Don’t want to splurge on cooking lessons or a $500 gift card to the French Laundry as a holiday gift for your favorite food lover this year? Books make wonderful presents for the food-obsessive in your life. They are evocative, educational, transportive and often beautiful. And nobody knows these books better than restaurant industry professionals.
I asked 25 of Austin’s top chefs and restaurant operators to name their favorite food-related books, from cookbooks to memoirs to tomes on food philosophy. Let their answers help you during your holiday shopping or serve as a year-round personal reading guide.
While I recommend shopping for these books at independent bookstores like BookPeople and specialty shops like Métier Cook’s Supply, you can also purchase most of them from multiple online outlets, sometimes directly from the publisher or author.
Below are a few of the participating chefs. Read the full list at MyStatesman.com.
Adam Brick, chef de cuisine at Apis Restaurant & Apiary
“The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller: “I read this book front to back when I was 12 years old, and it is by the far the single greatest factor that lead me into kitchens at a young age. The idea in the book about acknowledging that only once you have accepted that perfection is unattainable, only then can you truly pursue it. The idea that I’d be chasing the carrot for the rest of my life is still in my bones and has made me into the person and cook I am today.”
“Cooking by Hand” by Paul Bertolli: “The most poetic expression of the tactile experience of being a chef who really cares deeply about the product and the process.”
“Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics” by James Peterson: “A great mashup of technique and food anthropology with respect to French food. It is the most dog-eared, highlighted cookbook that I have. It pays homage to the classics, which is what I fear the current generation would leave as a missed opportunity without books like this.”
“Au Pied de Cochon: The Album” by Martin Picard: “A cult classic. He cooks with emboldened passion that is a motivation for almost any dish based on excess that we do at Odd Duck.”
Tyson Cole, chef and owner of Hai Hospitality (Uchi, Uchiko, Top Knot)
“Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef” by Gabrielle Hamilton: “Gabrielle’s food at Prune NYC is some of the best you’ve ever had, and it’s rooted in her childhood and mother’s French upbringing and her experience as a kid around their house with a plethora of eats and killer food combinations. Love this book and her cooking to no end. It’s all about the simplicity. And room-temp butter!”
“Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Tradition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz: “I’ve bought this book over and over again. It’s a great travel companion, as well, as it reads like a novel and tells many tales. I love the way that the author describes each process. It’s a bit sarcastic and is also based on many of his personal experiences. Last season, I bought this book for my mother who had been going through some health problems, my best guy friend who operates a small farm in North Carolina, and my chef de cuisine at Eden East. I’ve made several recipes from this book and recommend it to anyone that’s interested in making their own fermented foods.”
Todd Duplechan, chef-owner of Lenoir
“Cooking by hand” by Paul Bertoli: “This was the first book that I saw the ground up cooking philosophy of cooking alongside a plants life cycle. From sprouts-shoots-buds-fruit-foliage-flowers to seeds.
Also, milling of grains to make pasta and cracked grain dishes before it was commonplace.”
“The Gun Club Cookbook” by Charlie Brown: “A cook and lifestyle book about a place that couldn’t exist anymore. A competitive skeet/trap shooting club with a gastronomic bar and restaurant attached. At its core it is a book calling men to cook and understand food which was way before its time. **fair warning, it’s a vintage book so there is some questionable cartoons**”
“The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth” by Roy Andrees de Groot: “It’s a nice blend of a travel journal (the author was blind) about a small restaurant in the French mountains that was run by two women — one cooked and one selected the wines. The attention given to the meal itself, in its entirety instead of disparate courses, is fascinating, as are the wine selections for each course and the choice of aperitif and digestif based on the tone of the meal. It is beautiful, post-war French cooking at its finest, with the second half of the book dedicated to the recipes.”
Rick Lopez, executive chef at La Condesa
“The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection” by Michael Ruhlman: “I read this book three times in 2006 before I moved to New York City to work at Café Boulud under chef Gavin Kaysen. It helped me understand the lifestyle of a driven cook and chef. Each chef’s story was an inspiration to me, and it made me want to create my own story and pave my own path. I still recommend this book to young cooks today.”
Elaine Martin, co-founder and owner of Eastside Café
“From the Earth to the Table: John Ash’s Wine Country Cuisine” by John Ash and Sid Goldstein: “The recipes are tasty and simple, relying on fresh ingredients. He wrote this in 1995 before the foodie craze.”
Larry McGuire, co-founder of McGuire Moorman Hospitality (Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, Elizabeth Street Café, Jeffrey’s of Austin, June’s All Day, et al)
“Living & Eating” by Annie Bell and John Pawson: “Pawson is one of my favorite architects, and his food is super simple yet luxurious. His London apartment, serving pieces, and daily menus are aspirational.”
“Aji” by Tokuzo Akiyama: “In Aji, Tokuzo Akiyama talks about about his life in the restaurant industry and his personal philosophy. He used to work at Hotel Ritz Paris, and he helped spread French cuisine in Japan. I think he taught me that being a chef in another country is a little hard, but if you have a passion for your work, you will be OK. He also said that cooking is like music — I feel that way, too, because I play music also. So many similarities.”
Fiore Tedesco, co-owner and chef at L’Oca d’Oro
“The Classic Italian Cookbook” by Marcella Hazan: “When I first read this I was struck by the book’s lack of pretension and the simple utility of her recipes. Her voice in this book has always reminded me of my grandmother, as I’m sure it has for thousands of other Italian-Americans of my generation. A few of my favorite recipes in here are Milk Braised Pork Shoulder, Pasta e Fagioli and Coffee Granita with whipped cream.