Cacio e Pepe (100 Gecs Remix)
& how the Don Angie cookbook won over my cold, lazy heart
Welcome back to Mess Hall! This installment, on the often-tenuous proposition of restaurant cookbooks and the great success of Italian American, is for paid subscribers only. (Subscriptions are $5 a month, or $50 a year.) Paid subscribers can also share their most pressing kitchen queries in the comments, which I’ll eventually answer in a future installment. Thanks for being here :)
When I first began thinking seriously about cookbooks, I was skeptical of the cheffy ones, those books that attempted and often bungled a translation of the restaurant experience into something that could be useful to the lowly home cook. I remember falling into a rage when Daniel Patterson’s Coi landed on my desk: a cerebral Phaidon-published clunker whose enormous, glossy food photos had clearly been styled with not one but eleven pairs of tweezers. The recipes were downgraded to the BACK of the book, if I remember correctly, more reference than central purpose. I still didn’t understand that there were people who earnestly liked this kind of book. It was proof of concept for an aesthetic project, not a tool.
There is one existential question that chef cookbooks must answer for themselves before heading to the printer’s hot hands, and that is the question of accessibility. Does this book care at all about its utility for the home cook1, or does it just want to preen for them? Some chef books are coffee table books, and often beautiful ones. Or they’re gastronomical reference, or a historical document of an influential place. I’m not saying the El Bulli cookbooks shouldn’t exist, I’m just saying they should be available on JSTOR.
The accessibility question is one I became intimately familiar with in 2016, when I landed a gig working on the Estela cookbook. Every week I would go to the Nolita restaurant well before service, interview a sous chef about that day’s recipe list, then watch them make it, pestering with questions all the while.
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