The Piglet2015 / Quarterfinal Round, 2015

Huckleberry vs. Heritage


Zoe Nathan

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Sean Brock

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Judged by: Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli

Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli are Brooklyn-based chefs and restauranteurs of Frankies Spuntino and Prime Meats. They opened up the former in 2004, serving locally-sourced Italian food in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Since then, "The Franks" have opened a second Spuntino in Greenwich Village.

The Judgment

A cookbook should be like peeking into the mind of another chef. When we co-authored ours with Peter Meehan, that’s what we strived for. Some cookbooks are meant to be looked at, while others are meant to be used; we wanted to write one that would be an active part of the reader’s cooking experience rather than a gratuitous tome, sitting on a shelf like a lifeless trophy. A good cookbook should be a guide -- it should take you extraordinary places over and over again. 

That’s what we kept in mind when we approached our two books, Heritage by Sean Brock and Huckleberry by Zoe Nathan. We took on Brock’s book first, which felt like the perfect expression of who he is: warm, knowledgeable, and confident. Brock is the chef behind the now-landmark restaurants Husk and McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina, and his ingredient-driven dishes reinterpret the flavors of the Appalachian region -- where his restaurants are, and also where he’s from. Both of his places are a must-stop on any Southern tour.

But if you can’t get there, you can understand the way he cooks through Heritage: The recipes include Brock’s spins on Southern favorites, plus a range of comfort food (grits, fried chicken and gravy) and classic high-end dishes (sweetbreads, conserves), all sitting alongside some amazing personal creations, like his Fried Chicken Skin with Hot Sauce and Honey. Brock has a knack for combining heritage ingredients, basic pantry items, and hyper-regional products and distilling them down to deceptively simple recipes, and this comes through full-force in his book: It’s aspirational but still accessible. 

And it’s personal: Heritage professes Brock's love for purveyors like Anson Mills, the brand that famously revived Carolina Gold rice (as well as other heirloom varieties of grain and corn). And Gra Moore, the farmer known for raising guinea hogs but who taught Brock to appreciate heritage poultry, and, more than that, “the connection between farmer and plate.” Heritage is full of personal anecdotes like these, little glimpses of who he is and what he cares about in food.

Who can really resist a classic like creamed corn? He makes his how his grandmother did, “the old-fashioned way”: by pulling an immense depth of flavor from little more than corn and cream. Biographical notes like this one, plus his relaxed tone, seamlessly guide you through the recipe -- you feel like you’re cooking under his supervision, but you still have enough room for your own improvisation. The creamed corn is a recipe we’ll be coming back to.  

Next up is Huckleberry, written by the baker behind Santa Monica's favorite neighborhood bakery and breakfast spot, Huckleberry Bakery & Café. Huckleberry is owned and operated by Santa Monica locals, Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, who, according to their website's bio, "fell in love while working together in their nearby restaurant, Rustic Canyon." (Nathan learned to bake at the amazing Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.)

Every recipe in Huckleberry is intended to be made with best-quality ingredients, but Nathan reminds us of this gently: “Not to sound like a total dork,” she writes, “but I do think [using good ingredients] makes a huge difference both in baking and our impact on the world.” And trust us, no calorie was spared in the creation of her book. We had great success with her rich, delicious Baked Apples with Oat Crumble; Nathan sets you up for an easy win with this simple-to-assemble, one-pan dish made almost entirely from pantry staples. And the headnote gives you a window into Nathan herself: “My mom always talked to me about...turning your daily tasks into works of me there’s no better installation than the scent of apples and cinnamon filling the air.” 

Her motto is "Everything in generosity," and butter is definitely her ingredient of choice. At its best, the book excels at how-to sequences for beginner bakers (how to make -- and shape -- biscuits and scones, or the best way to line cake pans), and reinforces classic techniques like flaky dough for more seasoned bakers. (You’ll need to know all about the latter before you try her Corn, Spinach, and Cherry Tomato Quiche, or her Grapefruit Galette.)  

Really, both books are winners: Nathan translates her passion for classic baking for skilled and beginner bakers alike, while Brock takes us on an trip through his life and culture via the lens of food. Pressed to choose, we'd reach for Brock's book -- for the adventure. He takes us somewhere we haven’t been, and in a cookbook, that’s always a treat.


And the winner is…



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Do you Agree?


abbyarnold March 12, 2016
Good choice---I got the Huckleberry books for Christmas last year and was shocked that there were significant errors in the measurements for the beautiful blueberry brioche featured on the cover! I made it and it was a failure due to the wrong measurements. Then I read Zoe's snarky comments about her staff in the back of the book, and knew there was something terribly wrong at Huckleberry. I live in Santa Monica and know the shop well. Now I feel sorry for anyone who works there. Thanks for the recommendation on the Brock book.
Joan O. March 7, 2015
While this review was interesting to read I would love to know what if any recipes were made from the books. While I enjoy reading cookbooks I also want to cook from them and it's helpful to know in a review what was cooked and how the recipes work out.
Ileana M. March 6, 2015
I have both of these beautiful cookbooks. I love the food at Husk - it's where my husband and I went to celebrate right after we got engaged - and I later gave him this book as a gift. I love flipping through both, but Huckleberry got me in the kitchen first. I also found Zoe's book to have such personality - from the yellow polka dot page edges to her advice to double the salt and vanilla called for in most recipes. I love that in a cookbook! Still haven't cooked a recipe from Heritage, but I look forward to it.
HeatherM March 6, 2015
This review bored me. I also find it odd that the reviewers are so vague about what they cooked - is it possible they really only made the creamed corn from Heritage?
Ileana M. March 6, 2015
Right? My issue with the Piglet tournament, though I love reading the reviews, is that it seems most of the reviewers assessing a cookbook only try out one or two recipes.
Helen March 7, 2015
Agree on the recipe question (although not on the boring). I love reading Heritage, as these reviewers did, but the ingredients requirements are (in a word) insane. I think that's perfect for what Brock is trying to accomplish and his entire cooking ethic. . . but odd that it would win him points for reviewers who claim to be looking for the opposite in their cookbooks?
Kelsey R. March 6, 2015
Both books look absolutely beautiful and full of creative recipes. I think I'm going to add both to my wishlist.
pandapotamus March 6, 2015
This was such a tough call, but I agree.
An H. March 5, 2015
This was one of the worst reviews -- Piglet or otherwise -- I've ever read. It sounds like it was transposed, badly, from dust jacket copy. From what I can tell, they made a total of two recipes -- creamed corn and baked apples. Wow. Way to challenge yourselves, guys. When I read their bios and saw their photo I already knew which book was going to win, but they could have at least faked taking this seriously better.
mmurray March 6, 2015
I agree, An Honest Cook. It was like they phoned it in. "Butter is definitely her ingredient of choice". To describe what is in large measure a baking book? Seriously?
Diana March 5, 2015
I would join with Debra Kane (see comment below) in saying Huckleberry's recipes are exceptional. I am not a baker, and I have made 15 baked items from this book using Zoe's gluten free flour mix, and they all have come out perfectly.
debra K. March 5, 2015
I bake all the time, and still am finding the recipes in Huckleberry exceptional--truly out of this world good. I own way too many cookbooks, yet Huckleberry is one I cannot live without.
Juliebell March 5, 2015
Great review. Both books look worthwhile but I am looking forward to getting Heritage. I can vouch for the Frankie's cookbook, wonderful meatballs!
luvcookbooks March 5, 2015
Already have Huckleberry, ambivalent about Heritage since it sounds like more complicated cooking than I usually do. Hmm...
Naomi M. March 5, 2015
I was just looking at both the other day! And they both look good! Glad I don't have to decide!
Diana March 5, 2015
I own both and though my bias comes down in favor of Huckleberry, both are incredible books. This one is a coin toss. Congratulations Sean Brock.
Maia March 5, 2015
As a pastry chef, I would reject Huckleberry due to some problems with its recipes. Love Brock's way with desserts!
ChefJune March 5, 2015
I was anxious to see who they'd chosen. Sean Brock's wonderful book was just announced as a finalist for THREE IACP Book Awards! Really sad these two went head to head. Zoë Nathan's baking book deserves a slot of its own. Have to own both!
Stephanie March 5, 2015
Go Brock!! Love this cookbook smackdown. The personal anecdotes in Heritage give it such added flavor -- exactly what good cooking does, melts memory and context with food. True sustenance.
Katie March 5, 2015
I want to cook from both so badly! And these might be my 2 favorite covers of the competition.
Sandra March 5, 2015
The reviewers should really understand the difference between Appalachia where Brock is from and the SC Lowcountry where Charleston is. Lumping Charlseton with Appalachia suggsets the reviewers were pretty superficial. And other than the creamed corn it isnt clear they even cooked anything. I am not disagreeing with the decision, just not very well written review compared to others in the competition.
lilroseglow March 6, 2015
I caught that "Applachia vs Lowcountry" mistake too and just cringed. I'm originally from Appalachia, and Charleston is altogether another world.
Christine C. March 5, 2015
I'm glad to see another great review of Heritage... I definitely need to add it to my collection.
Midge March 5, 2015
I have to admit that I wasn't prepared to like Heritage as much as I do. Not only is the book beautifully put together, the recipes are thoughtful and well written, and I love that Brock tips his hat to the local purveyors who rarely get the accolades they deserve for putting Charleston on the culinary map. Also, don't forget his newish restaurant here in Charleston - Minero. And if you go there, get the lamb shank barbacoa!