Usually, a cookbook that begins with a poetry epigraph will have your pretense sensors on high alert. But in Big Food Big Love, which hits shelves today, such worries are probably put to rest just from the title and the biscuit-emblazoned cover. And Lucille Clifton’s Yeats-contradicting quote—“Things don’t fall apart. Things hold.”—sets the sunwarmed tone for this autobiography-via-recipe cookbook by Wandering Goose owner and chef Heather Earnhardt.
The recipes are intensely approachable and balance local produce and proteins with grocery store staples—Earnhardt demands you serve “Walla Walla Sweet Onion Dip” with Ruffles—and put on no professional airs. A pair of condiment recipes undercut their (already nonexistent) snootiness with subtitles. “Creamed Blue Cheese Dressing: for fancy folks” and “French Rémoulade: for even more fancy folks.” We weren’t worried: the rémoulade has a distinctly southern spin anyway—with Best Foods mayo and Texas Pete hot sauce called for by name.
The food photography is appetizing, even if a mere glance at things like "The Sawmill"—buttermilk fried chicken, draped with cheese and “Sawmill Gravy” (a sausage and sage concoction) and wedged between a sliced biscuit—can give you a twinge of coronary chest pain.
Good comfort food restaurants like Wandering Goose aren’t coming up with exciting new ingredient combos or techniques—they’re executing sentimental favorites from scratch with professional grace. The problem with their cookbooks can be that many recipes verge on generic, with fare like Earnhardt’s “Country Caviar” (deviled eggs) or a staple like “Country Ham with Redeye Gravy and Perfect Fried Eggs."
The recipes are at their best when they blend Pacific Northwest food with southern comfort classics. A “Farro and Collard Green Salad with Watermelon Radish and Roasted-Garlic Vinaigrette” feels smartly regional to both of Earnhardt’s homes. And small additions like spiced pralines add a southern grace note to a boilerplate broiled tomato and burrata pairing.
The idea of the autobiographical cookbook certain isn’t new: White Heat gave you an unhealthy dose of Marco Pierre White and his egomaniacal brouhaha long before Food Network celebrity chefs were a thing. Though in place of culinary or formal audacity, Earnhardt offers you nostalgia for her own past, recipe by recipe—through notations and digressions and invitational warmth. Text boxes praise purveyors like Caffe Vita—which serves both as benefactor and bean roaster to Wandering Goose—and staff like The Sigala Brother, two cooks who’ve been with the restaurant since it opened. Recipe titles come dappled with familial modifiers “Aunt Annie’s Cornflake Chicken Tenders” and “Granny’s Crunchy Cheese Straws.” And childhood photos are constant—most in the washed and gilded tones of 1970s film.
If you need a guiding hand toward the kitchen, something to subsume you in the romance of cooking from scratch for a crowd (portioning here tends toward hearty six-person spreads) or if you’re lacking a good compilation of southern comfort food, Big Love Big Food is worth picking up. If you just want a good hush puppy how-to or if you aren't in the mood for generous servings of idyllic hospitality, maybe hit Epicurious.