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Ah, fall—sunny days and good new books pouring in. Each autumn, publishers put out their best hopes for blockbuster holiday books, and food writing and cookbooks make great gifts, so there are lots of fresh titles being unpacked right now.
It looks like a promising fall line-up, including new celebrity books (Jamie Oliver, Jacques Pepin), a few strong restaurant books (A16, Alinea of Chicago, Chez Panisse), and a few technical guides (like The Flavor Bible by Page/Dornenberg and Cooking by molecular gastronomist Herve This). You’ll hear more about a few of them in the coming months, but for me, the quirky winner of the fall cookbooks (so far) is Eat Me: the Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin.
Though he’d never use this language, his restaurant is an old-fashioned spin on the Slow Food idea: his place is a family joint with lots of regulars and lively conversations.
Take his rules, for example:
1. Limit of four people per group;
2. No cell phone use; and
3. One entrée per person minimum.
He states that “large parties are no funâ¦ they’re an entity unto themselves,” instead of being part of the organic flow among customers, cooks, and wait staff. He explains that the cell phone use rule shouldn’t even need to be stated. And he shares that thanks to the restaurant’s unique vibe, so many people liked to just hang out and soak it in that it was killing his business. He also shows a willingness to bend the rules, has a propensity to kick people out if he doesn’t like them, and, most importantly, maintains a lack of culinary dogma.
As for the food and recipes, it’s eclectic home cooking: Mexican Cesar salad, Mac and Cheese Pancakes, the Chicken-Fried Hamburger, the Thai Cobb. And sometimes it’s more fun to read about a dish than to cook it; here’s his blurb on the Thai Cobb:
“Once I had the name, I thought about what a Thai guy in Thailand would do faced with the challenge of making a Cobb salad. I determined that he wouldn’t have bacon, so he would substitute coconut, another high-fat, high-flavor ingredient. He would put some cilantro in there to give it that fresh Asian flavor. And he would probably use curry paste in the dressing because he probably puts that stuff in everything. I added the blue cheese because I think if you’re going to make a Cobb salad, no matter where you are, you are going to have to figure out how to get some blue cheese in it or it is not going to be a Cobb.”
It’s just a charming book, with old photos of his young children in the sink, on the counter, in the drink fridge. The kind of place you can’t start from scratch now even if you think and know and feel that it’s the perfect concept for a warm neighborhood joint. Thank Bacchus there are a few of these places left and, for those of us unable to get to Greenwich Village very often, thank Bacchus this book captured the spirit and recipes of this old-school restaurateur. Enjoy!
Thank you for reading.