Review: Playing for Pizza

May 4, 2009 at 7:05 am

Originally published at Paper Palate on April 30, 2009.

In 1991 a Mississippi lawyer enthralled America with his groundbreaking novel, The Firm. Since then John Grisham has rattled off an impressive list of best selling legal thrillers like The Chamber and The King of Torts. From time to time the southern lawyer has ventured out of the courtroom and into the real world with hits like Bleachers which centers on high school football and Skipping Christmas which was made into the Tim Allen comedy Christmas with the Kranks.

In 2007 Grisham released Playing for Pizza which chronicles the fictional NFL quarterback Rick Dockery. Rick was a star Iowa high school player and an absolute gun slinger against the molasses-quick defenses of the Big 10. Pro football on the other hand was a different story. In his last NFL game he went from unknown third-stringer to the “unquestioned greatest Goat in the history of professional sports,” and all in just over 11 minutes.

To escape the ridicule of the national pundits and the ire of the fans of the Cleveland Browns, Dockery flees to Europe where he becomes the starting quarterback for the Parma Panthers of NFL Italy. Football Americano is neither popular nor very good. From there it is the typical “Rocky formula” with one exception, the food.

Each player on the team takes turns treating their new comrade to a meal any foodie would kill a drifter for and there are 40 sum odd players on the team. From his very first taste of Emilia-Romagna’s two most famous offerings, prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano, Rick embarks on a culinary voyage that is equal to none.

Grisham accurately captures the essence of the Italian passion for food. The descriptions of each meal are accurate to the various regions they originate in and the wine pairings are perfect. Clearly the author did extensive research on the subject. That must have been grueling, especially getting tickets to see Verdi’s Otello at the Teatro Regio from the mayor of the city of Parma.

The prose is what you would expect from Grisham and as usual he manages to drive the action to a crescendo. But this book also serves as a fine example of a new trend of building gastronomy into the narrative, even in non-food literature. Football fans will enjoy the tale of Rick Dockery as will Grisham fans in general but it is the foodie who will get the most joy out of Playing for Pizza.

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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