Supernatural: The Official Cookbook is a delicious treat — not only does it offer fans the chance to create a Supernatural spread, it invites careful consideration of the significant role food has played as a storytelling device on the show. Read our review and glimpse some exclusive recipe spreads from the book below.
November 5 sees the release of Supernatural: The Official Cookbook, published by Insight Editions, longtime purveyors of thoughtful Supernatural supplementary texts such as The Men of Letters Bestiary.
Conceptualized and written by Julie Tremaine, and appetizingly photographed by Jessica Torres, Supernatural: The Official Cookbook (subtitled “Burgers, Pies, and Other Bites from the Road”) features over 50 recipes inspired by scenes and characters from the show, dating from season 1 all the way up to season 14 — meaning that yes, if you dare, you, too, can make your very own dish of Winchester Surprise to cry over with your friends and family.
For keen cooks and bakers, Supernatural: The Official Cookbook is a pretty good general kitchen resource — there’s enough tasty and versatile dishes here to incorporate regularly into day-to-day meal plans, or even to set a menu for a big family meal that your out-of-touch uncle would never suspect was fandom-related. Or, of course, more importantly, to cater for that blowout Supernatural series finale party where every bite is set to make you squeal or cry from its significance.
With over 50 recipes covering all sorts of foodstuffs, from breakfast and snacks to dinners, drinks and dessert — ranging from super simple to slightly more complex (like pie crusts from scratch) there’s something for everyone: whether your taste runs towards green juice and salads, Pig ‘N a Poke or The Elvis, a Big Pretzel (!) or a good old PB&J.
I myself am a vegetarian, but with the quality and variety of plant-based meat replacements going up every day, I would even say that many of Dean’s artery-clogging meatier meals could be made veggie very easily. The writer suggests it herself on a couple of the recipes, but in my opinion the large majority would work — except maybe the bacon-reliant ones! There are also a lot of creative and appealing ideas in here that are begging to be extracted and used for other dishes, especially some of the home-made dips and sauces.
But listen: Even if you cannot cook, this book is a must-have for any fan who feels strongly, as I do, about the countless moments when food has played a part in the worldbuilding of the Winchesters. Because Supernatural: The Official Cookbook is really more than just a collection of recipes. It’s a catalogue of memories, reminding us of Supernatural’s most significant food-driven moments and, as in any story, what cooking and eating can represent or reveal about characters.
Author Julie Tremaine is, by all accounts, a Serious Food Writer. She’s also clearly a Serious Supernatural Fan (for the record, she’s Team Castiel) and according to her author acknowledgements, she dreamt up this project by herself, pitched it to the publisher, and crossed her fingers. Luckily, the idea was a winner and we now have this lovingly-compiled volume on the way.
This fannish element, I believe, is key to the book’s success, because while no one who works on Supernatural itself ever half-asses anything, it must be admitted that tie-in books for other franchises can sometimes land more on the miss side of the hit-or-miss spectrum, and not be very valuable pieces for hardcore fans.
I don’t mean to introduce needless negativity into what is a very positive review, but as I was reading the cookbook, I couldn’t help but think of how easily this project, in other hands, could have come across as basic and transparently careless, even riddled with errors, slapped together by someone fulfilling a marketing brief they didn’t really give a damn about. Instead, like any hearty, home-cooked meal — or the very best of pies — Supernatural: The Official Cookbook is a complete labor of love.
Insight Editions prides itself on creating beautiful, high-quality products that enrich a fan’s engagement with a fictional world in a genuine way, and the author’s dedication to the task at hand — tracking down the show’s biggest food moments throughout the whole series, writing passages of context about what they mean, finding recipes to suit the food on screen and even inventing recipes from scratch to represent the show’s mystery dishes (like Winchester Surprise) or to honor a particular character (like a signature Rowena cocktail incorporating Scotch, for her heritage, and a swirling potion effect) — is apparent on every page.
Even some food-related moments which don’t call for a recipe page — like the memory of young Dean cooking “scabetti-ohs” for Sam, eventually handing over the last of the coveted Lucky Charms, or the boys’ experience with trendy LA “vegetable water” — are commemorated throughout the book, inset in boxes to remind us of moments when food and drink has been an important storytelling tool, revealing something worth commenting on about a character.
This overall consciousness as a driving force is the real clincher for me about why Supernatural: The Official Cookbook matters. Because it’s like this — in film and TV, every choice that a character makes tells us something important about who they are. Even if it’s an incidental visual, something not pointed out in the dialogue: the clothes a character chooses to wear, the way they do their hair, how they decorate their room. These things may have been selected by various parts of a production team, but inside of the fictional universe of a show, they allow us to extrapolate the character’s mindset, because inside the canon, for example, a costume designer didn’t provide a wardrobe — the character bought those clothes for themselves, and had to have put thought into making those choices.
Sam’s longer locks, for example, could have initially been borne of his ongoing rebellion against John, an ex-Marine. And don’t even get me started on how far Dean takes every chance to dress up that comes his way — his cozy, chunky social worker knits compared to Sam’s simple sweaters, or whatever this blazer was.
The fact that Cas never changes his clothes could represent his own perceived lack of personhood, or speak to his cosmic perspective on the universe where something as insignificant as clothing does not matter a whit. And some elements go beyond conjecture into clear unspoken worldbuilding fact — Dean, despite comments to the contrary, reads a lot, as he keeps a healthy personal collection of books in his bedroom, separate to the Bunker’s library.
The same goes for a character’s relationship with food. Food, in our lives, is a huge factor of emotional experience and a trigger for memory, and the same goes for inside the world of Supernatural. Food, on the show, is often a focus for humor, like Dean’s frequent fried food mouthgasm indulgences and his judging of Sam’s salads, and sometimes for pathos, like Dean’s recollection of Mary’s tomato rice soup to the younger version of his mother. Or sometimes both, like Sully’s feast for Sam, pulled straight from the childhood memories of a lonely isolated kid who had no idea just how real his imaginary friend was, or Jack’s delighted introduction to candy, selling the audience immediately on his innocence, and rending our hearts when his three adopted fathers shared the same treats in his memory at his wake.
More than just eating, cooking has also been used as a notable element of storytelling for the character. Dean in particular loves to cook, and he is good at it. He’s often in the kitchen these days, the main person in the Bunker who handles food for the family, but as early as season 1, we see him, as a childhood flashback, using a motel hotplate and saucepan to prepare meals as best he can for Sam, and throughout the series, various anecdotes build this picture of his attempts, with limited resources, to make a home life on the road as his brother’s primary caregiver.
The way Dean relishes eating also tells us he sees food as an indulgence, a pure escapist pleasure and a comfort, and he tries to pass this on as a way of showing love — it’s something he can do to nurture others. When he attempts the “apple-pie life” at Sam’s urging, after the events of season 5, he’s shown cooking during his year with Lisa and Ben — not just manly “grilling” but pancake breakfasts and such. And when the guys move into the Bunker in season 8, one of Dean’s first orders of “nesting” business is to construct homemade burgers, complete with fresh tomato and brioche buns, thrilled to have a kitchen of his very own.
And yet, despite what the audience knows about Dean thus far, Sam is skeptical, even doubtful of his brother’s cooking, side-eyeing and saying, “I just didn’t think you knew what a kitchen was.” He soon learns how wrong he was as he starts to chew. Sam could have responded any way, just with a “thanks, man,” or anything else at all. Instead, the choice to play this moment out represents something deep. This moment, for me, has always been huge, surrounded by flashing lights, one of the biggest turning points in the show and in the Winchester relationship.
Because it showcases a longtime misunderstanding from brother to brother about the kind of guy that Dean is, proves that Sam is ignorant of some of Dean’s skills, passions and values, and also of his love language. It reminds us that Sam has never lived with Dean in a family home before, and, most importantly, that he clearly doesn’t have solid memories of the level of care and nurturing that the young Dean gave him as a child, such as Dean’s invented 101 different ways to make macaroni and cheese when snowed in at a particular motel, whereas we know that those memories have stuck with Dean, highlighting the long-time imbalance in their dynamic due to Dean’s duty of care.
It invites us to imagine that Dean probably has similar wrong assumptions about Sam’s skills, interests, perception of the world and preferred lifestyle that he will discover about his brother in the coming months. It asks us to think about the brothers thinking about each other in a new light. It tells us that this is a new era of Winchester brotherhood, and that it’s going to be a better one than ever before.
Since settling in Lebanon, since the structure of their lives has changed so fundamentally, since they’ve got to do things like acquire possessions, hold movie nights, go grocery shopping, and clean their house, Sam and Dean have actually gotten to know each other better. Supernatural started with the brothers having a lot of misunderstandings about each other. Their lifestyles on the road were full of circumstantial behaviors that exacerbated these “roles” and the Bunker paved the way to a more comfortable, open clarity between them, a literal and metaphorical space to grow into how they want to live in a home and what that tells us (and each other) about their actual wiring as human beings.
It’s allowed Sam to open a Netflix account, buy the good shampoo, set a jogging route, to buy organic and eat as clean as he wants, and catalogue a huge occult collection, probably securing the brothers’ financial stability along the way. It’s allowed Dean to reveal what a neat freak and a pedant he actually is about housework, to enjoy keeping liquor in a crystal decanter, to swan around in a bathrobe, and to let him wash his car in booty shorts.
I genuinely don’t think we would have gotten that “you love chick flicks” moment in the season 11 finale — a gigantic victory in Sam’s understanding of which of his brother’s behaviors are a construct within Dean’s ongoing battle with performative toxic masculinity — if it wasn’t for the shift from the road to the Bunker. It’s allowed them to chill out and just be. And that first home-cooked burger is a symbol of all of that — everything the brothers hadn’t gotten a chance to explore yet and are about to.
The return of Mary in season 12 also used food to make some extremely crucial commentary about expectations vs. reality — to Dean, his mother was a perfect domestic goddess Madonna figure, the living embodiment of traditional motherly love. Dean, in turn, also became a nurturing soul — in short, he’s a feeder — but facing the reality of his mother at age 40, rather than holding onto the picture his four-year-old mind clung to, leaves him feeling pretty shaken as he learns that his mental ideal was a fabrication, either of his own baby brain or of his father’s stories.
Here, food — meatloaf, in particular — is used to tell a story about expectations vs. reality, disappointment and disappointing someone, and about needing to adjust, let go of perceptions and take someone as they are. Later, in season 14, when Dean thinks he’ll definitely have to send himself to the bottom of the ocean, he visits his mother and manages to create a special memory with her that’s both in line with all his childhood fantasies and also incorporating all the truths about who Mary really is.
Cooking together with his mom, downplaying his own skills and suggesting the one thing that he knows she can actually make, Dean manages to reconcile a lot of the displacement he once felt and create something new and better in its place, perfect because it’s real. And this in itself is a precursor to the once-in-a-lifetime family dinner that all four Winchesters — mother, father and two sons — would soon get to share.
Within its pages, Supernatural: The Official Cookbook asks you to think about all these things and more, a careful consideration of what the role of food in Supernatural tells us about the characters’ histories and personalities. It’s a true feast for fans, tantalizing more than just the tastebuds and satisfying more than just the stomach.
Supernatural: The Official Cookbook is available on November 5 — preorder via Insight Editions from your book retailer of choice now!