|Top 10 Cookbooks 2009
A cookbook can be many things: it can be the bedazzled literary link between the celebrity chef and his or her public, it can be the pinnacle crystallization of years of culinary experience, and it can be the collected methods of a master technician. Some cookbooks read like personal journals, while others bear more resemblance to a scientific textbook than a culinary guide. But the variety of approaches to professional cooking spans the gamut from the emotional to the technical, and there are cookbooks to match every approach.
At StarChefs we seek out any cookbook, regardless of its literary orientation, that could be of use to the professional chef. The cookbook we prize most has useful information to inspire or guide the working chef. And each year, we make a list of our top ten cookbooks for a sort of chefs’ wish list—with one or two honorable mentions for good measure.
Natura features portraits of organic, otherworldly pastry landscapes, works of textural and visual art created by elBulli pastry chef Albert Adrià. Starting with “snow cristal,” created in 2003 to honor visiting Japanese restaurateurs the Hishidas, Adria has compiled years of creativity into this homage to the craft of pastry. “It is not my intention for Natura to be a style or line of work for professionals to find inspiration in,” says Adrià in the book’s afterword. “My only aim,” he insists, “is to show the beauty of this trade.” But inspiration seems inevitable when perusing the pages of Natura, with its detailed, close-up photographs of Adrià’s freeform, nature-mimicking creations. Composed in the catalogue style of the elBulli yearbook, Natura focuses on 49 desserts—or morphs, as they are called at elBulli—born out of Adrià’s unchained, fertile imagination. A DVD contains recipes for every morph and in the afterword Adrià describes his experience with the main techniques. Whether he’s using dehydrated egg powder and a “minted” water cloud to make an ethereal “moss” or cocoa streusel powder to coat and flavor plain cookie crumbs for a vividly realistic “volcanic earth,” Adrià pushes the boundaries of pastry texture, flavor, and composition. Natura at once celebrates and exemplifies the unbounded potential of the craft of pastry.
Key Porter Books
Ferran Adrià introduces Chef Jason Atherton, “a magnificent cook,” in a short, but warm forward to this cookbook distillation of Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred London outpost Maze. Working under the likes of Adrià and UK culinary powerhouse Ramsay, Atherton developed his own imaginative approach to cuisine that is both ambitious and firmly rooted in fundamentals. In Maze, Atherton showcases the restaurant’s award-winning menu that combines Eastern and Western elements (e.g. Wagyu beef, ras el hanout, Scottish salmon, preserved lemons) for a modern upscale take on tapas. The cookbook is built as a sort of inverse pyramid, with recipes (in categories Savory and Sweet) straight from the restaurant menu at the top, followed by two recipes that use the same central protein or flavor profile in more casual preparations. With only this brief foray into the back kitchen of Maze, the success of the restaurant, and Chef Atherton’s proven potential, become immediately and stunningly apparent.
Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis
With C Food, Executive Chef Robert Clark and owner Harry Kambolis have taken the usually content-heavy cookbook format and turned it on its head. Working with Vancouver photographer Hamid Attie, Clark and Kambolis have assembled a book that showcases exquisitely detailed culinary photography on an equal footing with recipes. C Food untraditionally rests its laurels on the time-tested formula that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words (in this case, at least a thousand), with close up shots of curlicue grilled squid and bright, textured portraits of salmon sashimi set against a clean black backround—the visual silence against which Attie’s conceptual minimalism sings out. From the seat of their award-winning sustainable seafood outpost C, Clark and Kambolis have proven that eco-friendly and fine dining don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts. And their cookbook is no exception, with recipes that convey the restaurant’s inspired, influential, and unswervingly respectful approach to seafood.
For those used to Thomas Keller in the context of award-winning restaurants The French Laundry and Per Se comes the happy surprise of this beautiful guide to excellence in home cooking. The consummate professional Keller lets his hair down, so to speak, trading in high-tech equipment for wooden spoons and family-style serving platters. With the simple equation that “great product plus great recipes equals great cooking,” Keller exalts the seemingly humble forum of the home kitchen into a place where extraordinary food is possible. Keller begins with a brief primer on the tools and techniques essential to great home cooking, even delineating “the big four” countertop appliances on which any capable kitchen is built. At the end of the book is an index with indispensable culinary staples like clarified butter, mornay sauce, pork brine, and a basic herb sachet. And in between are the recipes that make up Keller’s home cooking repertoire, dishes that bring the standard of home cooking that much closer to the professional kitchen.
Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Author of the acclaimed Pork & Sons, Stéphane Reynaud returns to culinary publishing with this brimming and often playful guide to French feasting. Incorporating the regional cuisines of France—including the prolific influence of immigration—with entries on the farms, architecture, wine, and spirits of local life, French Feasts presents a veritable banquet of cultural heritage. Reynaud focuses his exploration on traditional and family-oriented dishes, the meals that make a French occasion, with recipes for classics like boeuf bourguignon, pike terrine, and headcheese alongside regional specialties that showcase the idiosyncratic adaptations of French cooking in the countryside. Reynaud approaches his subject with as much humor as love and the result is a rich, accessible guide to the unencumbered culinary exuberance of the French feast.
Editors of Phaidon Press
In CoCo, ten of the world’s legendary chefs define the select population—a mere hundred worldwide—of the most talented young chefs on earth. Bright colored stripes and ribbons divide the ten sections of the hefty book, making it more accessible and even playful. The result is an undeniably authoritative guide to the most exciting kitchens in the world today, from Arles, France to Queens, NY, complete with restaurant photographs, sample menus, recipes, and a brief biography for each of the 100 chosen chefs. The book encapsulates the vital physics of the culinary world, the forces of inspiration and competition that catalyze and invigorate the professional kitchen. With contributions from the likes of Ferran Adrià, Fergus Henderson, Mario Batali and Yoshihiro Murata, including personal reminiscences of dishes that have impacted the great chefs lives and careers, CoCo measures the high water mark of culinary excellence to inspire and guide the next generation of professional chefs.
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Perhaps no one has better captured the multifaceted American culinary landscape than Marcus Samuelsson in his latest cookbook. New American Table, besides being a compendium of eclectic recipes that range from the home style rustic to the conceptually sophisticated, presents a snapshot of the country in all its variegated culinary glory. Samuelsson brings the wisdom of a well traveled palate to his adopted homeland, where his vigorous enthusiasm takes him from coast to coast in celebration of the nation’s multi-ethnic, patchwork cuisine. Recipes for Szechuan-Roasted Cornish Hen, Jerk Spiced Catfish, and Doro W’et showcase the dynamic of family traditions, local ingredients, and immigrant influences that permeate the American palate. As much a celebration of the people behind the food as the food itself, New American Table speaks in a unified voice for the country’s many kitchens, affirming the undeniable openness, versatility, and freedom of the American culinary landscape.
Little Brown and Company
Chef Michael Psilakis combines his Greek heritage and experience in four of New York’s great Greek restaurants, including modern upscale Anthos, to provide this comprehensive guide to updated traditional Greek cooking. How to Roast a Lamb shares not only the techniques for that robust Hellenic classic, but delves into the full spectrum of Greek regional foods and techniques, from coastal recipes like Cretan Spiced Tuna with Bulgur Salad to game recipes for Venison Sausage and Braised Quail with Fennel. Psilakis takes his readers into the kitchen of Kefi, his home style Greek outpost in New York, with recipes for more casual or festive occasions, while a later chapter on Anthos showcases the interplay of Greek tradition and New World techniques and ingredients that distinguishes Anthos—and Psilakis—as a steward of Greek cuisine for the next generation.
Andrews McMeel Publishing, Canada
Award winning baker and ardent “real bread” advocate Andrew Whitley reissues this revealing indictment of industrial bread production at a time when more and more chefs are returning to house-made, local, and natural culinary practices. For the professional and home cook alike, Whitley demystifies the craft of bread baking, a craft which too many people casually entrust to the nutritionally bereft factory process. The first half of Whitley’s book exposes the unhealthy shortcuts of the efficiency-oriented process of industrial bread-making. Whitley explains how the prevalence of preservative-enhanced, chemically manipulated bread has taken a toll on the human diet. The second half of the book breaks down the process of natural bread baking, i.e. the traditional method that uses wild and cultivated yeasts, whole grains, natural and organic flours and generally unadulterated ingredients. Whitley invites his reader to take ownership of the bread he or she consumes from start to finish. All the while he makes the seemingly specialized world of bread accessible to individual preparation. Whether you bake or not, Whitley’s book will at least give you pause the next time you think to outsource your bread-baking to a factory.
Andrews McMeel Publishing
Trina Hahnemann’s The Scandinavian Cookbook behaves as much like a cultural ambassador as it does a culinary resource. Written from the unique perspective of the Scandinavian seasonal experience, with its long, bright summers and dark, cold winters, the book provides a calendar year’s worth of recipes, month by month, based on the categorically seasonal nature of Scandinavian cooking. Working her way from January to December, Hahnemann offers up recipes around each season’s most prominent ingredients. In November, meatballs in curry sauce, old fashioned roast with potatoes and salsify, and braised stuff pheasant provide comfort against the encroaching cold. September’s late summer menu features a festive blueberry tart, pickled beets with star anise, and piquant gravlax with a sweet, creamy mustard sauce (Hahnemann recommends ice-cold beer as an accompaniment). Given the extraordinary circumstances of the Scandinavian cook’s environment and the particular variety of Scandinavian ingredients and preparations, The Scandinavian Cookbook is sure to provide inspiration and insight into a less explored region on the map of global cuisine.
Douglas & MacIntyre
From award-winning restaurant Araxi comes this beautifully-photographed compendium of recipes featuring the regional cuisine of the Pacific Northwest. Executive chef James Walt and pastry chef Aaron Heath display their ultra-seasonal, farm-to-table style with recipes for Golden Mussels with Pickled Salsify, Leeks and Apple Vinaigrette and Mascarpone Cheesecake with Honey-Caramel Apples and Almond Praline. Often cited as one of Canada’s best restaurants, Araxi is known foremost for its rigorous use of regional flavors and ingredients. The cookbook, which is divided by the seasons Summer, Harvest, and Winter, reads like a guide to the bounty of western Canada’s seafood, produce, and game, and brings Chef Walt’s tested talents to the forum of restaurant cookbooks.
How to Drink is a book chefs cannot, and should not, ignore, not least “because,” says author Victoria Moore, “what you drink cues up your taste buds.” Moore is a staunch advocate for serious drinks appreciation, from the well-mixed cocktail to the perfectly steeped tea. In How to Drink, the Guardian wine columnist makes the case that the liquid that passes our lips should be paid as much attention to the food it accompanies or precedes. In a dining age where menus are saturated with farm and sourcing information, Moore argues, drastically less attention is being paid to drink accompaniments. “I’ve lost count,” laments Moore, “of the number of intricate, slaved-over dinners featuring organic rare breeds from the farmers’ market to which I’ve sat down when the first thing to pass my lips has been a virtually flat gin and tonic with no ice or a glass of lukewarm white wine.” With How to Drink, Moore offers a thorough drinking how-to, inspiring a more through appreciation of the quaffable side of dining.