(at least in my opinion)
As a former professional Chef, and now home based dinner party cook, I would love to pretend that every dish I made was my own personal creation stemming from a bottomless pool of creative ideas. The reality is that I rely on the cookbooks, recipes, and writings of chefs I would love to emulate as I create some of the dishes I make. Even the greatest culinary artists today, as well as those throughout history, have referenced over time the masterpieces of chefs that have come before them to help shape their styles and signature dishes which will go on to influence those that come after them.
With all of this in mind, I’m taking a different approach to my latest Top 10 list. We aren’t ranking restaurants or recipes; we are ranking the books that influence them. This is a list of my Top 10 cookbooks ever and it’s turning out to be the hardest list I’ve made to date. I’ve heard there are as many as 175 BBQ restaurants in Kansas City. I’ve been to maybe 35-40 of them, but given the research I’ve done and the reviews I’ve read I think I’ve hit up 99% of the top ones in town. When it comes to cookbooks, if you go to Amazon.com and simply search for “cookbook” you will get returned 82,883 results. This means there is no possible way I could have read or reviewed or made recipes from even a small fraction of them.
I just want to lay it all out there for this one and explain the method to this madness. I have researched dozens of recommended lists of cookbooks by food critics, bloggers, and regular old food lovers from across the country as well as a handful around the globe. I’ve consulted with chefs and restaurateurs from my previous life and have come up with what I think is simply a good start to a list of the best cookbooks of all time. By no means is this a comprehensive list or an end all be all definitive list. That said I already owned 13 that made the list, and have put my hands and eyes on over 50 more of these recommended cookbooks in recent months so I have at least a small pretend level of an authority to talk about this subject.
What I’m hoping this list does do is give you a starting point for a collection, a foundation for creating your own signature dish, or just a reference point from some of the people who shaped the world of food we know today. So without any further babble from me, here is the list:
1. The Professional Chef (2001): With over 1000 pages and almost 1,500 pictures this could be the only cookbook you’d ever need to own. This is the definitive culinary school textbook and answers just about any question you may ever have in the kitchen and is one of the first cookbooks I bought when I entered culinary school.
2. French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller (1999): Considered one of, if not THE, greatest American chef of his generation, Keller wrote this cookbook based on his flagship restaurant. While many chefs who writ cookbooks dumb the recipes down for the general public, Thomas Keller has not done this. These recipes are straight from the kitchen of the French Laundry and should not be undertaken by beginners. On a side note, this cookbook also makes an amazing coffee table book with tons of gorgeous pictures. Mastering
3. The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (1961) To many, this cookbook was made famous by the recent movie Julie & Julia. However to most the foodies around since the flower power days of the 60′s and 70′s this is the cookbook that brought french cooking mainstream in America.
4. Ches Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters (1982): This is one of the first cookbooks recommended to me by a chef of mine and one I still refer to this day. It’s also a tremendous book to look through for inspiration for dishes, menus, and any food themed event you’re putting together.
5. The Joy of Cooking (1931-2010) One of the greatest and most famous cookbooks ever published, the Joy of Cooking goes back 75+ years as one of the most respected cookbooks in circulation. This book is great for both the amateur and professional cook alike and is a watershed book for American cuisine.
6. The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney (1970) This cookbook by Richard Olney laid the groundwork for the culinary revolution that started to hit America in the 1990′s and continues to this day. The French Menu Cookbook has influenced many of today’s greatest chefs and is a must have for any aspiring cook.
7. Smoke & Spice by Cheryl & Bill Jamison (2003) Known to most as the most complete BBQ book ever written, Smoke & Spice covers everything you need to know about smoking and grilling.
8. Sauces: Classical & Contemporary Sauce Making by James Peterson (1991) Winner of the James Beard award for Cookbook of the Year when it was released in 1991, Sauces is the definitive cookbook for building a foundation in sauce making.
9. La Cucina da Lidia by Lidia Bastianich (1990) The first cookbook from the “Mother of Italian American Cuisine” this first edition from Lidia Bastianich helped introduce Americans to more than just simply spaghetti and meatballs or lasagna (even though she does them tremendously well too).
10. Boy Meets Grill by Bobby Flay (1999) A great grilling cookbook from one of the icons in American cooking today, this is the first edition from chef Bobby Flay. A must read for anyone who loves the current crop of Celebrity Chefs that grace our televisions every week.
Just outside the Top 10:
11.On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee (1984)
12. The Complete Robuchon by Joel Robuchon (2008)
13. James Beard’s American Cookery by James Beard (1980)
14. French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David (1960)
15. The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan (1973)
The Art and Science of Culinary Preperation (1992)
Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking by Ming Tsai (1999)
The Kansas City Barbeque Society Cookbook (1996)
Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain (2004)
Delia’s Complete How to Cook by Delia Smith (2009)
All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens (W. W. Norton, 2004)
Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen by Paul Prudhomme (William Morrow, 1984)
How to Eat by Nigella Lawson (1998)
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