I recently acquired a copy of The Playboy Gourmet by Thomas Mario (1979) to enjoy in my tiny moments of free time. It's a nice change of pace to read a cookbook that assumes a man will do the cooking, counter to most vintage cookbooks. There's a certain playfulness and enjoyment in the approach to cooking that is often lacking, and I was surprised that in acknowledging this difference, the introduction didn't take this as an opportunity to put women down for being unimaginative. It notes merely that most women are stuck "doing a sadly repetitive job, a get-it-done-by-six job," when "every bachelor's passion for the culinary arts is ... touched with excitement by the simple fact that he doesn't have to cook." I love the recognition that context makes a difference, and that if men's cooking differs from women's it is more due to social expectations than to any inherent factors.
The enthusiasm often comes through in a bit of hopeful pretension (I wonder how many of this book's owners really cooked "standing before a chafing dish in a penthouse or in a houseboat galley in the Caribbean"), but I like it better when it comes through in a bit of unexpected playfulness. The contrast between the two tones may be my favorite part. I laughed when I came upon this picture:
There is something magnificently ludicrous about making hero sandwiches into royalty by posing them with crowns. I have no natural resistance to this level of silliness in a book that also begins the sandwich chapter by pronouncing that "The butter [for sandwich fillings] must be the best 93 score to be had" and "The kind of bread a sandwich chef selects shows, perhaps more than anything else, his skill and authority."
Of course, I had to see the recipe that inspired this royal photo. When I looked up "Hero Sandwich," though, all I found was this:
The "Hot Beef Hero" sounds enticing: strips of sirloin mixed with green pepper, onion, and tomato, topped with a pizza-ish sauce and served in Italian rolls "with a fork to spear any escaping beef." There's nothing wrong with this recipe, but it's clearly NOT the one in the picture.
(It also leads me to wonder what the appropriate props for this sandwich should be. If the other sandwich is royalty, should this be a superhero, accessorizing with a cape and maybe a beef symbol to wear in the upper third quadrant over its "chest"? There is no picture, so the world will never know.)
I searched the sandwich chapter and just as I was losing hope, I found this on the last page: