You don’t have to love cooking to love cookbooks. Many modern cookbooks have beautiful photography and/or fascinating stories or essays making the recipes almost superfluous. 2008 was an exceptional year for cookbook lovers with incredible releases from an array of culinary greats: Achatz, Blumenthal, Adrià, Ramsay, Ripert, and Thomas Keller. Here is a list of my favorites.
1. Alinea by Grant Achatz
Executive Chef Grant Achatz may have the best restaurant in America right now, Alinea in Chicago. His amazing new cookbook recreates over 600 dishes at home. The recipes are not restructured for the home cook but are rather beautiful reproductions of what Achatz does at Alinea only on a smaller scale. Whether or not you actually make a recipe from this book is besides the point. Alinea gives a breathtaking view of the creativity and inspiration (as well as evolving technology) that is American cooking today. Beautiful photographs accompany every dish. Every food lover should own this book. It’s pure genius.
2. Gordon Ramsay’s Three Star Chef
You may only know Gordon Ramsay from his scathing angry rants on television but he is one of the world’s great chefs and has the Michelin stars to prove it. The first part of the book shows fifty of Ramsay’s recipes as they would appear in the restaurant. The second half shows the home version with step-by-step instructions. Dishes include Lobster Ravioli, Carpaccio of Tuna and Swordfish, Corn Reared Beef Fillet with Marrow Crust, and a Bitter Chocolate Cylinder with Coffee Granite.
3. The Big Fat Duck Cookbook
If Alinea is the best restaurant in America, The Fat Duck (Bray, Berkshire, Britain) may be the best restaurant in the world. And it just so happens, Chef Heston Blumenthal has a book out, too. This hefty tome is divided into three sections: History, Recipes, Science. The Big Fat Duck is somewhat of an autobiography of Blumenthal with a hefty dose of exotic recipes and a hard look into Molecular Gastronomy. A work of art, The Big Fat Duck is beautifully photographed. This is another cookbook you will probably never actually cook from but will nevertheless spend countless hours absorbed in its pages.
4. A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes
Six months of the year, David Tanis is the executive chef of the infinitely famous Chez Panisse restaurant (Alice Waters) in Berkeley, California. The other six months of the year he spends in Paris. Unpretentious, this cookbook is all about the food, seasonality and taste. Tanis presents an incredible palate of recipes in the form of 24 menus. Most of the recipes are simple with well written instructions. Lots of photos and anecdotes. This is one cookbook you will use for a very long time.
5. A Day at elBulli
Many consider Ferran Adrià to be the world’s greatest chef and elBulli the greatest restaurant in the world. elBulli in Spain serves 8,000 dinner guests a year. They have 2 million requests for those seats. It is the Mecca of the foodie world. If you are fascinated by Ferran Adrià and his revolutionary Molecular Gastronomy or any modern day chef/scientist/food artist, you will certainly enjoy this book. A Day at elBulli is not a cookbook (although it does contain a tasting menu of recipes) but rather an insider’s look at the daily workings of this brilliant restaurant and its culinary team. Loaded with fascinating photographs.
5. At the Crillon and at Home
The Hotel Crillon is a beautiful palace hotel in Paris. This cookbook recreates the cuisine of the hotel’s two Michelin star restaurant Les Ambassadeurs and its executive chef Jean-François Piège. The first half of the book illustrates the exquisite (and complicated) dishes of Les Ambassadeurs such as Sea Scallop Casse-Croûte with Pumpkin and Alba Truffles. The second half contains recipes Chef Jean-François likes to prepare at home such as Paella or Mildly Spiced Duck Breast in Fig Leaves. Detailed instructions and wine recommendations accompany each recipe.
6. Chanterelle: The Story and Recipes of a Restaurant Classic
Chanterelle is one of the Great Restaurants of New York City. Chef-Owner David Waltuck continues to awe and captivate his guests as much today as when Chanterelle first opened in 1979. Chef Waltuck is the recipient of several James Beard Awards including Best Chef New York City and the restaurant for Outstanding Restaurant, Service, Wine Service and Sommelier. More than 100 delicious recipes fill this delightful cookbook with 138 color photos.
7. Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide by Thomas Keller
Sous-vide is the technique of cooking foods in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag immersed in hot water (around 140 degrees F). It was first developed in the 1970s at Restaurant Troisgros but has become extremely popular with chefs in recent times (think Keller, Paul Bocuse, Joël Robuchon, Charlie Trotter). This cookbook is rather technical and if you don’t have a thermal immersion circulator in your kitchen you probably won’t be attempting a lot of these recipes. But if you’re working in a professional kitchen this is a wonderful textbook of sorts on the sous-vide technique. For everyone else, it’s an intriguing look at a revolutionary cooking technique and a glance inside the wonderful restaurants of Thomas Keller, The French Laundry and Per Se.
8. On the Line by Eric Ripert
Eric Ripert is one of my favorite chefs and his New York restaurant Le Bernardin is one of only three restaurants in the city to receive three Michelin stars. Only partially a cookbook, On the Line is an incredible look behind the scenes of one of the greatest kitchens in America. Ripert doesn’t spare any details of the restaurant business: how the kitchen is organized, the cost of food, a little history, the inspiration, the stress. If you are fascinated by the restaurant business or celebrity chefs, this is the book for you. Over 50 of Ripert’s favorite recipes add to the joy of this really great book.
10. A16: Food + Wine
Executive Chef Nate Appleman and Wine Director Shelley Lindgren share the cuisine of southern Italy and their popular San Francisco restaurant, A16 in this wonderful new cookbook. Equal time is devoted to regional wines as well as delectable rustic dishes. The addition of beautiful photographs and absorbing essays recreate the A16 restaurant experience.