Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pure Pork Awesomeness

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Pure Pork Awesomeness: Totally Cookable Recipes from Around the World (Andrews McMeel, 2015).

Chef Kevin Gillespie's PR team asked me whether I'd like to have a look at his new cookbook, which is all about what you can do with pork. Twist my arm, why don't you?

Gillespie, whose restaurant Gunshow is one of the most celebrated and popular in Atlanta, grew up here in Georgia, and I was pleasantly surprised to read that he learned a thing or two about how different parts of the pig are used in cooking when, as a teenager, he started asking questions of the staff at Fresh Air BBQ near Jackson. They use hams there rather than shoulders, which most barbecue joints in this state will smoke. There's a place near Hoschton called John's that also uses hams, but not a whole lot of other restaurants do this.

This cookbook, a follow-up to his 2012 debut, Fire in My Belly, is full of side stories like that which make the experience of reading it so much more fun than most cookbooks. He starts with about twenty pages discussing sustainability, the history of hog breeding, and the important distinctions between pastured and commodity pork. He never talks down to the reader; he makes a strong case for spending the extra money to eat better because the results simply taste a lot better. His tone throughout is approachable and friendly and full of great anecdotes. There's a really funny story from a restaurant where Gillespie had worked previously, Woodfire Grill, in which an older customer chews him out for taking his popular pork belly dish off the menu, and that's one of several great ones. Decades from now, when Gillespie retires, he's going to write a great memoir.

But the main draw for this will be the recipes and how interesting and / or simple they appear to be. And also the photography by Angie Mosier. I read most of this book one evening last week in Memphis, and the only reason that I didn't have to stop looking at her drool-worthy pictures and go eat something was that I'd visited four barbecue restaurants that day and had a fairly full meal at each of them. This is some of the best food photography I've ever seen. Speaking with the authority of somebody who is responsible for some of the worst food photography available online, I was remarkably impressed by this.

But ANYWAY, the recipes. I love Gillespie's encouraging attitude and his inclusion of "worth knowing" tips to make food preparation even easier. Some of these sound terrific: his "really good" Cuban and ham sandwiches that could even be assembled by a bumbler like me, the pork minute steaks with potato pancakes and pumpkin butter that I hope we'll have for supper one evening just as soon as we buy a nice, heavy skillet for them, pork vindaloo, tacos al pastor... no, I wasn't hungry when I read the book, but, foolishly, I waited until now to write this story, and I'm not meeting a friend for lunch for another three hours and forty minutes.

On a final note, because my God, I have to stop thinking about food, I am particularly pleased by Gillespie's recipe for Brunswick stew, which does NOT include potatoes. I am so tired of restaurants sticking those cheap extenders in the stew, especially when they then turn around and charge you extra for it because it's a "premium" side. I think I need to start carrying a copy of this book around with me, and when some barbecue joint serves me a bowl of stew with potatoes, pull it out and firmly tell them, "Page 218." Probably tap on the cover with a heavy, authoritative finger, too. Recommended before a meal, but not too many hours before it.

A copy of this book was provided by the PR company for the purpose of review. If you'd like to see your books (typically comics or detective fiction) featured here, send me an email.

No comments: