by Bill Hufnagle
216 pages, $16.95
Whitehorse Press, copyright 2004
review by Tammy Wanchena
I hated the movie “Fargo”. I couldn’t get past the ridiculously exaggerated, so-called “Minnesota accents”. I have lived in this state for most of my life and I can assure you, I do not know anyone who talks that way. That is, I didn’t. Until one day a group of us were lunching in a Mexican restaurant in Duluth, where the hottest salsa they served resembled tomato paste, when we heard a shrill voice from the next table bellow “Criminey! Now I know why dey wrote dat song “Ring a Fire”!” Yikes! This woman had to be the inspiration for the film. Not only did she perfectly capture the stereotypical Minnesotan accent, but she reinforced our supposed love of bland food. Woman, this is not the cookbook for you! Stereotypes beware, for Biker Billy truly “Cooks with Fire”.
I love cookbooks and I love food! Sadly, my cooking usually involves a gallon of gas and a drive through window. I enjoy cooking, but rarely take the time to do it. It takes a houseful of guests for me to make the effort worth the while. Since Biker Billy started writing for our paper, we have made a point of trying to serve up a recipe from his column or his cookbook whenever our friends come to dinner. This helps us to separate the weak from the strong. We have yet to find a recipe that disappoints our love of heat and flavor.
My favorite section in the cookbook, other than the yummy recipes of course, is the Glossary of Hot Peppers. Billy has an entertaining way of comparing degrees of heat with motorcycle engines. He has created his own “firepower scale”, which he cleverly uses to describe all sorts of peppers, from Anaheim to guajillo. He offers tips on how to grow your own peppers, as well as the differences in cooking with dried or pickled peppers instead of fresh. There are many times I have pulled out this cookbook for reference when using peppers in other recipes, and I find myself constantly looking for a way to add more flavor and heat to my meals. If you like heat, this is a valuable resource. Biker Billy does not kick it up a notch; he holds the throttle wide open.
Every recipe in this cookbook has a fiery theme. From Suicidal Quacamole and Blueberry Pancakes from Hell, to Kiss of the Devil Cocoa and Fire Foo Young; if your eyes don’t water from the heat, they are bound to from laughing at the titles!
I was thrilled to see how much emphasis Billy put on motorcycle safety. He encourages riders to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation approved rider course. He also encourages riders to get involved with the riding community, and join the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) or their local state MRO (Motorcycle Rights Organization). He talks at length about how much fun rider rallies and community events can be, and shows the same passion for riding as he does for cooking. Biker Billy, a.k.a. Bill Hufnagle, is not a professionally trained chef. He did not attain his culinary skills working in a five star restaurant. He is simply a man who loves to cook and experiment with food, whose passion to create new dishes has led to a successful career. He claims that the first time he ate a meal in his college cafeteria he realized it was cook or die. He does not follow the rules of gourmet cooking and believes you should never trust a skinny cook.
You should also never judge a cookbook by its cover. The cover photo might lead you to believe Biker Billy was a tough, brutish rider with poor grooming habits (no offense, Billy). I first saw the holes in his disguise when I realized that he is not even a carnivore! All of Billy’s recipes are vegetarian! But don’t let that scare you. There is something for everyone in this book. Or at least everyone who likes to turn up the heat!