A few weeks back, I got my hands on a romp of a book called “The Devil’s Food Dictionary“:
It wasn’t the clever title that first piqued my interest. Nor the subtitle: “A Pioneering Culinary Reference Work Consisting Entirely of Lies.” Or even the illustrations:
It was the author’s name: Barry Foy.
You may not be familiar with the Seattle writer, but back when I edited travel guidebooks and he practiced the freelancer’s art of copy editing and proofreading, our paths collided in print many times. I hadn’t heard his name since.
So imagine my surprise some 15 years later, when Foy’s devilish dictionary — touted as “The Most Unreliable Food Book Ever!” — ended up in my lap. There, looking down, I read the following author bio, a rollicking resume offering a soupcon of truth and a full measure of fiction:
“Barry Foy is a writer, musician, and enthusiastic home cook living in the Pacific Northwest. Over the course of an extremely lengthy and prolific career he has collaborated with many internationally renowned chefs, ghostwriting books for Auguste Escoffier and Antoine Careme, among others. He also produced a thirty-volume series of cookbooks under his own name, which for some years was `Jacques Pepin.’
The Devil’s Food Dictionary is Foy’s fourth culinary lexicon. His previous works are credited with popularizing numerous obscure or forgotten cooking terms, including `boilate,’ `jink-folding,’ and `serpentane.’ His first dictionary, 1993’s What Do You Call That Smell? was nominated for a prestigious Special Book Award Nominees Award Special Mention. The second, a children’s book called So You Want to Be a Compiler of Culinary Lexicons! was translated into eleven foreign languages before finally being banned in 1998. The third sank like a stone.
A devotee of the art of barbecue and a regular on the competition circuit, Barry Foy made national headlines in 2003 when his unusual custom-built meat smoker, made to resemble the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesha, was discovered to contain the charred remains of two rival cooks. Authorities ultimately ruled the deaths suicides, but the investigation inspired the creation of Clear My Name! a top-ranked reality television show that Foy both starred in and co-produced.
Barry Foy is a longtime art collector and has commissioned a number of original works. Among the paintings in his Frank Gehry-designed titanium houseboat is a David Hockney portrait that seems to age from day to day, even as the writer himself retains a fresh and ever-renewingly youthful appearance. Almost a glow, really.”
See for yourself:
Among the 1,100 entries in “The Devil’s Food Dictionary” is this:
Dim sum: “A Cantonese style of breakfast/brunch service in which diners choose from a parade of starchy, off-white-to-BROWN FOODS served in small portions. WAITERS wheel trolleys of these offerings from table to table, making dim sum the original A LA CART dining. The dim in dim sum refers to the dull hue of these mobile delicacies; brighter-colored ones must be ordered from the MENU.”
And I loved this one, effectively defining one of my favorite schmears:
Rillettes: “MEAT, typically PORK or DUCK, that has been slowly cooked in FAT and then mauled into a fibrous mass. Though RICH and DELICIOUS, rillettes are the ugliest FOOD that any high-level French CHEF is ever asked to make. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, each year, 15 to 20 percent of culinary school students switch their majors from French cuisine to Thai after their first look at rillettes.”
So, how did Foy end up publishing this satirical knee-slapper? One that’s already getting this taste of comic genius the public attention it deserves?
No, it wasn’t his professional kinship with Escoffier and Pepin. When we chatted by phone recently, Foy told me that (discounting a couple of restaurant reviews and food features in the Seattle Weekly back in the ’80s) he’s had no history with food writing. But as a researcher, he “soaked up a lot of data” reading food-focused blogs and websites. Since last we met, he’d written a book on Irish music (presently out of print), worked as a musician (but it’s been a while since then) and, five years ago, set out to write a “fake cookbook” with a pal. “He ended up not having time to do it,” Foy recalls, “and I’d made a two- or three-page glossary for the book.”
Other friends thought the glossary was hilarious, and that’s how the idea for the book was born. Though self-published (by Frogchart Press, $17.95), Foy notes the dictionary is available “through all the main channels” and can be ordered through your local bookseller.
Whatever channel you turn to, I suggest you read the book. Because with all the doom and gloom we’ve been force-fed lately, we all need a good laugh. And if laughter’s the best medicine, this food-fanatic’s farce provides a generous overdose.