Review: Playing for Pizza

Originally published at Paper Palate on April 30, 2009.

In 1991 a Mississippi lawyer enthralled America with his groundbreaking novel, The Firm. Since then John Grisham has rattled off an impressive list of best selling legal thrillers like The Chamber and The King of Torts. From time to time the southern lawyer has ventured out of the courtroom and into the real world with hits like Bleachers which centers on high school football and Skipping Christmas which was made into the Tim Allen comedy Christmas with the Kranks.

In 2007 Grisham released Playing for Pizza which chronicles the fictional NFL quarterback Rick Dockery. Rick was a star Iowa high school player and an absolute gun slinger against the molasses-quick defenses of the Big 10. Pro football on the other hand was a different story. In his last NFL game he went from unknown third-stringer to the “unquestioned greatest Goat in the history of professional sports,” and all in just over 11 minutes.

To escape the ridicule of the national pundits and the ire of the fans of the Cleveland Browns, Dockery flees to Europe where he becomes the starting quarterback for the Parma Panthers of NFL Italy. Football Americano is neither popular nor very good. From there it is the typical “Rocky formula” with one exception, the food.

Each player on the team takes turns treating their new comrade to a meal any foodie would kill a drifter for and there are 40 sum odd players on the team. From his very first taste of Emilia-Romagna’s two most famous offerings, prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, Rick embarks on a culinary voyage that is equal to none.

Grisham accurately captures the essence of the Italian passion for food. The descriptions of each meal are accurate to the various regions they originate in and the wine pairings are perfect. Clearly the author did extensive research on the subject. That must have been grueling, especially getting tickets to see Verdi’s Otello at the Teatro Regio from the mayor of the city of Parma.

The prose is what you would expect from Grisham and as usual he manages to drive the action to a crescendo. But this book also serves as a fine example of a new trend of building gastronomy into the narrative, even in non-food literature. Football fans will enjoy the tale of Rick Dockery as will Grisham fans in general but it is the foodie who will get the most joy out of Playing for Pizza.

ICA: Mendholson vs Symon – Outcome

Iron Chef Michael Symon was triumphant in Battle: Prosciutto.

ICA: Mendholson vs Symon

I think this week’s challenger, Spike Mendholson put it best when he Twittered, “This sunday dvr the oscars and tune in live for Iron Chef America, what will the secret ingredient be???”  Mendholson is the talented young chef at Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, DC.  Waiting for him in Kitchen Stadium is the Iron Chef with best winning percentage, Michael Symon.

Spike began his culinary matriculation  in 2004 at the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY where he distinguished himself among his peers.  Mendholson was one of 10 CIA students to accompany Chef-Instructors Michael Pardus and Michael Huynh on a culinary adventure to Vietnam.  Since then Spike’s style has had a definite Vietnamese influence.

For his externship at CIA, Mendholson did a turn at Les Crayeres in Reims, France.  Les Crayeres is a three Michelin star restaurant under the direction of Chef Gerard Boyer.  After school Spike worked at landmarks like Bouchon and Le Cirque.  Eventually he found himself working for his former teacher, Chef Huynh at the Drew Nieporent venture Mai House in Tribeca.

Today Spike Mendholson is not only the force behind Washington DC’s Good Stuff Eatery but he is also a celebrity host of Food 2, the Internet alter-ego of The Food Network.  There he is the co-host of Kelsey & Spike Cook with the should-be winner of the Next Food Network Star 4, Kelsey Nixon.  Spike came to national prominence when he was a contestant on Top Chef: Chicago.

Click HERE for the mystery ingredient and outcome.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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