Summer reading is a lot like summer drinking: fun, frothy, and fast-paced. In other words, no heavy philosophical tomes belong hammock side. Entertaining and enjoyable, not a treatise on the human condition.
Food is as much about story and connection as it is about measurements and ingredients. Reading cookbooks sometimes includes a literal story—the story of the author and their journey through cuisine, or it is a story of a region, a particular way of eating, or of celebrating the bounty of the earth.
Columbus food enthusiasts, from chefs to celebrants, have published a number of books to get you through a day sunning on the lawn, and to pack up for vacation.
The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangani. So beautiful and so full of recipes that jump off the page, this cookbook by Little Eater’s Mangani, is not only a collection of recipes, it is an entire class in the sublime craft of cooking vegetables. It’s the story of how to prepare a kitchen for maximum veggie victory, from pantry and butchery essentials to the best cooking method for a wide range of produce. Presented alphabetically, this is also the perfect summer market companion. Drawn to those eye-catching green-kissed kohlrabi piled on a farmer’s table, but don’t have a clue what to do with the thing? Look it up—the vegetables are listed alphabetically. Having a WTF moment when coming across a pile of crosnes? Mangani clues you in to the pronunciation, crones, and explains how to prep and cook the odd white tubers that are also known as Japanese or Chinese artichokes.
Food trucks have woven themselves into the food scene fabric of Columbus over the past few years and have inspired a whole industry based around their comings and goings. Now we can add a cookbook to that list: The Columbus Food Truck Cookbook by Renee Casteel Cook & Tiffany Harelik.
Like the best journeys through a food group—if you can call food trucks a “food group”—the cookbook offers a look behind the scenes of our four-wheeled friends. Including recipes and origin stories from mobile food pioneers such as Zach James of Paddywagon, Ajumama’s Laura Lee, and Ray-Ray’s Jamie Anderson, the guide takes the eater through the day. Starting with Early Bird’s Libby Glover and her Early Bird beignets, through a vegan lunch of black beans, corn and saffron rice tacos from the Brian Hartley and LoveBug, a dinner of a beer-braised pork belly from Sophie’s Gourmet Pierogi’s Stephen Redzinak and ending with a sweet treat from Tracy Studer and Orlando Martinez of Explorer’s Club, plantain pineapple upside down cake with coconut whipped cream and toasted coconut. Trying these recipes at home really makes a home cook appreciate all the work these purveyors get done in the space the size of a tack.
One of the best food stories of all time is, of course, Zach Danger Brown and his potato salad Kickstarter. A simple plea to help the poor lad make potato salad ending up raising $55, 492. It became the story of the day— local, national, and international news paid attention, mostly asking just what will this joker do now? Well, it turns out a lot. You’ll have to read The Peace, Love, and Potato Salad Cookbook by Brown and Teresa Blackburn to find out. Hitting the shelves mid-July, the book not only tells the story, but also highlights 24 recipes to celebrate everyone’s favorite starch.
Not a cookbook, but a look back, Lost Restuarants of Columbus Ohio by Doug Motz and Christine Hayes is loving ode to restaurants past. More recent ghosts that left the community mourning, such as The Clarmont and Betty’s are profiled, as well as gems of days gone by, like the Maramar and Jai Lai. Celebrity sightings, silly memories, and the changing face of the Columbus restaurant line-up are chronicled with levity and charm. Some past places seem outright hilarious, like The Waterworks where diners ate in bathtubs and ordered off menus printed on sewer covers. Others show off Columbus’s long standing acceptance of the LGBTUIQ community with remembrances of David’s on Main, which was a Hard-Rock-Café like eatery, but featured items representing the gay community, such as tennis titan Martina Navratilova’s racket and a Liberace costume. There is also a section of classic recipes, as well as tons of old pictures—just looking at the fonts alone is worth it!
On the list is one book not connected to Columbus: something to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs by questlove. The cover is a riff on Rudolf Arcimboldo’s 16th century work, “A Feast for the Eyes” and portrays the musician/culture commentator with red licorice glasses, a food pick in his greens hair, a cookie bowtie and a flower dimple. In the most basic description, Questlove loves food and, being a endlessly curious dude, interviews a bunch of chefs about their creative process. You, the reader, are along for the ride. As much a visual exploration of food, the interviews are fascinating, head scratching, and illuminating at the same time. •