I love to read and I love to cook so what could be better than books about cooking? Ironically, despite my love for cookbooks (and a collection that out grew my bookshelf long ago), I almost never use recipes now that I’ve started developing my own. However, I still love to look at them for inspiration or research and don’t plan to stop buying them anytime soon! Whenever I travel, I like to pick up a cookbook or two that represents the cuisine of wherever I’m visiting. Not only do they help me learn about different culinary traditions, they’re the perfect souvenir to remind me of my holidays.
Here are a few of my current favourites that you might enjoy as well. Books marked with an asterisk (*) are great building blocks for the beginner cook’s library. For a list of sources and retailers, see the list at the bottom of the page.
Cookbooks and Cooking Reference Books
Sunday Suppers at Lucques – Suzanne Goin. This is one of the most inspiring books I have in my collection. Goin is a chef and owner of the popular Lucques restaurant in Los Angeles. The book features menus organized by season and Goin’s detailed descriptions make it easy for even amateurs to follow along. Beautiful photography and inspired menus make this a top pick for the seasonal cook.
The Balthazar Cookbook– Featuring French recipes from the renowned NYC restaurant, The Balthazar Cookbook is a newer addition to my shelf. The short rib recipe alone has made it a worthy purchase. I look forward to using it for further inspiration in the coming months.
Molto Italiano – Mario Batali. Mario Batali has become something of a household name for food lovers. His many NYC restaurants including Babbo and Lupa are packed on a regular basis and he’s frequently seen on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America and his most recent program, Spain…A Culinary Roadtrip, on PBS. Molto Italiano features rustic, homey authentic Roman cuisine that is accessible to the home cook.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking* – Marcella Hazan. In the 1970’s, Marcella Hazan brought authentic Italian cooking to Americans through her cookbooks and cooking classes. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking has fantastic recipes for Italian classics such as a long-simmered ragu and tomato with butter sauce. Marcella’s famous attention to detail make these recipes nearly fool-proof – if you follow her directions.
Knife Skills Illustrated* – Peter Hertzmann. A recent acquisition, I bought this helpful guide because I wanted to learn more effective knife skills to cut down on prep time (and potential danger from cutting myself!). It features detailed illustrations for both right- and left- handed cooks and covers topics such as chopping onions, zesting fruit and dicing turnips.
How to Cook Everything* – Mark Bittman. While the title might be a bit of exaggeration, Bittman’s tome does cover most of the basics, from aioli to zwieback. I use it frequently for reference, whether it’s to research turkey roasting times or figuring out how many eggs go in a hollandaise sauce. It’s a classic that would be at home in any cook’s kitchen.
Catalan Cuisine – Colman Andrews. I picked this up while in Barcelona last summer. Andrews calls the cuisine of Spain’s Catalan region “Europe’s last great culinary secret”. It’s a fascinating look at an underrated and delicious cuisine that many North Americans know little about. In addition to a cultural and historical discussion of the cuisine of Catalonia, Andrews provides many recipes for both classic and obscure traditional dishes.
Williams Sonoma Slow Cooking Essentials – Another recent acquisition, this is a great guide to slow cooking and braising, which is an ideal cooking method for cooler months. There are comprehensive instructions about how to select the right equipment and prep your ingredients for slow cooking. The accompanying photos and recipes are absolutely mouth-watering.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking* – Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. A classic essential for any serious cook, Julia Child’s first book covers many of the basics of French cooking. Explanations are clear and straightforward, making French cuisine accessible to beginners and pros alike for over 40 years.
Bistro Cooking – Patricia Wells. As a prolific cookbook writer and teacher, Patricia Wells has written extensively about French cooking and restaurants. Bistro Cooking features recipes from well-known bistros throughout France, including Brasserie Flo and L’Ami Louis.
The Art of Simple Food* – Alice Waters. Founder of the world famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkley, California, Waters has been preaching the gospel of local, seasonal ingredients for over 35 years, long before they became trendy buzz-words. Her approach to using the best ingredients in simple ways is both fresh and approachable. The Art of Simple Food is a great primer for the starter cook as well as an inspiration to more experienced home chefs.
epicurious.com – Not a book, obviously, but an excellent resource if you’re looking for ideas. Featuring recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines, users rate the recipes and provide comments. A search feature makes searching by ingredient or top rating simple.
The Flavours of Canada – Anita Stewart. This was the first book that got me excited about the idea of ‘Canadian cuisine’, a definition that is still evolving. An expert on the culinary traditions of Canada, Stewart highlights regional recipes based on tradition and using local ingredients.
Au Pied de Cochon – Martin Picard. From the chef/owner of the famous Montreal restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon is not a book for the faint of heart. Martin Picard cooks with all parts of the pig and is not shy about using game meats and high fat ingredients. The book features photos and humorous cartoon drawings that don’t gloss over exactly what happens to piggy and his friends in Picard’s kitchen. It also features recipes for classic Quebecois desserts such as Pouding Chômeur and Tarte au Sucre. Versions are published in both French and English.
Joy of Cooking* – Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. First published in 1931, Joy of Cooking can be found of the shelves of millions of cooks. In honour of its 75th anniversary, it was re-issued and modernized in 2006 to reflect a more modern palette. It’s a handy reference for everything from traditional sauces to baking techniques.
Food Memoirs and Biographies
My Life in France – Julia Child with Alex Prudhomme. The story of the legendary Julia Child’s time in France and how it shaped her outlook and eventual career as a cooking teacher, writer and the first tv chef. Written with her nephew, the biography is warm and engaging. A must-read for any Julia fan.
Amarcord – Marcella Hazan. Amarcord means ‘I remember’ in Italian and tells the fascinating story of how Marcella Hazan became an unlikely authority on authentic Italian cooking. From her time as a young girl during the World War II in Italy to becoming a renowned author and teacher, it’s the riveting story of a very interesting and determined woman.
Heat – Bill Buford. In this widely acclaimed best-seller, writer Bill Buford quits his day job to work at Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo. He chronicles his experiences with humour and exuberant detail. A must-read for anyone who has fantasized about quitting their job to become a chef. It’s not as romantic as it seems…
Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain. This best-selling memoir created a buzz when it was released a few years ago for its frank depiction of what really goes on behind the scenes in the restaurant industry (for example, don’t eat at any restaurant that has a dirty bathroom…). Despite the salacious details, it’s a well-written and engaging story of the often difficult, turbulent world of chefs and restauranteurs.
Mediterranean Summer – David Shalleck with Erol Munuz. A great summer read, Mediterranean Summer tells the story of a chef who was asked to become the head chef on a luxury yacht that spends the summer sailing the Mediterranean Sea. It will make you pine for an afternoon on-board, enjoying the great scenery, weather and of course, food of the Mediterranean.
Under the Tuscan Sun – Frances Mayes. A memoir that inspired a film of the same name, Mayes paints an idealized portrait of life in Cortona, Italy. Beautiful descriptions of la dolce vita will make you want to pack your bags and move to the Tuscan countryside immediately.
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto – Michael Pollan. Published in 2008, this best-seller by the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma discusses how we should approach eating. He builds upon his simple mantra of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” with advice such as “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food”. It’s a timely book for anyone interested in the issues surrounding our food and how we eat.
Some top cookbook retailers include:
Chapters / Indigo (Canada) – www.chapters.indigo.ca
Borders – www.borders.com
Barnes and Noble – www.barnesandnoble.com
Kitchen Arts and Letters – NYC
The Cookbook Store – Toronto
Bon Appétit and Happy Reading!