The Worst Cookbook of All
Do you read cookbooks? I do. I read a lot of cookbooks. I’ll admit it’s a weird habit. But it’s also kind of a nice one, and like reading lots of other kinds of books it has the power to transport you to a completely different place, and have a completely different person – a stranger at first, but increasingly a companion – go with you on that journey. And there are cookbooks put out by celebrity chefs with single-word identifiers, like Jamie and Gordon and Ottolenghi, and I try to avoid them because by and large they’re just putting out a scattergun miscellany of thin recipes around a poorly-conceived concept and if I want to learn how to do something with Indian spices I’ll look in a book about Indian food, written by a person who has properly researched and loved Indian food. And I'm sorry that that sounds snippy, but it's how I feel. Anyway, there are cookbooks for national cuisines, and I have quite a lot of those, and have plenty of time for them, and they’re pretty self-explanatory. And there are cookbooks for regional cuisines, and I like those even more, because you’re really getting a sense of a specific place, and how the seasons and the produce and external forces like immigration interact and how dishes – over decades or even centuries – have emerged from that interaction. And finally there are restaurant cookbooks – books put out by a specific restaurant, describing the origins of its most iconic dishes, and how a chef made it up the ladder from (typically) a school drop-out all the way up to running or overseeing one of the best and/or the most successful restaurants in the world.
And these are my favourite kinds of cookbooks. And I have a lot of them. And you see the words “a lot” and you think “like, maybe ten is the max – ten is the most restaurant cookbooks I would ever need in my life”, when actually the number is probably closer to 50. And this is where you realise that it really is a weird habit, because – and you’re absolutely right here – that is more cookbooks than one man could ever need. I mean, just doing the maths quickly, you realise that that’s something like 5,000 different recipes. And then when I tell you that many of these cookbooks contain recipes that require equipment that I don’t have at home – and, realistically, I will never have at home – you realise it’s asuper weird habit, like almost a compulsion maybe, like probably not something you can diagnose medically, but definitely not something you’d want to get me talking about at a cocktail party.
But I like reading them, for the reason I outlined above. Restaurants need chefs. Chefs are people, and the best restaurant cookbooks – beyond the actual autobiography, which is usually done in a single chapter at the start of the book – are like coded autobiographies. A stage at elBulli here, an armful of new techniques borrowed or co-opted or tweaked or not used at all – and ¡boom! – right there – a new dish, that has come from a chef’s mind, and could only come from that chef’s mind. And in the very best restaurant cookbooks – and I’m talking a handful here, like the Bocca di Lupo book, or the Coi book, both of which I will literally read, cover to cover, like any other work of nonfiction – you get a chef who knows that, and who actually writes well on top of it – and these restaurant cookbooks are like philosophical tracts. And that’s a heavy word to throw at instructions for putting some hot meat with some hot starch, and I realise that, but really there’s no other way of putting it. Consider this passage:
You think of the impossibility of gastronomy in a time of hunger, injustice, and misery, but realise gastronomy is after all a little like literature, art, architecture: a sanctuary for humanity, where we can rest, look ahead, and let ourselves celebrate what we are capable of achieving and who we are
That’s from Frantzen / Lindeberg, a book from a celebrated restaurant in Stockholm. It’s a book that full-on jumps the shark, in that it contains no recipes for the dishes you see on its pages. It might tell you how to make a sauce or garnish to go with one of the dishes, but basically it’s just pictures, and description of what makes each dish sing. And on one hand it’s fucking stupid, and soooo Scandi. But then consider the passage I just quoted, and think about the last book you read that looked at the work of a visual artist, or even a writer. The prose was not telling you how to get the same effect at home – it was talking you through the elements of the fresco that make it sing, 500 years on. And I’m not saying that all restaurant cookbooks should aspire to that condition necessarily, but I am saying that is what I think a restaurant cookbook should do: to transport you to a different place, where you meet a chef, who shares his secrets and his history and his inspiration, and you learning about that helps you to stand back and take stock, and better contemplate the things he or she has made.
And I am saying all this – all 1,000-odd words of it – as a preamble to a review of the worst and most objectionable restaurant cookbook I have ever read.
Do you like MEAT? Not boring, feminine, might-be-poultry meat, but MEAT? Do you crave tangled protein and charred corpse, the feeling of an animal’s carcass yielding to yourNeanderthal incisors and canines and being turned into flesh slurry under your crushing molars? Do you crave LIQUOR? Not that shit that women and fags drink, but proper, manly, Hemingwayesque gutrot, bourbon and absinthe and beer only ever as a chaser, if it’s lucky? Is your platonic ideal of an eating experience arriving hungry and leaving drunk, diluting that flesh slurry swirling in your stomach with intoxicant mixed with intoxicant and stimulant mixed with stimulant? Do you believe in rock and roll? Like, proper rock and roll, not that shit people were making in the Nineties? Sabbath, Led Zep, Creedence Clearwater Revival? Fucking ELVIS? Are you, first and foremost, a MAN? Women are shit, aren’t they? They fucking are, mate, don’t deny it. They’re shit and they’re weak and if they’re STUPID enough to fuck up their lives and end up doing something terrible to have to get by, then that’s their stupid fault, and why shouldn’t we treat them like pieces of meat? Because that’s the point, yeah? The unholy trinity. MEAT, LIQUOR, and pussy. And rock and roll. Feed me MEAT, drown me in LIQUOR, deafen me with rock and roll, and then if I’m not too fucked up I’ll find me some pussy and fuck it all night. Then I’ll get up the next day and do it all again. And if I die young, so what? It’s been one hell of a ride.
Presented below, without comment, some passages from The MEATliquor Chronicles: Chapter and Verse (Faber and Faber, 2014):
This is a kick-ass recipe both in the sense that it tastes really fine but also because the heat of the scotch bonnet chillies will lift you to a higher state of consciousness. You could tone it down, Isuppose, but then you should also consider not being such a fucking pussy
So get this: if you’re that little cunt who not only doesn’t look like Elvis but has to buy enough hair for sideburns and can’t sing worth a shit – YOU ARE NOT THE FUCKING KING. If you’re that sixty year-old cunt who’s fatter than four Elvises taped together and can’t sing worth a shit – YOU ARE NOT THE FUCKING KING. Get it? If you’re that cunt from the other week, who looks more like a fucking girl on hormones, and can’t sing worth a fucking shit – TU NO ERES EL FUCKING KING, COMPRENDE?
All of you are not only not the King but he would have fucking shat himself laughing and told you all to fuck off. Because here’s the truth:
WE are the King.
We died taking a dump. Big deal, it fucking happens, get the fuck over it
Somewhere, out there in The Dust, there is a bar, as fleeting and ephemeral as its name. Its location changes according to the whim of The Placers.
A bar wherein many a Burn-weary soul has sought shelter from The Dust and The Heat.
Many have searched for it in vain.
Most have happened upon it by chance.
For some it is an airport lounge, for others a cruise-ship; still more remember it as a museum of curiosities or an island paradise, for it is many things to many people.
A sign, spray-painted hastily in two-foot letters on the back of the DJ booth, commands:
This is a bar for drinkers: ‘No beer. Hard liquor only.’
GOD IS BUSY
I’m as close as you’ll get. Anyhow, a damned child could see that no responsibility will be taken by anyone for a single word in here. It’s just plain irresponsible. Nothing I see does service to anything, all it does is degrade the proper order of things. They say beauty is strange in its proportions but this is just damned bizarre and I wash my hands of it. If you die from any shit in here, don’t come crying to me.
Inside of us lives a real being of meat and gods. When we meet someone new it asks only two questions: would we fuck them, or would we go over the hill with them. The hill is that hill between us and enemy fire, between us and unknown death. The meathill, in the meatspace, where Facebook fears to tread.
The lesson of this gospel is revealed at the most holy meatspace: Burning Man, where individuals gather to define the real
As biology teaches us, every young cow passes through a stage of being a horse, and in this stage is most tender and full of life-giving adrenaline. If you doubt it, look at humans in the womb – all pass through a stage of being a man before some are struck unlucky
THE LAST POST
Last Sunday night we killed #MEATEASY. After three months of meat-sweats and absinthe, we shut it down in the most fitting way possible. At our Drink the Bar Dry party just 150 people went through:
Two and a half grand’s worth of booze
Fifteen hundred quid’s worth of curry
Two dozen #MEATEASY tattoos
A wide assortment of splintered furniture
One ambulance call
Two police visits
Well done, everybody.
I said I was presenting those excerpts without comment: I lied. I hate this book for several reasons. As you can probably tell, it is just the worst from, like, a written prose point of view. I mean, a lot of it is just nonsense. Like, straight up nonsensical rubbish. A lot of the blame should be shouldered by DBC Pierre, who wrote most of this shit, whose Vernon God Little I loved at 18, and who seems to have continued targeting readers with a mental age of 18. Because, really, that’s what irks me about this book – it’s espousing a lifestyle that seems endlessly cool when you’re 18 but at some point you realise is anything but. If anything, it’s hot: the heat of the meat and chemical sweats dripping down your forehead, the hot band of a hangover circling your head. But people go crazy for MEATliquor! There are queues out the door! And it’s not just MEATliquor! It’s burger vans all over the city, with people hashtagging their approval as tattooed meatslingers create ever more disgusting gobs of protein to yawp down your #lovingit gullet and into your #notlovingit colon. And the whole culture of willfully arrested development spreads further – out from its epicentre, Burning Man. How risible, how entirely fucking risible, that the book should refer to it as a place where people “gather to define the real”. It is precisely the epicentre of unreality, a place where fundamentally lost people congregate to defer real life a little longer. And it’s very easy for me to say that, in my suit, and my office, with my excellent gut flora. But that isn’t the point. I don’t want people to be like me – I don’t want to be like me. But first I want a valid alternative, a valid counterculture. Stuffing mangled beef scraps in your face whilst listening to Black Sabbath and drinking hard liquor doesn’t make you some Jimmy Dean, rebel without a cause: it makes you an idiot who will probably get bowel cancer.
And that is the first reason I hate this book, because it promotes and glamourises the worst urban blight of all: people with the wealth and education to make informed choices about food and life in general and who instead think they’re sticking it to the man when really they’re just lining the pockets of Big MEAT. And the second reason is a little more personal, and makes me a little more sad. And it's because I think MEATculture, with its rapacious, pitiless lust for MEAT, is so antithetical to any sort of informed discussion of the role food plays in people's lives, in a time of injustice and poverty and hunger. Big MEAT is huge. Burgers are everywhere! Barbecue is everywhere! Fried chicken is everywhere! Food that takes the dirty, rock and roll aesthetic of the MEAT lifestyle and applies it to otherwise innocent ingredients is booming – and you know what, it’s pretty tasty. From a chemical point of view, it’s pretty obviously going to be tasty: you’ve got a lot of fat, and a lot of caramelised protein, and that’s never not going to work. But with every Dirty Burger sold, a date moves further away. And that’s the date that, as a culture, we can start thinking about and talking about food as something more than sustenance. Yes, there are little enclaves here and there where people do have that conversation, but largely they’re filled with a totally different sort of exactly the same cunt: self-styled “foodies” who collect Michelin stars like the MEATpeople collect van food. And I have eaten in quite a few Michelin-starred restaurants, and some of them have been good, and some of them have been bad, and I have eaten some of the best meals of my life in some of them. But not all of the best meals of my life. And I want to have a conversation about that – about how food can be sustenance, and can be something you share with your loved ones, and something you provide to your loved ones, and even – sometimes – something like statuary or painting or literature, something that is really, tangibly made by an artist, and something that enriches us as well as nourishes us. I really want to have that conversation. But we can’t if you’ve got a fucking burger in your mouth.