Alison McCulloch: Unfair of ABs

Who knew there was an entire literary genre devoted to rugby cuisine? I stumbled upon this unsettling fact while electronically leafing through a catalogue of forthcoming books from a local publisher.

Out the same month as God's Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis (a stocking stuffer?) was NZ Rugby Kitchen, which pitches itself as a "treasure trove of hearty, tasty recipes" from past and current rugby stars - like Robbie Fruean's Honey-Hoisin Grilled Lamb Chops or Adam Thomson's Beef Fajitas and Smashed Guacamole.

A quick visit to Amazon and a whole world of rugby cookery opened up before me.

Australia has given us Footy Flavours: 75 Recipes From Your Favourite Rugby League Stars (fajitas again, lamb shanks, lots of pasta and hunks holding cooking utensils unsure where to put them).

Something seems to have gone wrong with Ireland's 2005 offering, Eating to Win: Irish Rugby Players' Recipes Revealed, since there was just one used copy for sale at $6.75. How to put this?

Whatever else it's known for Ireland is not famous for its cuisine.

In Britain, easily the most eye-catching title of the genre is Ben Kay's 2010 Cooking With Balls: 22 Top Players, 23 Great Chefs, 95 Stunning Recipes. Which is not to be confused with an e-book of the same name by Serbian chef Ljubomir Erovic.

Erovic's book, whose full title is The Testicle Cookbook: Cooking With Balls, includes recipes for dishes like Testicle Pizza, Testicles a la Gornji Milanovac and, my personal favourite, Battered Testicles. It's a multimedia book with an online sample, and I can highly-recommend the video instructions on testicle peeling, which are accompanied by a curiously jaunty soundtrack.

You can tell by the video that Erovic puts his heart and soul into his work, while the All Blacks look like they're at a photo shoot. And so they were, since wielding a spatula is not a crucial skill for a rugby player. Which brings me back to why the discovery of rugby in the cooking aisle is so unsettling: habitat loss.

The cultural habitat of those of us who have actually never heard of Robbie Fruean or Adam Thomson, and who put quite a lot of effort into staying that way (channel hopping, page flipping, ear stuffing) has never been large. We've never really been able to make our way in the world without stumbling over a reference to Richie McCaw's foot or some shocking near loss to France in the sixes or the sevens or whatever they are, or the inspiring tale of a young lad's journey from kicking cow pats on the farm to rugby legend. Why are they always legends?

Why can't the All Blacks be satisfied with what they've got - virtual royal status, constant heapings of praise, calendars, biographies, knighthoods ...

As Wynne Gray put it so well in The New Zealand Herald last week, "Out in their world of sporting authority, the All Blacks are regal. They exude majesty and authority."

I repeat: "Out in their world of sporting authority." Not in the kitchen.

I actually sent that Gray piece to a friend who knows about these things to ask if it was a send-up. He assured me it was kosher, and told me of a comment made by footballer and Liverpool manager Bill Shankly: "Football is not a matter of life and death. It's much more important than that."

Apparently, at least one of the All Blacks is of a similar mind.

"It's one of the biggest jobs in the country," Kieran Read said of his elevation to captain.

But not so big, it seems, that Read didn't have time to refine his recipe for Smoked Chicken and Chive Fettuccini.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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