I’ve made a new friend, and her name is Jennifer McLagan.
Back when I was a nobody chef (prepping for six hours, service for five hours, scrubbing the insides of ovens for two hours) I loved going home and reading cookbooks on my downtime. Still do actually, and you can find a selection of my favorite “meaty” ones perched on my display cooler in the shop. Some of you have grabbed one and flipped through it while waiting your turn. Some of you put your coffee on them and forget it in the shop. Cookbooks have become very much in vogue – giant glossies weigh down many a coffee table (I’m assuming so it doesn’t float away) – but my favorites are still the classic, informative reads. The Fergus Hendersons, Nigel Slaters, Jane Grigsons and Anna Del Contes of this world have kept me reading and learning. Their books gave me ideas and recipes, always keeping me excited about my chosen field. A few years ago I added a new author to that list: Jennifer McLagan.
Her books about fat and bones are clearly written for the diners, and treasured by the cooks. I enjoy reading a book that doesn’t pussyfoot around sensitive topics. They might not be bestsellers (though I think that may change soon enough) but they are honest, well written and informative. So you can imagine my glee when Jennifer started to shop at the Meat Locker.
I remember it well. Soon after I had opened a certain Food Network Host came in to check me out. I don’t want to name-drop, but Laura Calder apparently liked what she saw, noticed I had copies of Jennifer’s books on my shelf and decided she MUST inform her friend of her find. I guess they chatted at a dinner party (I imagine they ate roasted squab perfumed with Périgord truffles while debating the merit of truffles from Oregon – but I digress) and the next thing I know Ms. McLagan was in my shop, asking if I ever got in beef heart. By the grace of God I had some in my locker, so as if I was a cleaver-wielding Fonzie I cooly replied, “of course, who doesn’t?” I guess she liked that response and has been a frequent customer ever since.
Jennifer has recently completed and published the final chapter in her trilogy on meat. Odd Bits, not surprisingly, is a great read, full of interesting tidbits and cool recipes that are approachable. This is very important because the subject matter is sometimes unapproachable. Not too many people like brains. Even fewer enjoy lungs. I for one have turned my nose up at testicles, claiming: “hey, war’s over, onto steak.” One of the reasons I liked reading Odd Bits is it feels like Jennifer has said that very thing once or twice before, but has spurned that attitude now and adopted a more adventurous one, happily taking us by the hand and walking us through a thick forest of offal, bones and fat. It might not be for everyone’s tastes, but I think it’s important to recognize the worth of these ingredients. Like Kanye, I’m not here to convert atheists into believers, but I’d love to smack some knowledge over a newbie’s head. And Jennifer feels the same way. I say bravo madame, bravo.
However, I still don’t want to eat balls.
You can read Jennifer Bain’s awesome interview with us here.