StarChefs' Top Books for Cooks in 2014

by Joe Sevier and Antoinette Bruno

In 2014, the best cookbooks were transportive. Whether they whisked the reader away to an exotic locale or the inner workings of a chef’s mind, the chefs and authors who wrote these books succeeded in making us nostalgic for pasts we never had. They opened their hearts and shared stories of what brought them to the forefront of the culinary world, and also dished on the dishes that have kept them there. The recipes contained in these volumes are presented as inspiration, with the majority of authors encouraging readers to explore the flavors within, and then the terroir around them, making each dish according their own specifications.


Relæ: A Book of Ideas

1. Relæ: A Book of Ideas
by Christian F. Puglisi; Photographs by Per-Anders Jörgensen
Design: The book centers not around recipes, but around the ideas behind the dishes and the processes they went though before making the menu at Relæ. Puglisi has defined reasons for everything he uses, right down to the water sourced for stock. If you’re really a stickler for an exact recipe, he includes them in the book’s appendix, but we wager you’ll be so inspired by all the content before it, you may never reach those last few pages.
Favorite idea: Water, page 52.
Why it’s unique: Noma alumnus Christian Puglisi has distilled his thoughts into short essays, organized by an Encyclopedia Britanica-esque thumb index that quickly and clearly communicate the “whys” of what he does. General essays on things like flavor profiles (“Toasted and Nutty,” “Minerality”) or the people and places that inspired him are cross referenced with corresponding dishes. He talks about the theory behind building a beautiful plate (which he does with aplomb) and his rules for sourcing and guidelines for preparing all manner of flora and fauna.



2. Heritage
by Sean Brock; Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards
Design: All kudos to Peter Frank Edwards—the photography in this book is easily the most stunning of the lot. The images bring life to Brock’s exceptional plating, the vast landscapes that he calls home, and the purveyors that he calls friends. The book intersperses Brock’s personal stories (growing up in grandma’s garden) with profiles of those purveyors, recipes to match what they’re yielding, and imperative “how-to’s” for life as a food lover in the American South (How to Throw a Lowcountry Boil, How to Build a BBQ Pit, How to Set up a Whiskey Cocktail Station for a Party).
Favorite recipe: Grilled Lamb Hearts with Butter Bean Purée, Vadouvan, and Corn and Sweet Potato Leaves, page 145.
Why it’s unique: Brock’s recipes are complex, with layered flavors. Yet, they are laid out so simply, often on one page, that they don’t seem the least bit daunting.


Cookbook Book
3. Cookbook Book
by Annahita Kamali and Florian Böhm
Design: Each fold of this volume is a two-page snapshot of a selected recipe from another cookbook. Included are culinary classics, out-of-print and rare finds, and esoteric region- or era-centric recipes that you have to see to believe.
Favorite recipe: Curried Bird Seed, page 92.
Why it’s unique: Kamali’s efforts have resulted in a book that’s both a fascinating coffee table page-turner and a functional review of culinary history. Translations of foreign language recipes are included at the book’s end, so that you really can prepare every dish included in this one-of-a-kind tome.


Eating with the Chefs: Family Meals from the World's Most Creative Restaurants
4. Eating with the Chefs: Family Meals from the World's Most Creative Restaurants
by Per-Anders Jörgensen 
Design: Eating with the Chefs profiles a day in the family meal of the world’s best restaurants. Each dossier contains candid photographs, stunning images of the food you don’t get to eat, and inset “recipe booklets” with ingredient scaled for two to 50 people.
Favorite recipe: wd~50 “Big Mac,” page 303.
Why it’s unique: If you’ve left kitchen life behind, Jörgensen will make you long for the days of camaraderie, when eating with your co-workers was best done straight from a quart container. If you’re still in the thick of it, he’ll have you itching to up your own family meal game.


My Portugal: Stories and Recipes
5. My Portugal: Recipes and Stories
By George Mendes and Genevieve Ko; Photographs by Romulo Yanes
Design: Traditional cookbook layout with gorgeous photography. The book has large pages and graduated print, and the recipes are easily scanned—something of a necessity when the sauce is bubbling away across the kitchen. Essentially, this is a book that's made to be used.
Favorite recipe: Duck Rice and Duck Skin Cracklins, page 108.
Why it’s unique: There aren’t a lot of volumes that focus exclusively on the food of Portugal, but George Mendes has crafted an exemplary model sure to inspire a slew of duplicates. In it, he shares not only the recipes that made Aldea famous, but also Mendes family favorites and Portuguese staples. It’s soulful, warming, and rich in tradition about the way people want to eat right now.


Sausage Making: The Definitive Guide with Recipes
6. Sausage Making: The Definitive Guide with Recipes
by Ryan Farr with Jessica Battilana; Photographs by Ed Anderson 
Design: We dare you to not giggle at the “Contents” page.
Favorite recipe: Whole Suckling Pig Ballotine, page 156.
Why it’s unique: It’s everything you wanted to know about forcemeat, but were afraid to ask! Ryan Farr talks the advantages of varied casings in different applications, the way that different animals or cuts of meat behave in the sausage-making process, and essential tools and essential techniques. He gives master ratios so that you can start experimenting in your own kitchen, plus specific recipes, each with U.S., metric, and percentage measurements.


Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes
7. Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes
by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns; Photographs by Chad Robertson
Design: The beginning of the book is the BT spice bible, with descriptions of the duo’s favorite herbs, powders, and sundry ingredients. Then they get into their famed techniques: curing, pickling, fermenting, aging. Last, the recipes, are one gorgeous flip of the page after the next.
Favorite recipe: Fisherman’s Stew with Green Chile and Collards, page 176.
Why it’s unique: Everything at Bar Tartine is hand-made. Even the garlic powder. In this book, Rising Star Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns offer the techniques they use to develop the products that make their restaurant so special. The recipes in the second half of the book are lush, delicate, and soulful and encompass all the many influences that find their way into the food at Bar Tartine.


The New Charcuterie Cookbook: Exceptional Cured Meats to Make and Serve at Home

8. The New Charcuterie Cookbook: Exceptional Cured Meats to Make and Serve at Home
By Jamie Bissonnette; Photographs by Ken Goodman
Design: The only soft-back cookbook on the list, Jamie Bissonnette’s book is extremely easy to tote around. Among other positives, that also allows the fundamentals of a good meat cure to be at your fingertips at any given moment.
Favorite recipe: Liver, Heart, and Kidney Tacos, page 130.
Why it’s unique: With its procedural photography and easy-to-follow steps, The New Charcuterie Cookbook features techniques exciting for a young chef. Whether you’re just starting to explore curing your own meats or you want to perfect your process, Bissonnette’s tutorials and tips will easily herd you to the front of the pack.


Small Thyme Cooks: Culinary Coloring and Activity Book, Vol. 1

9. Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef
by Massimo Bottura; Photographs by Carlo Benvenuto and Stefano Graziani 
Design: Down to the burgundy cover with gold typeface, you might be fooled into thinking you’re picking up one of those A-Z classics from your grade school library. And as soon as you open it, you’ll be as engrossed as you were in those cellophane pages overlaying the body’s various systems.
Favorite recipe: Camouflage: Hare in the Woods, page 204.
Why it’s unique: Three Michelin starred Chef Massimo Bottura’s first major cookbook is a compendium of short stories and minimalist photography from his restaurant Osteria Francescana, followed by an appendix of recipes that’ll have you headed to the kitchen in a fervor to recreate his modern Italian classics.



Sugar Rush: Master Tips, Techniques, and Recipes for Sweet Baking

1. Sugar Rush: Master Tips, Techniques and Recipes for Sweet Baking
by Johnny Iuzzini with Wes Martin; Photographs by Michael Spain-Smith
Design: Variations on a theme. Iuzzini’s book presents classic recipes and then illustrates how to change that recipe to make it unique, seasonal, or unexpected. At the book's end, he displays plated desserts using various components from throughout the book. Spain-Smith’s photography is lush, detailed, and perhaps most importantly: mouthwatering.
Favorite recipe: Citrus Pound Cake, Sour Cream Sherbet, Exotic Melon Compote, page 341.
Why it’s unique: With his multiple variations, Iuzzini’s book is the one you want when you’re in a bind. You know when you want to change up that custard dish that’s been on the menu for far too long? Reach for Sugar Rush to spark an idea for a spicy, fruity, or caramelized modification. 


The Secret Recipes

2. The Secret Recipes: Unforgettable Desserts from the World’s Most Celebrated Bakery
by Dominique Ansel; Photographs by Thomas Schauer
Design: You don’t have to be a wizard to cook from this book. Ansel has laid out recipes by skill level so that you can challenge yourself gradually. But first, he shares the stories that lead to the innovative creations coming out of his New York City bakery. We do offer one note of warning, however: try not to eat the pages.
Favorite recipe: Magic Soufflé, page 197.
Why it’s unique: It’s finally here! Your chance to perfect all of Dominique Ansel’s many cult favorites—don’t tell us you haven’t been trying. If there is any object of mass desire that’s earned its pedestal, Ansel is one. The recipes and techniques displayed here are, quite simply, genius and the glossy photography might be enough to compel you stand in line, again, for another of his crispity, crunchity, fluffily, sweet treats.


Brooks Headley's Fancy Desserts
3. Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts
by Brooks Headley with Chris Chechin-de la Rosa; Photographs by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
Design: Gritty. The book is plastered with mid-90s punk band flyers—one assumes Headley’s own creations from his days working at Kinko’s—scrapbook quality photographs, and musings from Headley’s time spent drumming in a 90s-era punk band. Oh, and there’s some really great recipes, too.
Favorite recipe: Fake Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies with Lots of Salt, page 146.
Why it’s unique: Brooks Headley’s book reads like the memoirs of a has-been punk musician. And, technically, it is. But, having graduated from his rent-a-van touring days to the role of executive pastry chef at Del Posto in New York, Headley has also peppered the book with some truly interesting takes on sweet endings. His essays are sometimes strange, usually irreverent, and always illustrative of interesting techniques or great mis-steps that resulted in something that ended up ultimately fucking delicious. 



Death & Co. Modern Classic Cocktails

1. Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails
by David Kaplan, Nick Fauchald and Alex Day; Photographs by William Hereford
Illustrations by Tim Tomkinson
Design: This clothbound book is a lux tome of cocktail theory and recipes, peppered with profiles of bar regulars promoting his or her go-to drink. Complete with bar vernacular, flavor charts, descriptions of spirits, and favorite bottles of each, plus transcribed team tasting sessions and a bullet point day-in-the-life of the Death & Co. team.
Favorite recipe: Strange Brew: Tanqueray No. Ten, Velvet Falernum, Pineapple Juice, Lemon Juice, IPA, Mint, page 67.
Why it’s unique: Kaplan, et. al., have created a bar keep’s bible, combing every detail an owner or drink slinger should consider—from combining multiple rums in a single cocktail to creating the flavor profile you want; down to the specific merits (and demerits) of a particular bar spoons. In fact, with its size, chaptered layout, and suggested exercises like “Tasting & Evaluating Spirits,” it practically reads like a textbook—luckily, it’s for a class everyone is going to want to take.


Sherry: The Wine World's Best Kept Secret with Cocktails and Recipes
2. Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret with Cocktails & Recipes
by Talia Baiocchi; Photographs by Ed Anderson
Design: The first half of this book is the Sherry buyer's best friend. Baiochhi details her favorite bottles, elucidating the characteristics of Sherry types and explaining why this fortified wine has been so long maligned. The second half of the book shares recipes, both classic and unconventional from both Baiocchi’s own hand and the hands of some of the best Sherry slingers at today’s modern cocktail bars.
Favorite recipe: New Spain: Amontillado, Mezcal, Lime Juice, Agave, Ginger, Nutmeg, page 216.
Why it’s unique: Sherry has a lot of explaining to do, and Baiocchi is here to do the talking. She was into Sherry before you were, and she’s not afraid to tell you why you didn’t like it in the past. And frankly, why you were wrong. This singular guide to the current starlet of the craft cocktail scene is indispensable for bartenders, mixologists, sommeliers, and anyone else who likes a good pour.


The Bar Book
3. The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique

by Jeffrey Morgenthaler with Martha Holmberg; Photographs by Alanna Hale
Design: It’s a beginner’s book for the intermediate crowd. Bartender and blogger, Morgenthaler presents essential illustrated techniques to elevate your cocktail making; along with a smattering of classic recipes that make use of your new found skills.
Favorite recipe: Daiquiri No. 3: White Rum, Lime Juice, Grapefruit Juice, Maraschino Liqueur, 2:1 Simple Syrup, page 28.
Why it’s unique: This book is the new essential cocktail handbook. Detailing all the elements a novice bartender needs to know, those already thoroughly immersed in the field will find plenty of useful information here, too.



The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
1. The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food
by Dan Barber
Design: Simply, a hardcover nonfiction book. One in which the spine will loosen and the pages will fray from going back to it again and again over the years.
Why it’s unique: This is a magnum opus from one the world’s most important chefs. It’s essentially a manual for how to be a chef in the 21st century and beyond, and will sit appropriately next to your copy of Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. It’s based on Barber's work in the kitchen and out in the field for the past 10 years. It’s separated into four parts (Soil, Land, Sea, and Seed) and even includes Barber’s approach to developing relationships with purveyors. He includes first-person examples, uses unfettered pros, and presents his philosophies in a plain and logical manner. It’s as accessible and engaging as a 450-page culinary manifesto can be.  


Small Thyme Cooks: Culinary Coloring and Activity Book, Vol. 1
2. Small Thyme Cooks: Culinary Coloring and Activity Book
by André Hueston Mack
Design: It’s Highlights for Cooks (and their kids)!
Why it’s unique: This book is 52 pages of activities (i.e. word finders, message de-coders, fill-in-the-blanks) with a culinary focus. Each activity highlights a particular chef’s philosophy—“Help Jason Alley Break Down this Hog,” “Identify the Fish” with Eric Ripert—resulting in an afternoon that’s both fun and mildly educational. In addition, proceeds from the book’s sales support the Charlie Trotter foundation. Do good. Have fun.