Book Review: W20 Cookbook (Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition)

W20 Cookbook (Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Edition)
Publisher: Onyx Path Press/White Wolf
Cost: Free (to Kickstarter Backers)/TBD (everyone else)
Page Count: 78
Release Date: 12/23/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com (Eventually)

Yes, you read the name of this review right. They’ve actually released a Werewolf: The Apocalypse Cookbook. I know when I told Mark (the DHGF staffer who loves W:TA more than any other tabletop game) what I was reviewing (and had received thanks to being a Kickstarter backer for W20) his reaction was, “A… what. How does that even work?” I have to admit, that was probably everyone’s first thought when this one time joke was announced as an actual release. After all, when you think of werewolves you probably think of them eating wild animals raw in the forest or devouring some person. Printing a cookbook of “Kill the stag with your bare claws and teeth and devour it right there” or giving recipes on “How to Cook Man” would probably not be well received by too many people. Plus you know, describing how to debone a small child could get OPP in some legal hot water (It could be worse. Imagine a Sabbat themed cookbook…). So the question became how to do a Werewolf cookbook with real recipes both seriously and in a thematically correct fashion. I was very intrigued in the concept of a Werewolf themed cookbook, having penned a long running cooking column of my own and being friends with professional chefs who have released multiple cookbooks of their own and/or have their own well known cooking shows. Who better on staff to review this, right? The end result is a product I wouldn’t necessarily recommend unless you are a Werewolf: The Apocalypse fan, nor is it something I’d put on par with the likes of Patti Jinich, Morimoto-San or even my arch enemy Bobby Flay’s cookbooks. I can, however, state that the W20 cookbook is a really fun thematic piece I’m happy to place on my shelf with other slightly silly releases like The Café Nervosa Cookbook, Chaz Adam’s Half Baked Cookbook and WWF: Can You Take the Heat?. It’s not something you’ll necessarily ever use the recipes of, but the W20 Cookbook is a fun conversation piece and if you collect cookbooks or just love gastronomy, you’ll get a kick out of this.

Enter the garou Peter Quire. This Silent Strider, who was training to be a chef before his first change, still retains his love of cooking and culinary history and decided to create a cookbook that showcases the culture of each Garou tribe, including the lost ones and even the Black Spiral Dancers (!). The end result is an in-character cookbook. While the recipes might not actually match up with the Garou clan of choice very well in some cases (we’ll look at those in the next paragraph) and some other recipes might be a bit dull or lackluster, I’m going to assume it is because this is by a British garou that hasn’t actually encountered some of the tribes and is doing guesswork rather than actually matching up a proper dish for the Garou in question. That’s not a knock on British cooking (although as an ex resident of Epsom, Surrey, I would be well within my rights to make a joke about how terrible stereotypical British cuisine can be…), merely that the cookbook might have suffered less in terms of thematic correctness if the character supposedly writing the book actually had contact with some of the tribes.

The weakest part of the cookbook for me involved the pairing of certain recipes with specific Garou tribes. The recipes are far from correct (in terms of theme. The actual contents and cooking part of the recipes are spot on and well done), and in the case of the poor Croatan, the choice of recipe is a little bit (albeit it unintentional) offensive (A bison heart? REALLY?). Maybe it’s just because I have access to what is considered one of the best Native American themed restaurants the States and have friends that are both Native American and professional chefs, but these could have been so much better, as well as making them thematically correct. The book could have done something simple like Fry Bread, corn totopos, a succotash, or even something really fun like fried alligator. Instead we got a Pastel because Uktena supposedly like Street Food instead of actual Native American dishes, a Venison and Barley Soup (the closest to being thematically correct but still a bit off) and the aforementioned Bison Heart. You’ll see a similar issue with the Bunyip recipe if you’re well versed in Australian cuisine or with the Hakken having…tofu as the dish to represent them. As someone well versed in Japanese cooking, this just felt like the book didn’t even try to do something for fitting for the Asian Shadow Lord variant. Now none of this is enough to bring the quality of the book down, but the book really does feel like it dropped the ball in areas and that it could have been so much better than what the final product actually turned out to be, both in terms of recipe quality and thematic pairing.

Besides this rather big quibble (but hey, I’m a folklorist well versed in this particular game and I used to do my own cooking column, so this was like the PERFECT STORM of constructive criticism for this poor book), there is a lot to enjoy about the W20 Cookbook. I really liked that the recipes give vegetarian, pescatarian and gluten-free options when it can, so that as many people as possible can try the recipes. It does strike me as a bit odd that a Garou would be that politically correct with its cookbook, especially when most professional chefs have an absolute fit if their editor tries to get them to do variants like this (Oh, the stories I’ve been told…), but it does ensure that more readers will actually go out and try the recipes in this collection rather than just view it as a curiosity piece. I also like that the author included recipes that were more simplistic or easy to prepare rather than for things geared towards winning a Michelin star or the like. These are recipes the average person can do in their own kitchen rather than require all the crazy (and some would say overpriced) crap I have in my kitchen for extremely specific (niche) uses. I’m reminded of a raw food cookbook I was sent to review where the author pretty much screamed at the reader to have a Vita-Mix blender and that nothing else would do. Well, said blender is usually around $450 – well out of the reach of a lot of people’s price range, thus making the cookbook extremely unfriendly to people curious about a raw food diet. The W20 Cookbook knows its audience really well, and thus has tailored dishes to the layman which is a good call for a thematic cookbook. It’s also worth noting that the author stays in character throughout the cookbook, even in the recipe steps themselves. I haven’t seen that outside of the Achewood Cookbook and it really made this a pleasure to read. I can also happily say that most of the recipes are pretty healthy and well balanced. You’re not going to lose any weight from the dishes in this cookbook (especially the Silver Fang and Black Spiral Dancer entries), but the food should be pretty tasty if you follow the recipes. ANYONE should be able to use this cookbook, regardless of skill level in the kitchen and that alone makes this outing worthy of respect. I mean, given the choice between cooking the recipes in the W20 Cookbook or having to make one of the monstrosities Guy Fieri or Sandra Lee puts out, I’ll go Garou all the way.

I should also mention two observations about this cookbook. It’s ironic that the Silent Striders have one of the longest and most complex recipes in the book considering their section talks about “on the go” food and it’s interesting to see how politically correct White Wolf has become (the Croaton incident in this book notwithstanding). The inclusion of vegetarian and gluten free options, even though I can’t actually see a werewolf catering to those folk for a second, shows how different the World of Darkness in 2013 is from the World of Darkness in the 1990s (Back cover of the Second Edition Tzimisce Clanbook for example…).

In the end, I can say I’m fairly positive about the W20 Cookbook. Could it have been a LOT better in terms of recipe selection, tweaking and thematic pairing? Oh god, yes. At the same time, what’s here is fairly good, especially for a theme cookbook (as compared to a more serious minded recipe collection). The author isn’t going to win a James Beard anytime soon, and I can’t see the IACP even mentioning this release, but I am extremely impressed that OPP took what was originally meant to be a joke and actually turned it into a decent cookbook with a wide variety of easy to make recipes that should make your taste buds happy. You can’t ask much more than that. All in all, I’m pleasantly surprised with the Werewolf: The Apocalypse 20th Anniversary Cookbook and even if you don’t ever use it in your own kitchen, fans of kitschy cookbooks or W:TA will get a kick out of flipping through this one.

Recipes Contained in the Book (In order)

  • Stuffed Tricolor Peppers
  • Chicken and Peanut Curry
  • Mushroom Stew with Wheaten Bread
  • Breton Apple Pie with Calvados Cream
  • Gravad Lax with Dill and Mustard Sauce
  • Creamy Chicken Tagliatelle
  • Smoky Chicken and Peppers
  • Turkey and Chorizo Stew
  • Tamiya with Harissa
  • Lobster Linguini
  • Tuna in Miso Broth
  • Pastel
  • Venison and Barley Soup
  • Prawn Dim Sum
  • Agedashi Tofu
  • Steak Tartare
  • Damper Bread
  • Bison Heart
  • Venison with Blackberry Sauce
  • Apocalypse Cheesecake
  • Seitan
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