Culinary/Literary: Foodie Book Recommendations

In addition to spending a lot of time in the kitchen, we read constantly (I’ve got to put that English degree to SOME use). While not all of what we read has to do with food, a great deal of it does, and lately we’ve come across some good ones. Our local library has a decent food section, and we will generally make a bee-line for it first. Here’s a brief list of what we’ve been reading lately:

Cookbooks

  • Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller – just an excellent cookbook. Thomas Keller is, of course, one of the greatest chefs in the world, and the cookbook produced for his Ad Hoc restaurant reflects the excellent technique and years of experience Chef Keller has making food. Unlike his French Laundry Cookbook, though, Ad Hoc at Home reflects the simpler “family style” recipes of its namesake restaurant – these recipes aren’t hard to reproduce at home.  We’ve tried several recipes from Ad Hoc, including Keller’s Oxtails with Mushroom Tartine, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, and Chocolate Chip Cookies; all were excellent. Keller’s kitchen tips (he calls them “light bulb moments”) are worth reading just to get a few ideas about how to make life in the kitchen a little easier.
  • I’m Just Here for the Food, Alton Brown – written in AB’s typical culinary nerdcore style, I’m Just Here for the Food is an excellent source for improving kitchen skills, especially as they pertain to cooking meat. Don’t know the difference between a braise and a broil? Alton’s your man, and he’ll explain not only how to do both, but the reasons why each works the way it does. I’ve only tried one recipe out of it so far, Alton’s Slow Roasted Tomatoes – but if the rest of the recipes in this one turn out as well as that one did, I’m in for a tasty time.
  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child – the grandaddy (grandmamma?) of them all, I only just this week opened the book that helped start a culinary revolution in America. If you’ve ever watched any of Julia’s shows, or read My Life in France (also a recent read) – this is the book to start putting Julia’s passion into practice.  I’ve been focusing on the sauce chapter, because I really want to improve my sauce making – anyone who can whip up an aioli or a beurre blanc on short notice is an asset to any kitchen.

We’ve also been reading some foodie books that don’t necessarily contain recipes. The genre has gotten more popular since Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, and there are a great many books about food, the food industry, and cooking around.

  • Medium Raw, Anthony Bourdain – Of course the newest book by the No Reservations host and former chef would make the list. Medium Raw was hit and miss for me, though, in parts sublime – such as Bourdain’s description of eating ortolans at a “who’s who of cooking” dinner and his essay on the poissonier at New York’s Le Bernadin, but in other parts rather tedious – the “heroes and villains” chapter comes to mind.  An enjoyable read, and an admirable attempt by Bourdain to update his “bad boy of cooking” image.
  • Secret Ingredients, the New Yorker Book of Food and Drink, Various – I’m only halfway through with this one, but it’s a grand collection of essays. Jim Harrison’s bit on a 37 course meal he ate is an amazing description of gluttony, while the very first essay, a description of classic New York “beefsteaks” (steak dinners) was an excellent snapshot of the past. This one has been my lunch break companion for a few days now, and I keep finding great things in it.
  • Cooking Dirty, Jason Sheehan – a Kitchen Confidential ripoff by a guy who never even got to work in places as high class as Bourdain, the book really is pretty enjoyable. Sheehan’s chapter on running the kitchen at a greasy spoon-type late night place with a new guy whose previous experience was working at a Wendy’s is very fine reading.  Certainly, Sheehan knows he’s riding on another’s coattails here, but I’ve read some of his reviews (found here and there online) and I like his style as a food writer. A good, quick read.

In our country today, people really don’t know much about cooking – but the popularity of books like Kitchen Confidential and shows like Bizarre Food with Andrew Zimmern show a curiosity about food that isn’t been met by chains like Applebee’s, Cracker Barrel, or fast food junk like McDonald’s. People want to know more about food and about how people eat; and I hope that curiosity keeps growing. America has some of the best equipped, most convenient kitchens in the world – and nobody to use them. I hope that’s changing, and while I’m no culinary expert, reading books like these inspire me to keep learning, keep trying – and mostly, to keep cooking.

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