Top Cookbooks of 2011

by Emily Bell and Jeff Harding
December 2011

Cookbooks

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking
Dr. Nathan Myhrvold with Chris Young and Maxime Bilet, Photographs by Ryan Matthew Smith and Nathan Myhrvold (The Cooking Lab)
Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook
Daniel Humm and Will Guidara (Little, Brown and Company)
Mourad New Moroccan
Mourad Lahlou (Artisan Publishing)
Next Restaurant: Paris 1906
Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas with Dave Beran, Photography by Christina Seel (Achatz LLC)
Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire: The Original, Unabridged Translation Into English
Auguste Escoffier, translated by H.L. Cracknell and R.J. Kaufmann J. W. Wiley & Sons (J. Wiley & Sons)
For Cod and Country
Barton Seaver (Sterling Publishing Co.)
Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal
Jennifer McLagan (Ten Speed Press)
VOLT Ink.: Bryan Voltaggio & Michael Voltaggio. Recipes. Stories. Brothers.
Bryan Voltaggio and Michael Voltaggio (Olive Press)
Milk: Momofuku Milk Bar
Christina Tosi (Clarkson Potter)

Each year a slew of cookbooks and culinary-credos hit the presses, filling shelves with the collected wisdom of our food industry heroes. Some are narrow in scope—an ingredient, a technique, a chewy personal tell-all—while others attempt (and succeed) at swallowing a tradition, life, national pantry, or concept in its intricate entirety. And while almost all of them are worthy of a place in life’s collected library, the precious real estate of the professional bookshelf requires a bit of personalized, picky editing. So we’ve narrowed down our top picks: cookbooks, memoirs, and culinary guides of all shapes and sizes to fill stomachs, inspire imaginations, and prepare food industry pros for the inevitable challenges and changes of the upcoming culinary year. And for when things (inevitably?) go wrong, we have a list of our top drinks books of 2011 to help you update your cellars, revamp your bar programs, and fill your cups for the year to come.

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking

The Cooking Lab
February 2011
In purely technical terms, Modernist Cuisine is a comprehensive codification of culinary techniques. In cultural terms, the fact that it spans five volumes, covers topics in meticulous scientific depth, and essentially transforms the fundamental approach to modern cooking, makes it a culinary revolution, printed and bound. Not that Nathan Myrvhold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet are looking to challenge the basics of cuisine; quite the opposite, they’re looking to explore them more deeply, as deeply as they’ve been explored. And with volumes including History and Fundamentals, Techniques and Equipment, Animals and Plants, Ingredients and Preparations, and Plated Dish Recipes—with a Kitchen Manual, because let's face it, you're out of you're league—they're exploring (and explaining) everything from the hows and whys of traditional methods to the science behind the vanguard techniques of the last 30 years. And all this from a project that began as an exposition of sous vide and food safety (which Myhrvold covers in unprecedented depth in Volume One). Bisected photographs give immediate visual logic to explanations of technique and product, making this an indispensable reference guide for any cook, chef, or visionary looking to keep pace with—or even dream beyond—the technical, conceptual, poetic precision of modern cuisine.

Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook

Daniel Humm and Will Guidara
Little, Brown and Company
October 2011
Even as it solidifies the restaurant’s Michelin dominance, Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook has a soft-spoken modesty and grace to it. It might be the book’s layout—a broad, white cover delicately engraved with the restaurant’s logo, wide pages of complex recipes, and vivid, artistic dish shots. The two-year project of Executive Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara, Eleven Madison Park is an embodiment of not only the restaurant’s culinary perspective—as Danny Meyer’s calls it in his foreword, “reinventing the classic four-star experience for a new generation”—it’s a personification of the EMP experience from the inside out. Everything from the staff’s shared Thanksgivings to the mission statement planning meeting of 2009 where Humm and Guidara decide to “reach for the summit” is shared, part of a cultural, culinary narrative that renews itself every season. The recipes are high-caliber, which is why Guidara recommends amateur cooks don’t feel obligated to tackle recipes completely. (Requests for clarification can be sent to cookbook@elevenmadisonpark.com, because, in true Meyer restaurant form, “we are here if you need us.”) Professionals and fans alike will enjoy the “Day in the Life” at the book’s end, where we learn, among other things, some typical choices for the dining room set-up play list (Jay Z, the Rolling Stones, and Arcade Fire).

Mourad New Moroccan

Mourad Lahlou
Artisan Publishing
September 2011
Mourad New Moroccan is like an invitation to encounter cuisine the way its author did: by memory. An economics PhD candidate with no professional culinary ambitions, Mourad Lahlou came to cooking by accident—or, more accurately, by tradition, nostalgically reviving and building upon the foodways of his Moroccan homeland. And with Mourad New Moroccan, Lahlou shares how he bridged the gap between the okra and lamb stews of his bustling family home in Casablanca and the refined contours of his award-winning cuisine at Aziza. The book begins with an introduction to seven indispensable factors of Moroccan (and specifically Mourad-Moroccan) cooking, with “master classes” that have approachable titles like “Dude. Preserved Lemons.” And “The Charmoula Effect.” From the image of women rolling couscous to the incredible versatility of aforementioned charmoula, it’s like an insider’s guide to the human traditions behind flavor. And the recipes that follow like “Figs, Crème Fraîche, Arugula, Mint” and “Dungeness Crab, Meyer Lemon, Harissa Butter” join the stories and savor—a warm, inviting, second-generation homage to first generation flavors.

Next Restaurant: Paris 1906

Achatz LLC
December 2010
It’s apt that the same year that saw the original, unabridged translation of the Guide Culinaire also saw the publication of Next Restaurant: Paris 1906—the wireless, cyber-bound, great culinary grandson of Escoffier’s original. The first in the “near-real-time” documentation of Next Restaurant’s time-and-taste jumping menu publications, Paris 1906 presents both the rationale for their starting point and the extensive, elegant menu that made up their first three-month culinary tour, courtesy of Executive Chef Dave Beran. "By starting Next in Paris in 1906, we honored one of the greatest chefs of all time," says Achatz, "and in the process showed … just how far—or not—cooking has evolved in the last 100 years.” Recipes give reference numbers, so you can check back to Escoffier’s originals [“Potage a la Tortue Claire,” (907); “Bombe Ceylan” (4826)]. But unlike Achatz et alia, Escoffier was scant on instruction, not to mention void on visuals, which are presented here in full, color-rich, iPad perfection. Photos showcase Beran’s modern aesthetic updates on the French classics—Next tends to plate where Escoffier buffets—and give readers a peek into the cobalt blue, industrial-chic, visually spare jumping-off platform that is the Next restaurant space. At a radically affordable $4.99, it’s an easy addition to your iBook shelf. Just leave room for the next Next, coming soon to an iPAD near you.

Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire: The Original, Unabridged Translation Into English

Auguste Escoffier, translated by H.L. Cracknell and R.J. Kaufmann J. W. Wiley & Sons
J. Wiley & Sons
May 2011
When Auguste Escoffier first thought of this definitive guide to the cannon of French cuisine in 1882, he intended it “for the younger generation … for those who, starting work today, will in twenty years’ time be at the top of their profession.” With the publication of this newest English translation, almost 130 years since the first spark of inspiration, Escoffier gets his wish. (Again.) Because it’s the next generation of culinary talents that will now dive into the master’s carefully catalogued guide to classic French cuisine, confident in its authenticity. Amateurs beware: Escoffier’s famous narrative recipes assume a level of culinary mastery (Oeufs Mignon assumes knowledge of Sauce Périgueux which assumes knowledge of a “well-flavored Demi-glace,” etc.), putting the book squarely in the realm of students and professionals. And especially for those students of the culinary arts not (yet) versed in its rich past, introductions by Heston Blumenthal (who delves into the past at Dinner) and CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan put Escoffier’s genius in historic perspective. “The man casts a long shadow,” says Blumenthal. “We eat the way we eat because of Auguste.”

For Cod and Country

Sterling Publishing Co.
April 2011
Sustainability Superhero and 2006 Washington DC Rising Star Chef Barton Seaver wants to change the way this country approaches fish. His cookbook, For Cod and Country, provides invaluable information about sustainable cooking to anyone who cares to learn and change the way the nation consumes. With an agile authority only a professional chef-turned-full-time-advocate could master, Seaver sheds light on every aspect of the still-evolving notion of “sustainability.” The introductory guide includes a breakdown of sustainable versus destructive fishing practices, tasting notes on sustainable species with preparation techniques, a handy substitution chart for sustainable fish, and recommendations on how and where to find them. The recipes that follow are organized by seasons, all of them fresh, playful, and sophisticatedly food forward.

Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal

Jennifer McLagan
Ten Speed Press
August 2011
Most chefs are no stranger to the titular “odd bits” in Bones and Fat author Jennifer McLagan’s latest book. Between Fergus Henderson’s definitive Whole Beast meat manifesto, an increasingly pervasive culture of sustainability, and Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel offal-worship, the “chefs and off-cuts” love story is well told. But McLagan isn’t looking to introduce odd bits, she’s looking to reintroduce them, to point not only chefs but also their dining public to the rich, lengthy history of discarded meat products in our global culinary heritage. Given the potentially horrifying subject matter at hand (“I’m not trying to shock, although I am sure I will.”) McLagan begins with a primer on “odd bits,” which she has wisely swapped in for terms like “off cuts” and “offal,” both for technical accuracy—she’s dealing with everything from lamb’s neck and testicles to the sexier sweetbreads and their ilk—and to capture a sense of their culinary taboo. The rest of the book is divided as an animal would be, “the head, the front, the middle, and the back end.” Amusing history lessons and dedicated primers on some of the more challenging odd bits accompany recipes of varying exoticism like “Headcheese for the Unconvinced,” “Minted Tripe and Pea Salad,” and “Chocolate Blood Ice Cream.”

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a (Reluctant) Chef

Random House Inc.
February 2011
Reviews of Gabrielle Hamilton’s bare-bones memoir are splayed across newspapers and magazines, much the way the (reluctant) chef splays her checkered—read: relatable, human—past across the book’s 291 pages. “Triple B”’s best-seller status is no surprise. Not only is the public perpetually hungry for a gritty memoir, but chefs seem to agree that Hamilton hit the tone and spirit of behind-the-burner struggle right on its gnarled head. Emotionally naked, tattooed with kitchen burns and knife scars, Hamilton leaves no stone or past indiscretion unturned on her journey to chefdom. She follows the meandering and unlikely course from a bucolic and bizarre childhood in Eastern Pennsylvania to her first haphazard and short-lived stint in the front of house, and soon after to the kitchen. “And that, just like that, is how a whole life can start,” the Prune chef recalls of her first foray into the back of house. As much storyteller as chef—her other vocational track was writing—Hamilton shares herself with an almost startling openness. What results is not culinary, per se, but a cook’s book and a very human story in the end. Whether or not the public continues to immerse itself in the chef subculture of cuisine, Hamilton succeeds here in proving that a chef isn’t superhuman, subhuman, or even a rock star—even if she can party like one. She’s just a girl who got a job, and kept it.

VOLT Ink.: Bryan Voltaggio & Michael Voltaggio. Recipes. Stories. Brothers.

Olive Press
September 2011
It’s the right time for a Voltaggio brothers cookbook. Immediately post-“Top Chef” would have been too soon. Wait any longer, and the fraternal drama wanes. But open up VOLT Ink., a masculine cookbook with the refined edge of its authors, and you know it’s a cookbook for the times. Savvy to its locavore, greenmarket audience, the book’s chapters are divided by ingredient families, so readers can jump from “Goosefoot” and “Mammal” to “Nightshade” and back. Recipes from each brother—like “Asparagus, Spring Garlic, Sorrel Leaves and Blooms, Prosciutto” (Bryan) and “Green Garlic Milk Soup, Almonds, Green Financier, Fried Milk, Frog Leg Confit, and Almond Praline” (Michael)—illustrate the versatility of their ingredients and the essential influence of personality. Craft, of course, is never overlooked, with the Voltaggios variously sharing hard-earned wisdom, from artichoke cleaning to the char-able virtues of the Laurel family. Dual forwards from mentors José Andrés and Charlie Palmer and exquisite photographs of dishes and ingredients answer the book’s humble intensity with a note of clear, distinguished accomplishment.

Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Taste of Vienna

Kurt Gutenbrunner
Rizzoli
September 2011
“What I wanted was my own interpretation of the cooking I had grown up with—a neue cuisine that was half Mozart, half Lou Reed.” How apt that Kurt Gutenbrunner introduces his inspiration this way, a Viennese-American combination of Mozart’s sublimely perfected genius and musician Lou Reed’s free-form inspiration. Not only does it reflect the chef’s cuisine, it sets up the mood and tone of the cookbook. From the artistic freedoms of the Vienna Secession to the nightlife culture of cabaret, Austria is a land of artistic and cultural interdependencies. And every page of Gutenbrunner’s cookbook is a reflection, a culinary manifestation of classically Viennese cosmopolitanism. An introduction on turn-of-the-century Vienna, “the City of Dreams,” covers everything from art and architecture to the culture of coffee houses and the birth of psychoanalysis. And the cultural inclusions don’t end there. Recipes for the chef’s elegant updates on traditional Austrian cuisine (“Fresh Morels with Sherry and Semolina Dumplings” and “Pheasant Roasted in Salt Dough a la Heinz Winkler”) are interspersed with paintings by Gustav Klimt, photos of the chef in boyhood, and meditations on classic Austrian ingredients.

Milk: Momofuku Milk Bar

Christina Tosi
Clarkson Potter
September 2011
Milk is like the sweet cookbook complement to the spice (and sass?) of David Chang’s Momofuku empire. Put together by Christina Tosi, the genius behind Momofuku’s smartly off-brand brand of nostalgic treats, the book teems with recipes (and mouthwatering pictures) for things like “Red Velvet Ice Cream,” “Cinnamon Bun Pie,” and, oh yeah, “Cornflake-Chocolate-Chip-Marshmallow Cookies.” Tosi isn’t just on a nostalgia kick; her recipes are an answer (the correct answer) to the deep-seated American hunger for classic flavors done up with exquisite technique—ideally with no regard for the prospect of overindulgence. Tosi shares her pastry prowess with a “Techniques” section designed to not only help fellow chefs and ambitious home cooks recreate the specific, crave-worthy taste and texture of her treats, but also to get them into the habit of best Milk Bar practices (gelatin in ice cream, scraps-foraging, and a pervasive policy of no-sifting). The bonus? Work your way through the book, done up in the “real talk” style of Momofuku’s work-hard-play-hard professionalism, and you’ll be one of the gang—a certifiable “hardbody” ready for battle in the bakery.