"We have Padma, we have Giada, we have... Suzanne Pirret?"
You can't judge a book by its cover, but sometimes that cover is just dying to be judged. Suzanne Pirret's memoir/cookbook The Pleasure Is All Mine: Selfish Food for Modern Life falls squarely into this camp.
As soon as I saw it, I understood immediately what was going to be inside. Half the cover is tomato red, with curly, casual font. The other half is Ms. Pirret herself, back to us, the zipper of her dress snaking its way down her back, her head thrown back in uproarious laughter.
Of course (some) women dream of being that glamorous, well-traveled kitchen minx in deadly Louboutins and an equally killer frock. This is a cookbook for the Sex and the City cast for when they were single and sexy—the aspirational intersection of food and lifestyle. The message here is to pull out all the stops. On yourself, cooking for one.
And while Carrie Bradshaw never opened her fridge except to retrieve takeout, Pirret—who's cooked in London's Michelin-starred restaurants—writes for an audience that's since become equally addicted to the Food Network as Vogue. We have Padma, we have Giada, we have... Suzanne Pirret?
In a kind of jetset empowerment to cooking for one, Pirret has you inject a shot of JD in her (Valrhona) chocolate ice cream float and pairs German Riesling paired with the General Tso's chicken.
This is a book for a woman who's part champagne bubble, part kitchen black belt—the kind of chick who can throw a dinner party where no one shows up and laugh about it. "Her television series is now in development..." reads her website bio, besides an unabashedly sensual photo of the author licking brilliant red berry juice off her right palm. Figures.
Thankfully, you don't need $800 heels to cook any of her recipes, which are written as conversational paragraphs with ingredients bolded in the directions rather than listed. There are no pictures. While unconventional, I actually found her approach refreshing—it feels like she's in the kitchen, guiding you along like your unfairly cool and effortlessly humble gal pal. I'm sure this is all a well-conceived branding ploy, but a good cookbook, in my opinion, is just as important in its ability to inspire. It also doesn't hurt I fall into her young and female demographic bracket.
Sophisticated recipes take an irreverent attitude ("PETA's not invited," Pirret declares before her yes, single serving, of escalope of foie gras with wild mushrooms and aged balsamic) towards international, frequently European fare that reflect the author's travels.
There's comfort food (best mac'n'cheese) and haute comfort food (best duck confit, which takes "about fifteen minutes" she writes encouragingly). In one notable section, she collects recipes from celebrated female chefs.
If you enjoy reading cookbooks just as much, or more than, cooking from them, this is a worthy purchase. Recipe directions are meant to be read just as much as followed. For example, in her scrambled eggs recipe (after she advises that chopped chives "wouldn't hurt"): "Within minutes, [the scrambled eggs will] become a beautiful creamy concoction of the most delicately soft and tiniest of curds that you'll heap up and serve alongside a thick slice of toasted brioche. I know I'm being a total cheeseball," she admits, "but it really doesn't get any better than this."
And since we're dealing with minute quantities—it's a cookbook for an oh-so-fabulous single gal, after all—ugly words like "1 tbsp, 1 tsp, 1/2 tsp" are traded in for a more sensual "a glug of sherry, a pinch of saffron threads, a dash of hot chili powder." (From her cazuela de arroz langoustines, if you're curious.)
Chances are, you'll either find this kind of prose ("knead well until the dough is as smooth as a baby's bum") charming or nauseating.
I happened to love it.
I gave her single-serving brownie a try, which amusingly prefaced directions with "why not just roll up a big fat one and smoke it before you make it?"
While I couldn't quite reproduce Pirret's effortless glamour (no Louboutins, sadly) I found the directions easy and comforting for a neurotic novice cook to follow. I threw it together, stuck it in the oven, and waited. My circular mold was too large, so it cooked much faster than her 15 to 20 minute estimate, and didn't crackle on top as she had promised. Still, not bad.
As advertised, it was moist and slightly fudgey inside, not too sweet. I'd like to give her other recipes a try, or least look that good in a white zip-backed Roland Mouret Pigalle dress. Maybe not while eating her Valrhona truffles, which Pirret assures me she's screwed up "many times." Believe me, stuff like that does wonders for confidence.
About the author: Lingbo Li writes a Boston food blog.