World of Cookbooks: Piglet 2017

I largely enjoy Food52’s Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks. It’s one of the few large scale cookbook awards.

Via twitter the editors have just announced the 2016 challengers:

  1. Simple — Diana Henry
  2. Sirocco — Sabrina Ghayour (Cook These Books review here!)
  3. My Two Souths — Asha Gomez
  4. Golden — Itamar Srulovich & Sarit Packer
  5.  A Recipe for Cooking — Cal Peternell
  6. Land of Fish and Rice — Fuchsia Dunlop
  7. Deep Run Roots — Vivian Howard
  8. Samarkand — Caroline Eden & Eleanor Ford
  9. Taste of Persia — Naomi Duguid
  10. Tasting Rome — Katie Parla & Kristinia Gill
  11. Fat Rice — Abraham Conlon, Adrienne Lo & Hugh Amano
  12.  Dorie’s Cookies — Dorie Greenspan
  13. Victuals — Ronni Lundy
  14. Taste & Technique — Naomi Pomeroy

In the lead up to this year’s competition the team at Food52 explained they were going with less obvious picks this year (hence no household name, A-list authors).

This is a worthy approach. Cookbooks from superstars sell themselves just fine, one assumes. It’s right to shine a light on authors who while less familiar are still producing wonderful cookbooks.

And yet, and yet.

Aside from one or two titles, this collection feels a little dull. The collective impression is of a group of books that simply will not pass the test of time or become beloved classics. It is trendy ephemera.

This is a major weakness of the Piglet: the books it recommends are quickly forgotten about (barring one or two from each year.) The niche titles do not seem to spark enough joy.

The other major weakness, of course, is system of putting widely divergent books head to head and then trying to determine a winner using a subjective and unreliable metric.

Rather than trying to find the best cookbooks, the real goal of the Food52’s Piglet is to find cookbooks that are most like Food52 itself. More so than ever the books featured seem to solely feature Food52’s aesthetic and approach to food (with one or two token exceptions).  Given the diversity of cookbook publishing in 2017, the result is so skewed as to be not representative of what is actually happening in the world of cookbooks.

In the past I have allocated a large amount of my yearly cookbook budget on picking up the featured titles. This has resulted in a lot of unused, flash-in-the-pan books. While there are a few titles on the list above (Diana Henry’s Simple looks fantastic!), I will not be picking up many of these titles.

I will, this year, be a less active follower of the tournament and hope for a better selection next time.

World of Cookbooks

  • Without a doubt, my favourite cookbook blog is the brilliant Cookbook a Month. This blog, my inspiration for starting Cook These Books, reviews a cookbook over the course of a month. Three friends take turns cooking from a particular book. It’s a brilliant format because it gives a much better feeling of the relative merits of a book. This month they’re reviewing a new book from Gordon Ramsay, ‘Bread Street Kitchen’ (Amazon link). Where it not for some travel, I’d love to review alongside them!
  • I’m very excited about Everything I Want to Eat (a cookbook from Jessica Koslow, chef/owner of popular Sqirl in LA). Initial book reviews are encouraging: Eater, NY Times, and Lottie + Doof. I am hopefully we will have a review soon.
  • The world of the celebrity cookbook is an odd one. We have a cookbook (Small Victories, Julia Turshen) released from the ‘co-writer’ on some of Gwyneth Paltrow’s books on one hand. ‘Co-writer’ in air quotes because I imagine Ms Turshen did the lion’s share of work. And on the other hand we have a new book from no less than Pippa Middleton. Pippa apparently has not felt it necessary to cook all the recipes from her new book, which is perhaps a refreshingly honest admission. I hope to review one of these two books. I’ll leave it to you to guess which.
  • And in Cook These Books news on Sunday I’ll post my review of Georgina Hayden’s Stirring Slowly. It wasn’t until Cookbook a Month reviewed it that I had even heard of it, let alone considered buying it. Without wanting to spoil my review, it’s a very decent book indeed.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share any cookbook news or reviews you’ve found in the comments.