hit "add to cart".

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Way to go Robicelli's! Win well deserved -- when I need laughter or the best f*#&ing cupcake on the planet, I know where to turn.

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This was a horrible review. The only thing I got out of it was that the reviewer doesn't own a stand mixer, and she judges books by the cover. This decision shouldn't have been published and she should have been reprimanded for not doing her job correctly. The author admits in the article she didn't do what she was supposed to; so why was this allowed as an official submission?

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BOO on this review - FROSTING was the only thing she made instead of a cupcake? And the other book got a GRAPEFRUIT SALAD? Well, la-dee-da, thank you for NOTHING. One book is "pretty" and the story "interesting" while the other is filled with recipes? Who picked this lazy nitwit? Thumbs down on this "reviewer" for insulting both books, and this competition!

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I'm grateful that Kerry included her criteria for judging; I can bounce her views against the things that I value in a cookbook. I typically want my cookbooks to contain recipes I will conceivably use. For me it's better to have a trusted voice in a valued book providing me with never-fail recipes than sifting through the endless offerings online. And call me old-fashioned, but throwing the f-word around in one's writing marks one as terribly uncreative in my estimation. That being said, if I were to want to bake cupcakes, I'd probably view Robicelli's as a resource.

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I agree with some oft he other comments that I have really enjoyed how the other reviewers dived into both cookbooks and I enjoyed reading every word. I then had no idea which book was going to win until the end of the review. With this review I knew almost immideatly and maybe the book deserves it but I have no idea which one really should have come out on top. Personally I think I'd lean towards the one I'd cook from most and I rarely make cupcakes but I also enjoy the narriative in many cookbooks just for the reading pleasure. I suppose I'll just have to take a peek at both books for myself.