Friday, March 30, 2007

Skewered Straight?

Dateline: Bookstores everywhere

If the new wave of offbeat cooking shows like the Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and the Food Network's Guy's Big Bite and Ace of Cakes are any indication, the average food lover's appetite for unusual or extreme cuisine is growing. Television isn't alone, either; the publishing industry has lately been exploiting this trend toward the exotic. How else can one explain the publication of three recent cookbooks that take "stunt dining" to new, wild, and borderline irresponsible frontiers?

In the introduction to Cooking for Cube-Dwellers, the editors explain their book was inspired by an all-too-familiar truth: "Like it or not, most modern American office workers, stressed for time, typically spend lunch hour right at their desks." However, instead of offering quick, healthy, and reheatable lunchtime solutions that can be easily prepared at home, Cooking for Cube-Dwellers takes the solution one step further. All of the recipes are submitted by self-professed "worker drones" across all 50 states (recipes are credited with the cook's name, job title, and corporate employer), and can be prepared and cooked using only the raw materials accessible within one's office. This leads to some inspired solutions, such as the "8.5 x 11–inch" Panini," consisting of bread, deli meat, and cheese scavenged from conference room leftovers, pressed on an industrial-sized photocopier. (The recipe is surprisingly exact, instructing the reader to set the copier to 35 to 40 copies, depending on how long the machine has been warmed up.) Most of the recipes are impractical, unless you're the kind of person who isn't squeamish about using #2 pencils as vegetable skewers or stealing chocolates from the receptionist's candy dish (for a recipe called "Part-Time Chocolate Fondue").

Where Cooking for Cube-Dwellers is functional to the point of reckless, Ringling Brothers Circus's Cross-Country Clown Diet is "do-not-attempt-this-at-home" impractical. Strategically timed with the 2007 Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, this book answers a question most have probably never contemplated: "What do clowns eat?" What follows is a dark journey into the nutritional underbelly of the American circus. After preparing Chauncey the Clown's "Kung Pao Chicken with Peanuts, Popcorn, and Cracker Jack®" or Professor DingDong's "Three-Ring, Four-Alarm Corn Dog Chili," it is tempting to stop wondering what clowns eat, and start wondering about the average clown's life expectancy. Skip the "Home Brews" section, unless you're morbidly curious about why there are so many sad clowns.

Even extreme foodies will likely shy away from Save Your Best Meal for Last: Recipes from Death Row. This collection highlights last meal requests from some of America's most notorious death row convicts, with accompanying essays written by the prisoners themselves, in a style that is unexpectedly lighthearted. For example, the tastelessly tongue-in-cheek recipe for "A-Salted & Battered Scrimps" is described by Tecumseh State Correctional Institution prisoner Don Ed McDonough as such: "A Southern-style twist on a Vietnamese classic. I may be a convicted arsonist, but these scrimps are killer." Recipes like "Popeye's Chicken Rolled Up Inside a Domino's Pizza with a Two-Liter Bottle of Mr. Pibb" and "Toilet Sangria" are interesting for novelty purposes but likely to give even the most adventurous eaters something to bellyache about.

Oh, and by the way, April Fool's!
— Todd Levin

Todd Levin is a New York–based writer and comedian. For more of his writing and a performance schedule, go to

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