Dirt Candy: A Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant by Amanda Cohen, Ryan Dunlavey and Grady Hendrix
Yes, I know, I know. IT'S A COOKBOOK!#$%!! And we don't read cookbooks for 18 Reasons' Food Lit Book Club!
But, actually, it's a graphic novel. So that counts.
I really enjoyed Dirt Candy, because of its visual component, but also because Cohen seems always to be representing the minority view of her subject, whether it is
restaurateurs and diners, historic French cuisine versus the rest of the world or vegetables for dinner.
Her explanation of why the price of a Dirt Candy salad is so high reveals both the intricacies of her job as restaurant owner/manager and the need for immigration reform, which is a great eye-opener for many of us who don't always make the connection between a delicious meal and the United States border. She also makes a strong argument for vegetables as viable fare for haute cuisine, unaided by meat, with supporting evidence from cultures other than the French, who have been perfecting complex flavors in vegetarian meals for as long as anyone can remember. The fact that she chooses to do this is curious, however, and I can't quite wrap my head around why someone so intent on promoting global cuisine seeks, in the end, to model her own on the complex and painstaking style of the French High Holy. Perhaps simply to do it, for fun and challenge, or even just to prove that it can be done? I'll take that as an answer.
Ryan Dunlavey's hilarious illustrations add a dimension to the book that is wholly lacking in similar non-illustrated tomes. In fact, I seem to have retained more of Cohen's cooking instructions than those I've read about or been taught before, in any medium, because of the dual action of illustration and text working to fix facts in my memory. I've never been one to read comic books and after experiencing Dirt Candy on both an eReader and in paper form I can now say why: all those pictures on one page are just too distracting. But by viewing the Kindle version on my iPad, I was able to zoom in on one strip at a time. Exerting this kind of control over my reading gave the illustration and text partnership even more power to teach basic concepts, and the difference in my experience of the paper book when compared to the eBook was surprising.
Dirt Candy presents some unusually candid information about the politics of running a restaurant, a good deal of background information on the history of cuisine and some excellent and easy to follow cooking lessons - all reinforced with illustrations. It also includes recipes that utilize exciting and out of the ordinary flavor combinations - Cohen's pea flan with lemongrass stock is one I am especially excited to try. The book is even more of a sweet treat for those who have been lucky enough to dine at her restaurant, as a gift to bring back after traveling to the big city or for anyone who likes to cook or read about food. Best of all, not only is her graphic novel cookbook an innovative idea, it is also both interesting to read and a quality cookbook.