Top 10 Cookbooks of 2013

by By Emily Bell and Sean Kenniff, with Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
December 2013

When you're hunkered down in the kitchen for 100-hour-week stretches, you can always on cookbooks—if not dreamful sleep or vacation—for culinary inspiration. Cookbooks can help thrust you over a creative road block and teach your sous chefs new skills, and often, they may be your only lifeline to what's happening in the outside world. A carefully selected shelf is crowning achievement, and a life-long collection is an archive both of food culture and your evolution as a chef. We've read (and re-read) many books this year and have assembled a list of the cookbooks we love most. They include technique-driven books, magnus opuses, memoir-style cookbooks, and books with a scientific approach. The authors range from icons to passionate bloggers, and topics range from mixology to abalone and pizza. Brazil, London, New York, California, and the South are all represented. While overall sales of books are falling, cookbook sales continue to grow, making chefs a driving force behind food and literary culture.

Maximum Flavor

1. Maximum Flavor: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook

By Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot
(Clarkson Potter, New York, 2013)

If anyone can do it, Aki and Alex can! And they want to show you exactly how.  Ideas in Food super-bloggers, authors, and business consultants Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot are attempting the (seemingly) impossible: bridging the gap between rampant scientific advances in modernist cuisine and the humbler tools, techniques, and general knowledge-base of the home cook. Maximum Flavor is surprisingly slim—no six-volume opus here—and chapter titles are entirely unfrightening: “Breakfast,” “Fish & Shellfish,” “Poultry & Meat.” But the book delivers on what its subtitle declares: “Recipes that Will Change the Way You Cook”—whether it’s by adopting one of their flavor concentrating techniques or by simply catching their contagious spirit of experimentation. Aki and Alex have embedded in Maximum Flavor their year’s worth of studying the hows and whys of cooking. The results are recipes like Pumpernickel Fried Fluke with a whipped cream dispenser-lightened beer batter, Microwave Cheese “Danish,” Grilled Artichokes with toasted milk solids, and big, thick Butter Burgers, packed with chuck and butter. Pages on herbs and spices, pressure cookers, and sous vide explore the seemingly familiar (or inaccessibly alien to the home cook) through the authors curious lens, bringing new perspective and presenting their findings and recommendations in a clear and approachable manner. Art Director Jane Treuhaft and Designer Laura Palese have wrapped Aki and Alex’s ideas in food into one practical, powerful, glossy package.

D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients

2. D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients

By Alex Atala
(Phaidon, London, 2013)

In his introduction to D.O.M., Alex Atala recalls what he learned on a backpacking trip across Europe—the same trip that introduced him to his passion for cooking. “I shall never cook Belgian cuisine as a Belgian chef will, nor French food as a French chef nor Italian food as an Italian chef.” The reason, and what’s defined Atala’s success to this day, is that Atala is Brazilian—as a man, as a chef, to the bone. And with D.O.M., he created an outpost for that ardent love of place, what Alain Ducasse calls in the forward, “the most important phenomenon taking place today in the world of gastronomy.” With this long-awaited English magnum opus, Atala is monumentalizing the importance, vibrancy, and complexity of Brazilian ingredients with his pure, modernist preparations. The Manioc Mille-Feuilles, built on Atala’s classical French training, showcase foundational Brazilian ingredients such as manioc (aka cassava, yucca, etc.) and queso de coalho—a ubiquitous Brazilian cheese that lends itself to everything from Pao de Queijo (Cheese Buns) to beachside grilling. Atala’s elegant plating style, exhibited in dramatic photographs by Sergio Coimbra, might belie his intimacy with the ingredients—if it didn’t read loud and clear, recipe after recipe.

Manresa: An Edible Reflection

3. Manresa: An Edible Reflection

By David Kinch and Christine Muhlke
(Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2013)

Chefs the world over have bound their menus, to some degree or another, to the seasons. Chef David Kinch has bound his menu to a farm, whatever it produces, from year to year. As Eric Ripert says in his foreword, “You can’t dedicate your work more to nature than that.” But that’s no surprise. For Kinch, chef and humble purist behind Manresa, nature is food, and Manresa: An Edible Reflection is more testimony than reflection. The book not only tells the tale of a restaurant, which in its first three years was simply “trying to be a part of California cuisine,” it reveals the spirit that embodies the place, from Kinch’s first bite of a revelatory tomato (that would result in the founding of Love Apple Farms) to the evolution of an exacting and delicate hand with seasonal produce. Recipes, which are written exactly as they’re done in the restaurant, read like ingredients lists: “Tomatoes, Pistachios, and Allium Flowers”; “Clams with Beans, Chamomile, Brassicas, and Sorrels”; “Turnips and Radishes, Allspice Tangelo with Savory Granola.” Add photographs by Eric Wolfinger and, inevitably, you have a wondrous, beautiful book featuring detailed close-ups and fantastical landscapes, the backyard of Kinch and the source of his inspiration.

The Drunken Botanist

4. The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Great Drinks

By Amy Stewart
(Algonquin Books, New York, 2013)

At this point in the history of spirit scribing, the cocktail section of the world’s mixology book is packed. The tomes have been written, the recipes shared from bars, restaurants, and enthusiastic cocktailians the world over. But as with any good drink, there’s always room for one more, especially when it adds something new to the mix. Compact and concise (and coherently written, no drunken slurring), The Drunken Botanist is essentially an encyclopedia of the kinds of plants, herbs, fruits—basically anything that can grow—that make our favorite fermentables, spirits, liqueurs, amaros, wines, and beers. Clearly Stewart’s not just making the juniper-gin connection. In an era of the hyper-informed mixologist, her book treads deep into the garden, pulling out everything from the ever-so-slightly toxic sweet flag grass used in Campari and Chartreuse to ancient methods for fermenting corn (chewing and spitting the kernels to jump-start conversion) to a disputation of the rumor that saffron, used as a bittering agent in ancient times, is actually the predominant ingredient of Fernet Branca. How-tos, odd facts, and cocktail recipes are scattered throughout the book, so you can test your newfound botany savvy in liquid form.

Coi: Stories and Recipes)

5. Coi: Stories and Recipes

By Daniel Patterson
(Phaidon, London, 2013)

Coi: Stories and Recipes has heft. Weighing in at 304 hardbound pages with a forward by Harold McGee, the book has both literal mass and gravitas from the hard-earned authority of its author, Daniel Patterson. It also has lightness, indicated first by the cover—faint watermarks of tree branches against pale white—then carried on by Patterson’s touch with food. His characteristic care and finesse are behind such dishes as Monterey Bay Abalone with Nettle-Dandelion Salsa Verde, Spicy Breadcrumbs, and Wild Fennel Flowers; and Carrots Roasted in Coffee Beans with Crème Fraiche, Oats, and Cilantro. Patterson’s style is anchored with technique, passion, and integrity and lifted with creativity, and his elegant, delicate aesthetic. The book follows through, balancing structurally intimidating recipes—written entirely in block print, with what seems like the smallest possible font—with generous visuals, first of Patterson’s beloved muse, California (blue sky over mountains, crashing waves on the coastline, lush thick-treed forests), then of a Coi 11-course tasting menu, and pages of recipes thereafter. Visuals and even gentle humor balance serious cuisine throughout: the recipe for Prather Ranch Beef Encrusted in Lichen begins: “If, for some crazy reason, you decide to make this dish, then we’ll need to have a talk about the lichen powder.”

The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook

6. The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook

By Michael Anthony, Dorothy Kalins, and Danny Meyer
(Clarkson Potter, New York, 2013)

Once a restaurant, now an institution just shy of two decades, a Gramercy Tavern cookbook seems like an inevitability. In all its health and wealth, the landmark restaurant’s cookbook finally (and characteristically casually) arrived in 2013—for Gramercy Tavern, the second house that Danny Meyer built, it’s all about timing. The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook is the embodiment of a restaurant that is at once professional and inviting, sophisticated and warm, grand and prosaically charming. The story of Gramercy is also the story of Meyer’s development as a restaurateur and of Michael Anthony’s evolution as a chef, taking over after Tom Colicchio. But as with the restaurant itself, Meyer and Anthony see themselves not as stars on a platform, but motivational forces behind one of New York’s great dining traditions, and the book, as with Meyer’s service and Anthony’s cooking philosophy, instructs—fundamentally—to give. There are seasons of recipes, beginning with Spring (“Sugar Snap Peas with Lobster”) and culminating in Winter (“Duck Breast with Confit and Quinces”). All the dishes are meant to be accessible to the aspirational home cook. Along the food odyssey, stories from every aspect of the restaurant, from design to the talents who walked the floor and passed through the kitchen, are recounted—covering nearly 20 years an iconic restaurant’s life.

Daniel: My French Cuisine

7. Daniel: My French Cuisine

By Daniel Boulud and Sylvie Bigar
(Grand Central Life & Style, New York, 2013)

When you put Daniel Boulud’s legacy into a book, it’s going to be big. There’s no way around it. But it’s also going to be elegant, inspiring, and challenging—very much like the career of this founding father of modern French gastronomy in America, who came up from the ranks of the traditional brigade to lead his own across an ocean. Indeed, My French Cuisine is an apt subtitle, as Boulud built his career on venerably translating and transforming the French classics of his youth into something new, something untasted, something much intimately his own. Not that the book, or Boulud (who bought Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire with money earned peeling carrots and potatoes) dispenses with tradition. The book shares the cuisine of “Restaurant Daniel, iconic French classics,” the story of 12 iconic dishes prepared at the restaurant as told by Bill Buford; “and French regional dishes,” which Boulud makes at home, incidentally about 20 feet above the restaurant. Almost too casually interspersed are essays from Boulud on a variety of fundamental culinary topics—“Stocks and Sauces,” “Truffles,” “Bread”—and deceptively humble, precious tidbits of expertise earned over the course of an incredible career.

To the Bone

8. To the Bone

By Paul Liebrandt and Andrew Friedman
(Clarkson Potter, New York, 2013)

Provocateur Paul Liebrandt appears on the cover of his book To the Bone in a sensual embrace with a fish that he’s simultaneously eviscerating, signaling that pure, unadulterated Liebrandt will be splashed across the pages to follow. With the help of the expert and artful photography by Evan Sung, the story of Liebrandt’s culinary evolution unfolds—from ambitious 15-year-old prodigy adrift in European tradition to head chef at some of New York City’s most sophisticated restaurants. Given the bevvy of star players he’s worked with over the years (Raymond Blanc, Pierre Gagnaire, David Bouley, Marco Pierre White), anyone with an interest in an insider’s point of view, would do well to pick up To the Bone, which reads more personal narrative than culinary instructional (recipes only begin on page 231). Instead of straight cuisine how-to, Liebrandt’s chapters are divided chronologically (“Into the Fire, London 1995”), starting with his earliest days in cooking and escorting us through famed kitchens, personal triumphs, disappointments, and revelations, ultimately leading to the founding of his own restaurants, Corton, and, most recently, The Elm. Pervading every page of Liebrandt’s cookbook is a sense of his palpable drive and intimate relations with food and himself, to the bone.

Roberta's Cookbook

9. Roberta's Cookbook

By Carlo Mirarchi, Brandon Hoy, Chris Parachini, and Katherine Wheelock
(Clarkson Potter, New York, 2013)

Reading Roberta’s first-ever cookbook (also going to Roberta’s) is like spending a weekend with some loveably eccentric family, the kind capable of building a successful restaurant without investors, who nick-names a loyal regular (an injured dove, no less) “Motherfucker,” and who puts out some of the most consistently exciting Italian food the boroughs have seen.  The genesis of this family was in New Haven, at the only culinary bridge linking Brooklyn and Connecticut that we know of: Frank Pepe, a venerated hundred year-old institution serving some of the best pizza (the hours-long wait kind) in a relaxed but boisterous environment. It’s a vibe the Roberta’s team re-imagined in a formerly empty warehouse space in Bushwick. The neighborhood was sufficiently “blank” in 2007 for the largely FOH crew to paint and scrawl in any way they dreamed up for their pizza-place canvass, and BOH cooked—just as freely and painstakingly. The story the cookbook tells is as much about the peculiar, passionate personalities that made a restaurant happen, as it’s about the adamantly ingredient-driven recipes themselves—everything from Roberta’s slightly bastardized Neopolitan pizza dough (adjusted for ovens without 900ºF capacity) and homemade fresh mozzarell, to an exquisitely simple Pappardelle with Duck Ragu. Roberta’s Cookbook is a trip—artful, interesting, and instructional. Chef Carlo Mirarchi’s crew, along with Art Director Ryan Rice, have collaborated to replicate on the page what they’ve built in Bushwick, creating a cookbook that is clear, concise, and cool. Look for the cranberry cover with a yellow skeleton.

The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen

10. The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen

By Matt Lee and Ted Lee
(Clarkson Potter, New York, 2013)

Acting as your personal guides to one of the most culinarily rich regions in the country, brothers Matt and Ted Lee honor the foodways and culture of their adopted hometown with their latest cookbook, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen. As much a personal memoir as cookbook, its stories and recipes meander through the streets, ingredients, and characters of the Holy City. “For kids born here, food is like a language,” write Matt and Ted, who moved south from New York at 8 and 10. “We had so much catching up to do.” Catch up they did, learning how to cast for shrimp, pick crabs, and the tricks to predicting seasonal turns. Recipes for dishes like Wentworth Street Crab Meat (a cheese-casserole-y ode to Southern suppers), Hoppin’ John (ideally, Carolina Gold rice and real red field peas), and the Collards Sandwich all pay tribute to the traditions and people that shaped the way the Lee’s grew to love food.  

HONORABLE MENTION

Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey

Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups (and Then Some)

By John Currence
(Andrew McMeel Publishing, New Jersey, 2013)

John Currence’s passion for food is the kind of passion born from a bright-hot family hearth—in this case planted firmly in New Orleans and featuring frequent pre-Mardi Gras celebrations, Tulane tailgating, and regular dinner parties courtesy of Currence’s mother and father. So it’s no surprise the Oxford, Mississippi, transplant and James Beard Award-winning chef’s style of cooking prefers intimacy, sensory impact, and comfort to presentation. Not that Currence shirks thoughtful plating, he’s just preoccupied with the flavors—where they come from and how they make it to the plate. Currence is unapologetically (and entertainingly) upfront in his introduction: “The mid-1980s,” when he got his start, “was not the era of celebrity for restaurant employees … Kitchens at the time were, for the most part, pirate ships full of derelicts, washouts, and fuckups.” It’s not shock value he’s after, but honesty. And it comes across in the depth and immediacy of his food, which he presents with as many stories as practical tips, in chapters named for the many exquisite actions and motions: “Frying,” “Pickling & Canning,” “Brining & Smoking”—the stuff that makes Southern food and drink so enduringly satisfying.