The best cookbooks of 2016 took us from Vivian Howard’s corner of North Carolina and Jessica Koslow’s hip pocket of L.A. to the mountains of Virgilio Martínez’s Peru. They were organized atypically by flavor profile, altitude, ingredient, and spice. Some didn’t even include recipes. We also opened new editions of books to slide into place next to your stained and tattered classics: the 25th anniversary edition of Institut Paul Bocuse Gastronomique, Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, and the English language version of El Cellar Can de Roca. Alphabetized just like your spice pantry, here are the Top Books for Cooks published in the year that wouldn’t end.
The Adventures of Fat Rice | by Abe Conlon, Adrienne Lo, and Hugh Amano; photographs by Dan Goldberg; illustations by Sarah Becan
The details: You’re about to know a whole helluva more about Macanese cuisine from its colonial roots to its modern home at Abe Conlon and Adrienne Lo’s Fat Rice in Chicago. Their edgy, art-filled cookbook rushes you full force onto the streets and into the kitchens of the tiny island of Macau. Chapters includes appetizers, noodles, seafood, poultry, meat, and sweets with illustrations from Sarah Becan bringing life to each section. Think comic strips featuring Conlon and Lo, movie posters, and step-by-step illustrations of how to fold chamuças, make fat noodles, and turn salt cod into floss.
Favorite recipe: Chatchini de Bacalhau (Crispy Golden Salt Cod “Chutney”), page 146
Why you should read it: Macanese food achieves what so many American chefs attempt—it seamlessly blends the foods and flavors of Eastern, Western, and African cultures into bold, soulful dishes. Conlon and Lo have logged the hours with home cooks and chefs to capture and preserve the cooking of Macau. You’d be hard-pressed to find these recipes recorded anywhere else.
Central | by Virgilio Martínez
The details: To eat at Virgilio Martínez’s Central is to experience the terroir and topography of Peru—with each dish linked to a specific altitude and geography. Central the cookbook is organized in the same fashion, exploring nearly every nook, product, and fine purveyor of Peru. Each chapter has recipes, stunning full-page photographs, and essays from Martínez, laying bare the inner-workings and creative processes behind the fourth best restaurant in the world.
Favorite Recipe: Amazonía Roja, page 177
Why you should read it: Short of booking a flight to Lima, this is as close as you’ll get to the heart of Central. The book showcases food as national identity while examining the micro-details and micro-climates responsible for Peru’s indigenous and modern cuisine. Why are chefs flocking to Peru for travel? Why are high-concept Peruvian restaurants popping up across the United States. Find out in this high-style, high-concept read.
Cúrate: Authentic Spanish Food from an American Kitchen | by Katie Button & Genevieve Ko; photographs by Evan Sung
The details: For starters, José Andrés and Ferran Adrià both wrote forwards. Adrià invites readers to “stroll through our rich Spanish cuisine, adapted by a cook who has made it hers.” Button and her husband Felix Meana worked at Café Atlantico and El Bulli before moving to Asheville, North Carolina, and opening Spanish tapas restaurant Cúrate. Button’s cooking at Cúrate is immediate and comforting, and her recipes in this nine-chapter cookbook follow suit, blending Southern influence (pickled okra skewers) with uber traditional Spanish home cooking (albondigas).
Favorite recipe: Adobo Fried Fish, page 103
Why you should read it: Spanish food—and the book’s recipes—center on family dining and everyday celebrations. It’s a spirit of cooking and hospitality that lots of chefs are trying to replicate in their restaurants, and Button is a master. She also gives framework for adapting Spanish cuisine to regional American cooking.
Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South | by Vivian Howard
The details: Clocking in at over 500 pages, Vivian Howard offers a tome for cooking in the New South—a place where myriad cultures and a modern sensibility build on a rich culinary tradition. Twenty-two of 24 chapters are organized by produce types (oysters and sausage are the exceptions), with Howard weaving in a chocolate cake into the “Beets” chapter and fried chicken livers into the “Figs” chapter. It’s a smart touch that reminds cooks that good, seasonal produce is the center of any real Southern table.
Favorite recipe: Refried Field Peas with Cheesy Grit Fritters and Celery Cilantro Salad, page 168
Why you should read it: This is big picture South, about 100 miles ahead of the clichéd Southern cooking that’s crept across the country—barbecue, fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese. In addition to curry-braised watermelon and peanut romesco, there’s an index of traditional Eastern North Carolina dishes. Oh, and you’ll learn how to pimp your grits.
Everything I Want to Eat | by Jessica Koslow with Maria Zizka; photographs by Claire Cotrell, Jaime Beechum, and Nacho Alegre
The details: When cooking from Everything I Want to Eat, it can feel like Jessica Koslow is standing right next to you (not in a creepy way) or is at least on speed dial. Simply, there are tidbits you don’t get in other cookbooks. Koslow gives you riffs on every recipe. She tells you what butter to buy and how to toast your challah just so. Koslow apologizes upfront for making her dishes—grain bowls, toasts, eggs every which way, salads, and cured fish—a tad complicated for home cooks. She’s not afraid to introduce dehydrated beets and fish skin.
Favorite recipes: Garlic Schmear, page 119; Schmearable Ricotta, page 262; Smoked Whitefish Schmear, page 44 (basically, all shmears and and their accompanying recipes)
Why you should read it: This is a chef’s book. The first photos are of breakfast tickets. Koslow drops references to mentor Anne Quatranno and Jacques Pepin’s eggs. She shares pictures of her clogs, farmers, favorite customers, CDC (yo, Javier!), and staff. She’s making jams with Thermapens and copper pots. Koslow speaks your language in this book. Bonus: even the baddest kitchen bros can’t compete with her Shady Lady criminal record exposed on pages 178 to 181.
Food and Beer | by Daniel Burns and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø with Josua David Stein; photographs by Gabrielle Stabile and Signe Birck
The details: Chef meets brewer in Food and Beer, a dialogue between Torst Chef Daniel Burns and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, founder of Evil Twin Brewing Company. Kicking off with a forward from Rene Redzepi (who endorses Burns’ beer-pairing prowess), the first half of the book follows with lessons on the shared flavors of food and beer—smoky, bitter, sweet—with Jeppe riffing on brews and Burns on beer’s role in the kitchen. The second half is dedicated to Burns’ Michelin-starred menu Luskus, with pairing advice from Jeppe.
Favorite recipe + pairing: German-style Pilsner + Sunday Roast Pork, page 109
Why you should read it: Are you using beer to its full potential in your restaurant? The team responsible for the first beer-focused, Michelin-starred restaurant will inspire your staff and give you practical knowledge to up your restaurant’s BOH and FOH beer game.
The Indian Accent Restaurant Cookbook | by Manish Mehrota; photographs by Rohit Chawla
The details: Without a doubt, The Indian Accent Redstaurant Cookbook is the sexiest cookbook of the year (check out Chef Manish Mehrotra’s glamor shot up front). In the echo of great restaurant cookbooks before it (think The French Laundry), this large format book covers the inventive, worldly, boundary-pushing menu at Mehrota’s contemporary Indian restaurant, originally in New Delhi and now in New York City. Studio photography from Rohit Chawla occupies full, color-rich glossy pages, each one more beautiful than the next.
Favorite recipe: Pulled Kathal Phulka Taco, page 18
Why you should read it: Get to know one of the clearest, freshest voices in Indian cuisine through this luxe volume that introduces readers to regional dishes, ingredient, and techniques and then presents them in a thoroughly modern context. These are dishes that made Mehrotra’s career and Indian Accent one of the world’s top restaurants.
Ingredient: Unveiling the Essential Elements of Food | by Ali Bouzari; photographs by Jason Jaacks; illustrations by Jeff Delierre; design by Suet Yee Chong
The details: Ingredient is a book about building blocks of everything you cook—water, sugars, carbohydrates, lipids, proteins, minerals, gases, and heat. And it’s designed like a textbook for chefs, who may have only an hour or two to tour the inner workings of crystallization (aka crunch) or gelling. Ingredient packs in lots of scientific information without visually bogging down. Simple illustrations, bright studio photography, and clear copy illuminate what’s actually happening to food as you cook it.
Favorite chapter: Water, pages 6 to 42
Why you should read it: You’ve cook roux more times than you can count, but do you actually know why the mixture thickens? Bouzari explains it on a molecular level (in kitchen terms, not geek speak). If you’re curious how the Maillard reaction and carbon dioxide impact flavor, he explains that, too. You’ll have a few “aha” moments and likely pick up a few ideas to improve your dishes.
Octaphilosophy: The Eight Elements of Restaurant André | by André Chiang
The details: The world’s greatest chefs do more than absorb technique and master flavor. They invent a perspective all their own, ready to share. Taiwan-born Chef André Chiang began his training in France at 15, honing skills at La Maison Troisgros, Le Jardin des Sens, Pierre Gagnaire, L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon, and L’Astrance. Before returning to Asia to open André in Singapore, Chiang reflected on his experiences and crystallized a personal, powerful, and practical cooking philosophy he calls the Octaphilosophy—expressed in the eight elements of his restaurant and in the 303 pages of his book published by Phaidon. Each section is complete with photos, recipes, personal notes and sketches, as well as visual plating instructions focusing on the elements: Texture, Memory, Pure, Terroir, Unique, Salt, South, and Artisan.
Favorite recipe: Onion, Onion, Onion, page 183
Why you should read it: Technique and inspiration. Think of Octaphilosphy as a style guide. Add buttermilk snow or pork floss to your repertoire. See how to plate squid risotto in a sphere. Dishes like Onion, Onion, Onion meditate on a single ingredient, using different techniques to bring out different flavors and textures. At the end of this trip through the mind of Chiang, you’re bound to come out with new ideas and perspective to help crystallize your own vision.
somethingtofoodabout | by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson with Ben Greenman; photographs by
The details: In the style of 16th century Italian painter Guiseppe Archimboldo, Questlove, complete with licorice glasses and a kale afro, graces the cover of somethingtofoodabout. This book asks two basic questions: Can food be art? Can art be food? Starting, of course, with food and often ending elsewhere entirely, the book explores the answers to those questions through Questlove’s curious conversations with some of the world’s coolest chefs. Traveling deeper inside the chefs’ minds are Kyoko Hamada’s intimate portraits of the chefs (see Donald Link in a swimming pool), their homes, ingredients, and dishes.
Favorite conversation: Dominique Crenn, page 158
Why you should read it: What chef wouldn’t want to be invited to one of Questlove’s food salons? If you’re not among the likes of Jessica Koslow, Mike Solomanov, or Marcus Samuelsson, this book is most likely the closest you’re going to get to Questlove’s crib. The book forgoes recipes in favor of deeper artistry and creativity: the reason chefs do what they do in the first place. It reminds us that food is cool, food is sexy, and most importantly, food is art (or is it?).
Taste & Technique | by Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar; photographs by Chris Court; design by Emma Campion
The details: Eating at Beast in Portland feels like steeping into Naomi Pomeroy's home with an open kitchen staffed by a stylish, lipstick-wearing chef and host. Who better then to convey a sense of homecooking than Pomeroy. Her her first book, Taste & Technique, constantly builds upon itself, laying the foundation with the basics. Recipes from the first section (Walnut-Parsley Pistou, page 6) make appearances as garnishes for recipes in the second (Asparagus Veloute, page 85). Seasonal variations accompany nearly every recipe, adding more building blocks and bringing the recipes full circle.
Favorite recipe: Flavored Créme Fraiche, page 25
Why you should read it: Pomeroy built her name on warm, honest cooking. If you're stuck in tweezerville or need a new angle for a rustic dish you're working on, let Taste & Technique be your guide. This book reminds us that we all need to cook food with love—something that’s easy to forget when you’re in the weeds on hour 16 in the kitchen.
Amaro | by Brad Thomas Parsons; photographs by Ed Anderson
The Details: The first half of this thorough text explores the world of the most popular girl in school, Amaro. It acts as an introduction to and guidebook for the category of amari/aperitivos/fernets from around the world. Recipes for everything from the classic Negroni to more eclectic, modern cocktails like Here Today, Saigon Amaro fill the second half. There are recipes to make your own house amari, and if you want to slip some into your food, there are recipes for that, too. Photos by Ed Anderson chronicle the people and the bottles that Parsons encountered while researching the book, and short essays weave between the chapters to tell those stories.
Favorite Recipe: Alpine Slide, page 112
Why you should read it: Amaro is the most in depth, detailed, and well put together book on the industry’s favorite class of liqueurs. From the better known Campari and Fernet Branca to American-made amari like Calisaya from Oregon, this work is encyclopedic in its scope.
A Proper Drink | by Robert Simonson
The details: Within this hardcover, suited up in an old-school dustjacket, you’ll find an oral history of the modern cocktail revival told through the voices of more than 200 bartenders who lived it. Composed with journalistic detail, most story-filled chapters end with recipes for the new classics, so you can drink your way through Robert Simonson's master history class.
Favorite Recipe: Penicillin, page 170
Why it’s you should read it: It’s important to sit back, have a drink, and learn (or remind ourselves) how far cocktails have come. There was a time, you'll learn, when Velvet Falernum wasn't available in the States (thanks Dale DeGroff). You'll also get the backstory on your favorite modern classics and learn why they taste so damn good.
Regarding Cocktails | by Sasha Petraske and Georgette Moger-Petraske
The details: Regarding Cocktails is as much a recipe book as it is a memorial to the late Sasha Petraske, founder of the original Milk & Honey and one of the most influential bartenders of his time. His standards for mixing and service resonated far beyond his Lower East Side cocktail den, and spawned a movement. In addition to recipes from Petraske and his colleagues, this book contains the thoughts and musings of the man behind the modern cocktail movement. No detail is too small to include and nothing overlooked—from stocking your bar with paper towels (more than you think you will need) to creating atmosphere with lightbulbs (7-watt).
Favorite recipe: Queen’s Park Swizzle (Dark), page 197
Why you should read it: It's a beautiful, elegant tribute, whether you’re looking for small (or big) improvements to your bar program, or would just like to take a trip inside the mind of a legendary bartender. With guides for stocking your home bar, making simple Gin & Tonics, batching large format punch bowls, Regarding Cocktails is the book to have within arms length at all times.
BAKING & PASTRY
The Rye Baker | by Staley Ginsberg; photographs by Quentin Bacon
The details: Stanley Ginsberg’s deeply researched The Rye Baker explores breads from every region that rye (“the unruly weed”) grows—from American-immigrant rye to the intense, primal loaves of Russia. Every bread, scone, and roll recipe is filled with a wealth of detail on origin, leavening agent, and building stages. Ingredients are also listed in four metrics: grams, ounces, volume, and baker’s percentage. The “Nine Steps to Great Rye Bread” section could be a stand-alone book, backed up by recipes for more than 50 different kinds of rye.
Favorite recipe: Old-school deli rye, page 80
Why you should read it: Even if you’re just looking to make a great Jewish rye, The Rye Baker will give you more information about it than you thought existed. New perspectives, techniques, and styles will help any chef or baker improve their bread program and artisanship.
Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe | by Ana Sortun anf Maura Kilpatrick; photographs by Kristin Teig
The details: Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick have been studying and cooking Middle Eastern food longer than you (unless you’re a native). With Soframiz, they add substance to a growing cannon of Middle Eastern cookbooks, covering breakfast (oh, savory breakfast!), baked goods, doughs, and pastry in greater depth than any of their predecessors. Plus, it’s a joy to read with smart (but not didactic) recipe intros, plus clean design; bright, colorful photography; and helpful step-by-step dough techniques.
Favorite recipe: Tahini Brioche Dough, 29
Why you should read it: If you haven’t heard, shakshuka is the new eggs benedict, and you’re behind the times if you’re not prepping yufka for your sandwich operation. For the chef who needs a breakfast or lunch reboot, Sortun and Kilpatrick offer brilliant, sumptuous recipes and serious menu inspiration. Flipping through the pages, it’s easy to see how the dishes work and sell in a high-volume cafe setting. Oh, and you will want to make and eat every recipe in this book.
Sweet Sugar Sultry Spice | by Malika Ameen
The details: Broken down by spice profile, such as floral and aromatic, complex and mysterious, and bright and fresh, Malika Ameen takes the traditional, often lumped together category of “baking spices” and expands, elaborates, and enlightens. Za’atar, Chinese five spice powder, and fenugreek all make appearances, bringing (un)familiar savory flavors to the table.
Favorite recipe: Saffron-Pistachio Tea Cake, page 229
Why you should read it: A fantastic resource that will help add big, savory flavors to your baking and pastry program, Sweet Sugar Sultry Spice will give you the ideas and knowledge to seriously upgrade your menu.