For those of you in 2017 who are a little more experienced in the kitchen, I have listed some of my favorite books that may require a little more skill. Some of these books involve sous vide cooking, others just have a little more complex technique, or valuable nuances that might be missed by a new cook. I will use this analogy again in this post. However, reading these books is like getting an MBA with no industry experience. You will learn all the theory, all the vocabulary, and maybe some techniques. However, you won’t see the nuance, the small details, the minutia that people who have been working in the industry understand. Of course, that is my personal opinion(which I recommend you take with a grain of salt).
Nevertheless, these books helped mold me as a cook. They helped grow me and I hope that in 2017, these cook books will be great anchors for you. Books that you can look back upon in 2018 and recommend to your friends!
So you have mastered the basic huh? You ready to start playing with the big boy toys! That is awesome. Now cooking can get really fun (and it was already a blast before). Under Pressure is a great example of a cook book done really well. Whether you know how to use an emersion circulator, or have never had to deal with the pains of having to vacuum seal anything(seriously, all vacuum machines break..), this book will walk you through the basics. There are explanations about time, temperature and technique. Also, the pictures are amazing. That is why I really appreciate this Under Pressure, and Thomas Keller in general. All of his product, from his restaurants, to his books, show a level of class that proliferates into anything he touches.
Some people are just like that. When they do something, they set out to make it the best. All of Thomas Keller’s books really are stunning. I wouldn’t say anyone can cook these recipes. They require time to get right. If you are look for a challenge, this is a good cook book for those more experienced.
I give a lot of Chef cook books a hard time, but they are not all bad. In fact, the ratio of good to bad Chef cook books compared to the ratio of good to bad normal cook books is probably about the same…This is a great example of a good cook book!
Some books titles alone…sell me…
Some people have cloths, bags, or power tools. I have my books and sometimes authors and book publishers know how to sell their products. At least The Food Lab is a good cook book!
Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this book for beginners. It would be like drinking from a fire hose. The author of this book cleverly designed it like a bunch of research papers. Instead of recipes, they breakdown materials, methods, procedures, data, conclusions etc. The Food Lab tells the end user how to properly approach experiments and eliminate bias (scientific method). In the end, the book is a great combination of learning about food, learning how to make your food better and learning a lot about the whys.
That is why I don’t recommend this book for inexperienced cooks. All you will end up with is a bunch of facts with no context. The value will be very little. If on the other hand, you have a few years of cooking under your belt, then you can start making valuable connections. Suddenly you start to understand temperature, acidity, etc, on a whole new level. It is like the first time you realized what calculus really was, or other subject that you really enjoyed in school (ok, I might be one of the few that enjoyed calculus).
Just saying, for 2017, you got to “Science the shit out of cooking”.
When you are ready to step up your game. There are scores of books that you could read to start getting some more complex flavors and techniques under your belt. I can only recommend the ones that I have read. Taste and Technique is one of them. The recipe break down is typical. Sauces, starters, pastries, etc. What sets this book apart are in the minutia. Those small details where you can tell the author was a chef. They aren’t huge, but the recipes here quietly improve your skill and understanding of food. Not like the Flavor Bible, or some of the other books already listed. This is much more subtle. If you combine your practice of these recipes with a few outings to nice restaurants, you will start to notice the nuance in dishes. The small details you might have never even noticed before. How sauces are made, dishes designed, seasonal flavors, etc. Suddenly, they will just start to make sense.
Again, it does require a little bit of real life experience to make sense of it all. Otherwise, it is like going to an MBA program without ever working a year in business. You will learn a lot of theory, and study a lot of case studies, and none of it will stick or make sense.
Eggs are my favorite ingredient in the kitchen. Their macro and micro nutrient break down make them extremely versatile. They can emulsify, thicken, coagulate, and so much more. It used to be said that each of the folds in a chef hat (the tall french kind) represented a technique you could do with an egg. So for any aspiring cook out there in 2017. This book will teach you everything you need to know about cooking with eggs! Understanding an egg gives you a lot of power in the kitchen. You can suddenly approach home made mayonnaise, ice cream, lemon curd, scrambled eggs and every other egg heavy dish with ease!
Once you get it, so many culinary doors will open to you. I am not referring to jobs. I am referring to possible dishes, and modifications to dishes. That is how people realized you could make macarons out of pigs blood! Yes! that is a thing. They found that the protein make up of blood and egg whites are very similar (mostly albumin) and that when worked properly, pigs blood can replace egg white(I found this really cool!).
So spend a 2017 mastering your egg cooking!
I am a little bit of a history nerd. Not necessarily do I know everything about history. However, I love knowing how concepts, movements, etc, got from point A to point B. One such movement is the slow food movement. This book was written by one of the Chefs that has played a large role in this movement. She came along much after the inception. Nevertheless, you can’t her about Berkley or American slow food without Alice Waters coming into the conversation. She just has such a simple and beautiful way about food. There is no fuss or muss. She just makes good food. Alice Waters in not necessarily the first person to do it, and every country has had it’s own start. In fact, I got to meet a lady very closely intertwined with the Beirut Slow Food Movement. It is however, a great bit of history to read into!
What I really like about this book is it often provides variations of the same bread. I think this develops a natural understanding of how to tweak recipes. Whether you want to or not. You eventually begin to realize that even pastry and bread recipes have openings where you can change them, if you understand how they work at a lower level. This book will help get you there. Have you heard of a bakers ratio? Why is it used? How can you use it to further your own bread knowledge. It is funny, I used to know a baker who would go around and measure everything. I mean everything. Humidity, room temperature, air pressure, wind, the phase of the freaking moon and write it all down. From there, he would make slight adjustments to his bakers ratio to try to match the specific moisture levels he previewed. Then he would note the results of his bread! You may think that is crazy…but he made dam good bread.
Garde Manger refers to the cold station in a kitchen. Some people refer to it as the pantry station or salad station. In the end, it all refers to appetizers, salads, charcuterie and cheese.
This book has some similarities to the Professional Cook listed earlier. However, what I really like about this book is that it covers sausage, terrines, cured meats, etc (it also has vinaigrettes and salads, but those are less interesting to me). If you have never made sausage or cured meats before, these recipes are solid and they can really help both a novice and well trained professional advance their skills. The best part of these text book style cook books are their explanation style. They do a good job of going in depth on the subject they are trying to teach you. Thus, it makes you a better cook, not by helping you memorize a recipe, but by helping you understand solid gastronomy techniques.
Honestly, I think that is what most people like about Anthony Bourdain. His books are always brutally honest. They just state facts, in a very articulate way of course. Nevertheless, his straight forward candidness I believe has won him a lot of friends and followers (and probably enemies). His book, Appetites Cook book is a great example of that. For 2017, if you are looking for homey and honest recipes, Anthony Bourdain has got you covered.
Check out Bourdain talking about his book!
I am Just Here for the Food Alton Brown
Finally, some books are just for fun. Alton Brown is a great American and Food icon. His show, Good Eats has probably been around longer than most of us have been around. This book is a great combination of humor and food, science and gastronomy. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a huge nerd. These are the books that get my gears going. You can buy all the recipe books you want. Just memorizing a bunch of recipes will do you no good. What happens when you get something you have never seen before? Well, if you have used books like The Flavor Bible, I am Just Here for the Food and On Food and Cooking you can think “Oh this is like” or “this tastes like”. From there it is just putting together new pieces.
Good luck, maybe send me a picture or two!All of the links to products are Amazon Affiliate links. I would like to be candid that I do receive a percentage of the purchase price. That being said, all the products I reference I have either used or own. I want to help people looking for products anyway! I don’t want people buying things that won’t benefit them.