Reviewed by Chris Nappa
Forking Fantastic!: Put the Party Back in Dinner Party is not especially new, having appeared in 2009, but it’s a book too few of my food-oriented friends know. I got it for Christmas a couple of years ago, after reading about it on Epicurious.
The book has its origins not in a restaurant or high-minded theory of cuisine, but in actual New York home kitchens. The authors met when they worked at the same restaurant, and they began hosting a series of Sunday dinners with a growing list of occasional and regular guests. The book documents both the growth of their dinner party phenomenon and the meals themselves. For that reason, recipes sometimes give instructions for smaller or larger groups. (See especially their account of cooking a fried chicken meal for 30, pp. 141-60.)
This is not your grandmother’s cookbook, unless grandma was awfully fun. What distinguishes Forking Fantastic!: Put the Party Back in Dinner Party from many other cookbooks is the authors’ unapologetic attitude about food and life; in particular, they talk about their life in food and entertaining the way most people actually talk. It does mean a few four letter words here and there. It also means a cookbook that really works for people who are put off by cookbooks. It’s the kind of book that makes you start thinking about people you could ask over and what you might cook for them.
Recipes are accessible and appealing. The fried chicken section is good. So are the ones on cassoulet and roast lamb. In fact, none of the descriptions of individual meals disappoints. There is even something here for vegetarians (though the authors are clearly not vegetarians themselves), and a good introductory meal for novice cooks.
The book also contains helpful advice on basic equipment and techniques—especially for those of us who do not have the kitchen space featured on ABC’s new show GCB. Best of all, it chronicles the lives of its authors and the role food plays in them. O’Neill and Reynolds do not mystify cooking; instead they glorify both good food and sharing it with the people around you. It would be hard to object to that. Get a copy of this book soon.