Top Books for Cooks 2015

By Lisa Elbert | Kerry Jepsen


Lisa Elbert
Kerry Jepsen

In 2015, the best cookbooks are reflective. They’re no-holds-barred honest works that help readers grasp the where, why, and how behind each recipe. Historical context and terroir play integral roles, bringing each dish to life with a sense of place and purpose. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of a cookbook coveted by so many chefs (yes, 1990 was 25 years ago). Marco Pierre White's landmark White Heat was re-released this year with an anniversary edition that includes a forward with testimonials and tributes from many of the chefs White has worked with. So after you pick up that book, here are StarChefs Top Books for Cooks 2015.  


1. The Nordic Cookbook | Magnus Nilsson
The details: Simply put: The Nordic Cookbook is an epic. The sheer weight and dimensions of the book could kill a man if he were struck with it forcefully enough. Humble and straightforward, Nilsson opens by explaining Nordic cuisine with an image of a buttered bread and hard cheese sandwich. 
Favorite recipe: Bread Baked with Blood and Dried, page 390
Why you should read it: It’s more than a cookbook. It’s a map—an introduction to a cuisine and the powerful, unforgiving, and beautiful Nordic landscape. Nilsson’s tome provides a deeper understanding of the food and movement that has introduced chefs all over the world to the immediacy of nature, even in the harshest of climes. 

2. Mexico from the Inside Out | Enrique Olvera
The details: Mexican cooking has catapulted to the global stage, and the 65 recipes inside Mexico from the Inside Out and Olvera's cuisine as a whole are a big reason why. The sumptuous recipes from Pujol are broken down in sections: “From Tradition,” “From the Streets,” “From the Ground,” and “From the Inside.” Olvera also shares “Enrique’s Other Side” in a compilation of home recipes.
Favorite recipe: Mother Mole, page 153
Why you should read it: Mexico from the Inside Out is a defining moment for chef-driven Mexican cuisine. Prepare to immerse yourself in a culture, its people, and its stunning indigenous ingredients. Plus, if you can’t cook mole like a Oaxacan abuela, your next best option is mastering Olvera’s soulful, evolving formulas. 

3. Tacos: Recipes and Provocations | Alex Stupak & Jordana Rothman
The details: Alex Stupak is “a white boy from suburban Massachusetts, where Old El Paso taco nights were mother’s milk.” He also happens to be one of the country’s most dynamic culinary figures. Tacos isn’t about Mexican culinary heritage (see our favorite recipe). “It is only about tacos,” the book contends, while Stupak-style obsessively tackling Mexico’s greatest street food (and showing it off with photos from Evan Sung).
Favorite recipe: Cheeseburger Tacos, page 122
Why you should read it: Get into Alex Stupak’s mind and learn to cook his insanely delicious tacos. Stupak won’t leave you hanging with the filling. He breaks down nixtamalization, differentiates between tortillas, and devotes entire sections to each component of a taco.

4. Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste | Dominique Crenn
The details: Broken down by Origin, Plant, Sea, Land, Dream, and Craft, Crenn’s recipes are formatted for restaurant kitchens, with methods divided by the number of hours and days needed to tackle components before service. But no one reads Crenn for formulas alone. Her earthy, textured debut book takes readers on a tour of her inspiring style, “Poetic Culinaria.”
Favorite recipe: A Walk in the Forest, page 79
Why you should read it: Free your mind with Dominique Crenn. This deeply personal cookbook will inspire you to find your own aesthetic, preoccupations, and inspiration. 

5. The NoMad Cookbook | Daniel Humm & Will Guidara
The details: Weighing in at 4½ pounds, Daniel Humm and Will Guidara have given birth to a beautiful and timeless culinary tome. She’s perfect, as one would expect after browsing its predecessor, The Eleven Madison Park Cookbook. In its 300+ green-leafed pages, The NoMad Cookbook carries the insights, techniques, and precision of one of New York’s great kitchens. Tucked away into its own secret compartment in the back of the book is an addendum: Leo Robitschek’s The NoMad Cocktail Book.
Favorite recipe: Humm Dog, page 45
Why you should read it: Be the NoMad. Walk through its service with descriptions that take you through the restaurant day-by-day, hour-by-hour. And get the recipes that continue to propel the Humm-Guidara brand—from radishes dipped in butter to seafood towers and the by-now iconic roasted chicken with truffle brioche stuffing. You can have it all.

6. Sea and Smoke: Flavors from the Untamed Pacific Northwest | Blaine Wetzel and Joe Ray
The details: Sea and Smoke is a 270-page work of art (that happens to have a forward from Grant Achatz). But it’s art with purpose, one that’s described on page 84 in a chapter called  “How to Use This Book.” A complete guide for expressing a restaurant’s surroundings, Wetzel tackles savory, pastry, oils, brines, breads, fermented goods—all shot by Seattle photographer Charity Burggraaf.
Favorite recipe: Herring Roe on Kelp with Charred Dandelions, page 104
Why you should read it: This is how the principles of Nordic cuisine unfold on American soil. Blaine Wetzel has tapped into the spirit of René Redzepi and Magnus Nilsson and applied it to the Pacific Northwest. Imagine what you can do—in Delaware, South Dakota, or Orlando. 

7. Olympia Provisions: American Charcuterie | Elias Cairo and Meredith Erickson
The details: Olympia Provisions is another chapter in a charcutier’s journey—from a childhood in Salt Lake City to work in Greece and the founding of one of the country’s preeminent wholesale charcuterie operations. Now Elias Cairo has a book, and, in it, he shares six comprehensive chapters worth of curing knowledge, plus recipes from his two successful restaurants. It’s anecdotal (including childhood photos) and uber technical all at once. 
Favorite recipe: Rabbit Ballotine, page 58
Why you should read it:  Up your meat game with USDA-ready charcuterie formulas. It’s as simple as that. 

8. Pasta by Hand: A Collection of Italy’s Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta | Jenn Louis
The details: Jenn Louis’ Pasta by Hand is authentic, simple, and grounded. A map of the various regions of Italy sits inside the first few pages, and each region is highlighted among her more than 65 recipes, reminding the reader where each pasta is from. Louis begins with the most basic hand-formed dumplings and moves on to pastas and sauces. 
Favorite recipe: Royale Bolognese, page 110
Why you should read it: Do you know the difference between gnocchi alla bava and gnocchi di ciandian—or that cecamariti comes from Lazio? This book goes deep into regional, hand-made pastas and will yield serious inspiration for your menu.  

9. Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread | Zachary Golper and Peter Kaminsky
The details: Bien Cuit is biographical, instructional, and elemental. And, through its bread recipes, Golper provides a context for the Brooklyn brick and mortar the book represents. Bound by string and in a box-like format, opening the book feels like you’re unveiling a present—one filled with technical descriptions of grains and folding, the look and feel of fermentation, equipment recommendations, and oven settings. 
Favorite recipe: Bourbon Bread, page 63
Why you should read it: Baking bread is a little like raising a child. Environment, resources, and raw materials all effect the outcome. You may not achieve Golper’s flavor, crumb, and bien cuit crust in your own kitchen, but Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread will introduce you to new ideas, tips, and techniques that will seriously improve your bread program. 

10. NOPI: The Cookbook | Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully
The details: NOPI is a way to think about food. It’s an exercise in detail with asides on how each of the book’s recipes came to life in the kitchen. The selections—from sides and meats to brunch dishes—are eclectic and versatile, stemming from Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean to America and France. With such varied influences, Ottolenghi provides a handy ingredients section, where you can learn about ingredients such as ajwain seeds and dukkah. 
Favorite recipe: Baked Blue Cheesecake with Pickled Beets and Honey, page 211
Why you should read it: There are big flavors in this cookbook mixed and matched in both a culturally relevant and downright fusion-y fashion. If you want to master spice, texture, and punch, you’ll want to add Ottolenghi’s newest book to your library. 

11. Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking | Michael Solomonov
The details: In Zahav, Solomonov tells the story of how and why he came to cook with an honest Israeli bent: to honor his brother who died fighting for Israel. He shows readers a side of Israel unrelated to violence and politics; it is a culture enhanced by food, which he invites us to experience. Its 400 pages also include A Guide to Pronunciation, so when you so choose to recreate his mesibah (party time) recipes, you'll know what's what in the world of ancient intonation.
Favorite recipe: Yemenite Beef Soup with Hilbeh, page 170
Why you should read it:  With nearly 50 pages devoted to tehina, you’ll travel deeper into Israeli cuisine than you’ve ventured before—explorations of schug, schmaltz and shakshouka included. 

12. Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California | Travis Lett
The details: With Gjelina, Travis Letts & co. are letting you into the breezy, bold, and vegetable-focused California cool of his restaurants—through photos of the restaurant in soft morning light, back-of-house portraits, and a solid repertoire of understated dishes whose flash is always in flavor and rarely conceit. The book covers condiments, salads, pizza, (that ubiquitous category) toasts, vegetables, pasta, soups and stews, fish, meat, and dessert. Presentations tend to be large format, made for sharing on a warm Venice Beach evening.  
Favorite recipe: Blood Sausage, page 298.
Why you should read it: This is how America wants to eat right now: big platters of food, shared bites, and vegetables cooked with flare and focus. Dive in. 


1. Field Guide to Bitters and Amari | Mark Bitterman
The details: There’s a satisfying heft and feel to the Field Guide to Bitters and Amari—it’s built to live behind the bar and survive spills and day-to-day wear and tear. Just shy of 200 pages, Bitterman covers history, formulas, and the science behind bitters and amari, along with bartending tips and recipes that incorporate bitters and amari into food.
Favorite recipe: Scorched Earth Bitters, page 33
Why you should read it: Learn how to develop house bitters. Turbo-boost your amaro program. And understand the history behind all the obscure amari you’re mixing. 

2. Experimental Cocktail Club | Oliver Bon, Pierre-Charles Cros, Romée de Goriainoff, and Xavier Padovani
The details: Each of the 85 cocktails gets a dedicated two-page spread with enticing photographs, recipes, anecdotes, and a backdrop to suit its mood. There’s a balance of classic and modern cocktails, as well as a mix of irreverence and respect for the craft.
Favorite recipe: Saigo No Kotoba, page 36
Why you should read it: American and French cocktail history and culture converge in Experimental Cocktail Club. How do drinks, ideas, and that French je ne sais quois translate from bar to bar? Find out by reading this chronicle of an expanding global brand.

3. Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail | Dave Arnold
The details: To be clear, this book does not come with anectodes from the author about history or inspiration. There are little to no personal asides. Dave Arnold gets straight down to science. Liquid Intelligence is technical, elemental, and in-depth. The photographs are practical and serve as diagrams.
Favorite recipe: Unclarified: Honeycrisp Rum Shake, page 340
Why you should read it: Liquid Intelligence is an exhibit. It introduces new ideas, ingredients, and recipes. It’s the next best thing to a liquid lab class with the master.

4. Drinking the Devil's Acre: A Love Letter from San Francisco and her Cocktails | Duggan McDonnell
The details: Much has been made of cocktail history in New Orleans and New York City. Drinking the Devil’s Acre takes readers west to the Barbary Coast (aka San Francisco)—from Sir Francis Drake’s landing in 1579 to drinking culture in 2015. McDonnell alternates classic recipes and corresponding drink shots with sepia-toned photos of old-school barmen, emphasizing the impact San Francisco has has made on the industry over the last few centuries. 
Favorite recipe: The Bloody Mary, page 111
Why you should read it: Beef up on your classics and dive into San Francisco’s storied liquid past through the eyes of one of the city’s best bartenders and distillers. Plus, there’s a map of a classic bar crawl for the next time you’re in town. 


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