Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eat Me and American Pie: Two Food-lit Books

I got these two (not quite cook-) books for Christmas. As gifts, they're the highlights of my holiday. You might consider picking them up. I'm trying to read these two books simultaneously, hopefully before grad-school restarts in mid January. Here's what I think so far.

Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin

If you haven't seen the documentary, "I Like Killing Flies," do yourself a favor and rent it. I was delighted by the idiosynchratic behavior of the Shopsin family and the functional dysfunction of their Greenwich Village restaurant. By the end, I wanted to see (and taste) it for myself. Kenny Shopsin seemed to be operating from some higher understanding of food, a cross between Marx and Mario, with a touch of Mousalini to appeal to the masochist in each of us. But, like most movies, the subject faded from my mind. Well, on xmas day, I pulled back the wrapping on this book and Karen reminded me that this was a continuation of the story from the movie. I couldn't believe it. That movie was as distant as a dream (Shopsin's is a real place? Kenny is A real guy?). Before the day was over, I'd read through the forward, which was a 2002 New Yorker article that seemed to recap the movie. Wondering what could be left of the story to be told in this book, I turned the page to the introduction and started reading. I quickly realized that Kenny Shopsin himself was speaking to me directly and would continue doing so for the rest of the book. I stopped reading immediately. I'm not ready for this. The forboding mystique of Kenny Shopsin made me afraid to interact with him, even on paper. How is he going to throw me out of his restaurant, never to come back, with simple words on a page? It's only been a couple days, but I haven't picked it up since. The reviews say that Eat Me reads like being a fly on the wall at Shopsin's restaurant and enduring his endless philosophical rants and musings. And, the danger still looms, because Kenny "likes killing flies."

American Pie: The Search for the Perfect Pizza

After a couple attempts at making pizza on my new pizza stone, I began to crave a pizza making book. Rather than pick one up myself, or drop any hints to Karen. I figured I'd just wait until after the holidays to get something. Well, Karen was one step ahead of me. She found the perfect pizza cookbook that is also about the popular debate over what defines good pizza. The book's author, professional baker Peter Reinhart, traveled all over the US and Italy on a hunt for pizza perfection. After the first 30 or so pages, I felt like I'd been to Napels and Rome along with him and I'm better able to put my American pizza experiences into perspective. Next up for me is his comparison of New York, Chicago, and California styles (among others places). Then, I'll dive into the recipe section that describes the process of making 12 kinds of dough, various sauces, toppings, and baking scenarios. Thus far, I've had this feeling that I've previously been exposed to Reinhart's writing. He's got a handful of popular books on baking (and sometimes teaches baking at the Culinary Institute of America). Then, I found it. Reinhart wrote Sacramental Magic in a Small Town-Cafe: Recipes and Stories for Brother Juniper's Cafe. I've been reading that cookbook bit by bit for a couple months now (given to me by this guy). This really explains why I'm taking to this American Pie book so quickly. Reinhart was part of a monastic community back then (early 90s), but his writing style was whimsical and the spirituality was non-dogmatic and full of humility. Best of all, I really enjoyed his balance of perspectives on food and life in general. This pizza book was published 10 years after Sacramental Magic, and his writing has evolved. He's reeled himself in a bit. Based on the Amazon reviews, this is a good thing for home chefs who want accessible information and know-how about baking. So far, I'm more than a fan. I feel like I've found a kindred spirit.


  1. Anonymous2:47 PM

    I didn't know he'd written a pizza book. I may have to borrow it from you, or if you aren't ready to lend it, get my own.

    Glad you like Reinhart, I find reading him makes me want to cook and be a better person. It soothes my guilt at thinking of gourmet cooking as solely a bourgeois exercise...

  2. Mega-dittos. Every time I open the American Pie book I want to bake and/or eat pizza ASAP. I'm still kinda plodding along with the book. Plus, the recipes will probably keep me occupied for a while. None, you can borrow it once my next grad school course gets started.


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