Gourmet Brooklynites with a sweet tooth are getting ringside seats to a saccharine smackdown as two competing cookbooks battle for a place on their shelves, their pantries and, more important, their (cream-filled) hearts.
So the question: Is this borough big enough for both Jacques Torres, the Behemoth of the Bolivian bean, and two burnt-out ad men who reinvented themselves by opening Baked, that beloved Red Hook cake and pie Mecca?
Torres, of course, is the favorite, a man whose name is literally synonymous with chocolate (his Web site is, after all, mrchocolate.com).
First known as the pastry maestro of Le Cirque in Manhattan, the French-born chef moved to DUMBO in 2000 and has been cranking out his crude-oil-thick hot chocolate, transcendent chocolate chip cookies and bodacious bon-bons ever since.
After an expansion into Manhattan in 2004, Torres is branching out yet again, this time into the world of print.
He may not have met his match in Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, a tag team of advertising agents who quit their day jobs in 2005 to open Baked, but he’s certainly feeling the heat from the duo’s Red Hook kitchen.
It’s Davids versus Goliath. So how do you handicap it?
In Torres’s favor, he’s spent his whole life in chocolate, and the result is a cookbook that fairly drips with ideas on the rich, brown stuff. Torres’s “A Year in Chocolate” explores ways to incorporate the bean into almost every annual occasion, from Fathers’ Day to the Day of the Dead.
With a decidedly patrician chocolate almond cake for Bastille Day and some fancy-sounding dishes from the Old Country (fours pochés, anyone?), Torres makes no secret of his heritage.
The ad guys bring a much more star-spangled take on the world of sugar. Yes, Lewis and Poliafito’s “Baked” stands on the shoulders of the great French and Austrian pastry inventors from the good old days of Napoleon (and Napoleons!), but their take is decidedly American (think Freedom Fries instead of frites).
So don’t look for any tarte tatin here. Instead, you’ll get a classic American pie. In the steel cage of dessert cookbooks, “Baked” is the one wearing the Superman Spandex.
“We’re damn proud of this book,” said Poliafito, citing that good ol’ American work ethic for his success. “Each recipe was tested and re-tested and we promise the home baker won’t be disappointed.”
Of course, Torres’s book is the one for chocoholics. Not only is every other page positively dripping with dessert porn images, but his recipes rarely stray from the cocoa-centric.
Yet even Torres has gotten caught up in the newcomers’ flag-waving, dropping his own reference to his adopted country’s pastime.
“[Opening in DUMBO] was an example of ‘if you build it, they will come,” Torres said, a reference to both “Field of Dreams” and the nabe’s then–tourist- and chocolate-free streets.
Also in Lewis and Poliafito’s favor is another uniquely American invention: celebrity endorsements. Big-name stars who have thrown in with the ad guys include talk show host Oprah Winfrey, ex-con Martha Stewart, and a guy named … Jacques Torres!
“It’s a new American classic,” recently raved the great chef. The up-and-coming bakers were so honored by the endorsement that they put it on their book’s cover.
In other words, et-tu, Jacques?
“A Year in Chocolate” by Jacques Torres is available at Jacques Torres [66 Water St., between Main and Dock streets in DUMBO, (718) 875-1269]. “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito is available at Baked [359 Van Brunt St., between Dyckman and Wolcott streets in Red Hook, (718) 222-0345]. Both books are available at BookCourt [163 Court St., between Dean and Pacific streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 875-3677].