The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks is here! Inspired by The Morning News’ Tournament of Books, this annual event is where the 16 most notable cookbooks of the year face off in a rousing, NCAA-style bracketed competition. Watch the action and weigh in on the results!
Hello ladies and germs, and welcome to the 2019 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks! I am 2013 Piglet loser Allison Robicelli, and I am back this year recapping all the fun you may have missed while doing other things like “spending time with your family” or “paying attention to your job.” This is one of my favorite projects of the year because, as a cookbook author and previous nominee, I now get to turn the tables and critique you, Food52’s madcap gallery of passionate commenters! THE DAY IS MINE, SUCKAS.
Now, let’s get right into it with our recap of round 1.
Bottom of the Pot vs. The Flavor Matrix
Judged by Emeril Lagasse
The thing I love most about Emeril’s writing is that it’s reads exactly as he talks. As someone who has seen a few episodes of Emeril Live in my lifetime, that means I read the whole thing as if he were shouting at the near-top of his lungs. Food52er cookbookchick comments that this review was written by a “quiet, thoughtful Emeril,” but I’m pretty sure she’s reading it wrong. Everybody, go back and scream the entirety of this judgment to your coworkers, because this is how it was meant to be read.
Emeril kicks off the whole tournament with a line that really encapsulates the biggest issue with the Piglet: It’s like “choosing between chardonnay and pinot noir.” There really are no “winners” here, and there are no books that are better or worse than the others. The Flavor Matrix and Bottom of the Pot could not be more dissimilar, yet one needs to go home. Had I been judging, The Flavor Matrix would have won. Alas, I am not a big enough celebrity to have ever been a Piglet judge, so it lost.
At My Table vs. Between Harlem and Heaven
Judged by Umber Ahmad
OH HEY LOOK EVERYBODY NIGELLA LAWSON WROTE ANOTHER BOOK AND IT’S REALLY GOOD COLOR ME SURPRISED. I got sardonic before even finishing the first line of the judgment, because Nigella’s books will always be brilliant and always sell a million bajillion copies, and it gets put up against Between Harlem and Heaven. I have been a major JJ Johnson fan for a good three or four years now (I forgot to put the start date in my calendar, which I keep in storage, so I can’t be too sure the exact time frame), so of course this means he loses.
The judgment is beautifully written, and all the comments are appreciative of that fact. Man, you guys are on good behavior this year. I’m actually kinda disappointed.
Season vs. The Superiority Burger Cookbook
Judged by Meg Wolitzer
Seriously, what the hell is going on with you commenters?! Day 3 and all of the comments are glowing—about the review and both books! Last time I did one of these recaps, we had maybe hundreds of comments, and so many of them involved insults, intimidation, and vague threats directed towards the U.N.. I was not prepared for this level of civility, which makes my job much, much harder.
I’m friends with both authors so I didn’t bet on anything. Season won, and Nik’s a great guy (not to mention, his crispy fingerling potatoes are great), so maybe I’ll pull for him the rest of the way. Anyone who says mean things about Nik is going to get totally eviscerated by me, by the way, so keep that in mind in the event you’d like to become internet famous after round 2.
How to Eat a Peach vs. Soul
Judged by Antoni Porowski
Spoke too soon: Here come the claws!
I’ve never watched Queer Eye, because I only like television shows that involve grisly murder. But Antoni seems sweet in his video judgment, and he’s Canadian, and I really can’t hate anyone from Canada. What they might not understand up in the Great White North, though, is that Diana Henry fans do not come to the Piglet to mess around.
How to Eat a Peach by Diana Henry gets knocked out by Todd Richards’s Soul, over what seems to me like a pretty confused lettuce wrap/fish taco. Our first commenter attempts to be gracious, opening by gushing over the man and his show before declaring the review to be “a disappointment,” then segueing into the ways he did his job wrong and how he let everyone down after three days of quality Piglet content. AND THEN THINGS GET PROGRESSIVELY WORSE. The review is called “useless,” the Food52 editorial team is scolded for their transcription skills, Antoni’s elocution is criticized. And I am totally here for all of this!
Diana, if you’ve licked your wounds and are following along, I want you to rile up your army to take everybody out. We’ve got names like Anita Lo, René Redzepi, and Rose Levy Freaking Beranbaum coming up — the culinary carnage the Dianabots release will be the stuff of legends.
Coconuts & Collards vs. Rose’s Baking Basics
Judged by James Pomerantz
Holy crap, is this a great review. Can I make a case to 86 both books and have this review go to the next round instead? Wow. This, my friends, has every element that quality food writing should possess: Funny, relatable tone; raw, visceral emotion; multiple references to Freddie Prinze Jr.; usage of words like “lachanophobic” that act as a subtle reminder that the writer is smarter than you. This is one time I’m actually proud of you guys for being polite. Hopefully Vivian Howard does something unforgivable so we can let out our pent-up aggression on her.
(Coconuts & Collards won, by the way, but James won harder.)
All About Cake vs. Solo
Judged by Vivian Howard
Vivian Howard opens by admitting she doesn’t generally eat cake, so we know that she’s a monster and should not be trusted. Appreciate her coming clean with that right up front. She also mentions she doesn’t bake, which is possibly my top pet peeve with chefs. I got into this business because there’s no limit to what I can learn, and honestly, if you love food why would you not want to learn everything about it?
As a baker, it continues to shock me that people believe that my skill set is limited to just baking, as if in all my years of existence I never learned how to cook for myself. And it goes the opposite way. Why can’t a chef figure out how to bake? There’s a judge like this every year, and every year it upsets me. So, to prevent this from happening in 2020: Vivian Howard, I challenge you to a no-holds-barred street fight in front of the Food52 offices. This malarkey must stop.
(Be warned, round 2 judge who bakes from All About Cake.)
Mastering Pizza vs. I Am a Filipino
Judged by Tracee Chimo Pallero
This one I was worried about recapping, because I have known Nicole Ponseca since we were both in our infancy as entrepreneurs, operating out of refurbished shipping containers in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. It was an absolutely magical place that was a true reflection of the people of Brooklyn and the spirit that drove us. Don’t go looking for it, though, because it was torn down and replaced with a luxury condo building.
I was very happy to see that Tracee picked the right book to win, and that all you guys seemed to agree. Seriously, go buy I Am Filipino. If you don’t think you’ll cook from it, then just buy it for your neighbors and guilt them into cooking for you. That’s a Jedi-level cookbook tip right there.
The Noma Guide to Fermentation vs. Shaya
Judged by Andrew Knowlton
As someone who purged half her cookbook collection three years ago during a big move, and purged by half again last year when my home became what my husband called “a fire hazard,” I understand Andrew’s opening paragraph all too well. I suppose the best part of the Piglet has nothing to do with winners or losers, but finding other weirdos who also read cookbooks the way other people read novels. (Besides the Dianabots, of course.)
René Redzepi’s book loses. It’s about time someone took that gorgeous Danish savant down a peg or two! Not such a big man now, are ya, Mr. Fancypants?
If you commented on any of these judgments and feel a little icky now, I’m going to let you in on some behind-the-scenes action: The nominees don’t know if they won or lost till you do. I remember when my book was in the Piglet, I’d wake up every morning and immediately check not only to see if I was still alive, but also what the people of the internet thought about a book that I labored over with every part of my being for nearly two years. (Now you see why this is my favorite assignment each year.)
Every single author in the Piglet is reading what you wrote, which is why I want you to continue being vicious. I have a lot of friends in this competition, and every slight and passive aggressive insult provides me with a lifetime of comedic material to draw upon. Go hard or go home! Onward to round 2.
What was your favorite moment of this year’s Piglet round 1? Let us know in the comments!