Cookbooks aren't just vessels of cooking know-how. More and more, they mythologize their authors, or perhaps more accurately consecrate the mythologizing process the Internet has already sent into full swing. Marcella Hazan is a mythological character in Italian cooking because her knowledge is boundless and her tone authoritarian to the point of belligerence. The young chefs who, a couple of years after winning national awards, release gorgeous, dense volumes on Ten Speed Press care as much about celebrating their much-documented narratives of pluck and luck as teaching us how to cook like them.
That's a good thing.
Just as Mission Street Food acted as a sort of manifesto for the establishment of a DIY cart-to-Commonwealth behemoth, and Ed Lee's recent book used recipes to plot Lee's bourbon-and-soy-soaked passage from New York to Kentucky, the new Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird sells the power of place. Not in the sense that it calls attention to the Pacific Northwestern bounty, which it does in multitudes -- from musty chanterelles to shimmering sides of salmon. On sale Sept. 17, Le Pigeon celebrates the city, Portland -- where polymath kook investors, cheese nerds, wine guys, madcap mushroom hunters and skater savants comfortably pool their talents and wing it.
And Le Pigeon's Portlandia is not a place where the waiter saunters over to tell you the name of your pampered chicken. In case the name didn't tip you off, Le Pigeon doesn't do much in the way of chicken. Instead, there's guinea fowl, quail, pheasant, the namesake bird and nine rabbit preparations. The restaurant Le Pigeon serves technique-driven fare that toys with a diner's notion of high and low cuisines -- duck confit "nuggets," Buffalo sweetbreads, a lamb belly BLT, a toasted foie gras-and-jelly sandwich. The wine list is smart and unpretentious. In the book, recipe sections are tastefully intercut with brief essays chronicling the restaurant's five-year ascent and introducing the people who power Le Pigeon.
The photos are what you'd expect: really beautiful pictures of piles of proteins slaked with vivid sauces and verdant tangles of greens, the odd mist-kissed landscape, and plenty of tattoos adorning the arms of busy cooks.
Unlike many cookbooks that peddle mythologies, Le Pigeon doesn't diverge much from the food. The thesis is strung around the recipes, which offer even a pedestrian home cook lots of intriguing preparation ideas. The potato-crusted sea bass calls for instant mashed potatoes to easily achieve the desired crust. Swordfish steaks are larded with boquerones. Often ingredients are so thoroughly woven throughout the fabric of a dish -- duck breast with cheese pierogies double-stuffed with duck confit, for instance -- that the effect comes across as excessive and telegraphed. As you clutch your number at the meat counter, you might wonder: Is the double dose of duck really necessary?
Yet, if you've eaten at Le Pigeon, you know that sometimes more is more. Especially beguiling -- ironically, considering the dozens of recipes dedicated to tripe, tongue and other dirty bits -- are the vegetable dishes, including a tomato tart with an egg salad and bread pudding with fennel puree. You could do a whole Thanksgiving of these and your guests would melt into rivers of Velveeta. That's a metaphor that might please the brains behind this book as well as those inclined to cook from it.
Read on for a recipe.