Ciarán Howley tries a slice of the unusual world of franchise tie-in cookbooks with The Sopranos cookbook as le plat principal.
Of all the tie-in memorabilia, themed cookbooks centred around popular movies, shows and even video games have to be the absolute weirdest. While my undying love for a show like The Sopranos has compelled me to buy tie-in calendars and t-shirts, The Sopranos Family Cookbook has me slightly reticent. This little oddity is priced at €31.50 on Book Depository and is described as “not just your typical Italian family cookbook.” Its existence is odd, considering the food-related phrase that still rings clearly is that of “sleeping with the fishes”, uttered several times across its seven seasons.
It seems that’s by-the-by when it comes to the writing of tie-in cook books and it’s more the glut of an audience a franchise has at its disposal. Looking through a few of these titles, I’m certain a Mad Men cocktail recipe-book or an extra-terrestrial inspired book from the world of Alien would make great novelty gifts for that movie-obsessed friend you can never find the right gift for. Less appealing are the actual recipes and, in all honesty, you would doubt your friend would actually cook any of them. For actual cooking fans, classics like The Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs or anything by Delia Smith will usually do the trick.
But if they are Sopranos-obsessed, that’s even better because I’m about to ramble on about it. The more I dig, the more I ask why!
The Sopranos Family Cookbook was published by Little Brown & Company in 2002 and written by Allen Rucker and Michele Scicolone. Featuring one-hundred recipes inspired by the show, it’s an authorised and fully licensed tie-in, alongside Entertaining the Sopranos an eye-opening guide to entertaining guests by Carmela Soprano herself.
The show taps into the sanctity of mealtimes from showrunner David Chase’s Italian-American upbringing - a place where some of the most dramatic of the show’s moments occur.
Compiled under the nom-de-plume of Artie Bucco, the in-show sous-chef of the Vesuvio Restaurant, each recipe is inspired by one of the show’s characters. These include but are not limited to, a Sunday Dinner “remembered” by Janice Soprano - known for her chronic aversion to work, an academic paper on “Rage, Guilt, Loneliness and Food” by Tony’s shrink Dr. Melfi and a personal essay by lumbering bodyguard to Junior Soprano Bobby Baccaliere: ‘If I Couldn’t Eat I’d Fucking Die.’
In the time since its controversial ending in 2007, the HBO mobster family drama has gone down as one of the defining shows of the 21st century. It’s consistently praised for paving the way for cinematic scope, storytelling and production values in what’s known as the Golden Age of Television. While it may have taken viewers into the dark psychology of a mafioso family man, there weren’t particular foods that stood out from the show. Not in the same way that shows like The Simpsons or Friends had. The bright pink of those glazed donuts Homer used to devour always looked so tasty, and perhaps perverse curiosity would tempt fans to try to make Rachel’s haphazard Shepherd’s Pie-meets-Trifle combo.
It’s not that food didn’t play a part in the show. Quite the opposite. The show taps into the sanctity of mealtimes from showrunner David Chase’s Italian-American upbringing - a place where some of the most dramatic of the show’s moments occur. Food in the show is often the pretext rather than a focus, per se. In the season two episode ‘Full Leather Jacket’ Carmela uses a pie to bribe a teacher to write a letter of recommendation for her daughter Meadow for a place at Georgetown University - before using her power as a mobster’s wife to threaten the teacher. It’s a defining moment for the character who reveals that she’s just as much of a bona-fide mobster as Tony, food being her weapon of choice.
In season three’s ‘Pine Barrens’, hitmen Paulie and Christopher are forced to inhale ketchup sachets in the depths of the New Jersey woods, in search of a foe from the Odessa Russian mafia. It’s a shame the cookbook doesn’t account for those iconic moments from the show, instead riffing off the very tired tropes about Italian cooking. Some of these may as well be the Super Mario Bros cookbook, that’s how far removed from Italian cooking it actually is.
The bright pink of those glazed donuts Homer used to devour always looked so tasty, and perhaps perverse curiosity would tempt fans to try to make Rachel’s haphazard Shepherd’s Pie-meets-Trifle combo
As for the verdict on The Sopranos Family Cookbook, it’s a case of merchandising that never really needed to be made - but completely missed the high bar that was accidentally set. For those still searching for the perfect movie tie-in cookbook, I’d suggest trying your luck elsewhere and getting a slice of The Golden Girls: Cheesecake and Cocktails or Avatar: Recipes from the Four Nations.