The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis
Ms. Lewis’ story of life in Freetown, VA circles around the food she and her family grew, harvested, preserved and shared. Her recipes and anecdotes made me appreciate my own rural upbringing, also dictated by the seasons. The Taste of Country Cooking is the original as well as the benchmark for all other seasonal cookbooks.
The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
I don’t think there’s a chef cooking today who doesn’t have The French Laundry Cookbook. It taught me to tie and poach a foie gras torchon and showed me how to use every part of a lobster. I’d argue in fact that I learned as much technique from its pages as I gleaned from 6 months in culinary school. The French Laundry Cookbook is both showpiece and reference tome- the rare coffee table cookbook that ends up in the kitchen.
Not Afraid of Flavor by Ben and Karen Barker
I often call Ben and Karen Barker my mentors even though I never worked for them. I feel the title suits the couple because I pored over every page of Not Afraid of Flavor like it was my own private lesson on how to transform Southern food into Southern cuisine. Not Afraid of Flavor was the first of its kind, and for those interested in multi-dimensional, thoughtful Southern food, it stands the test of time.
The Flavor Bible by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
Every aspiring chef as well as any home cook who wants to take liberties in the kitchen should have The Flavor Bible in their back pocket (it’s too big for that, but they should have it close by anyway). More a guidebook for what flavors go together than an actual book of recipes, The Flavor Bible and its’ easy to understand ingredient lists gave me the confidence to tweak other people’s recipes and begin developing my own.
Bar Tartine by Cortney Burns and Nicolaus Balla
Bar Tartine taught me techniques I never would have figured out on my own. Skills that don’t require super-specialized equipment like making my own sprouts, my own black garlic and my own fresh cheese are the skills DIY-ers and chefs are looking to master today. In some ways Bar Tartine is the modern day French Laundry Cookbook
Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop
I’m a southern chef who cooks at home a lot, but that doesn’t mean I cook complicated Southern food at home…ever. Instead I want to be inspired by another type of cuisine, but I don’t want it to take all night. Every Grain of Rice has done that for me better than any other international cookbook to date. It offers a concise pantry list so I’m not driving an hour plus to the Asia market every time I decide to cook from it on a whim, and the recipes are meant for weeknights. Cooking from Every Grain of Rice isn’t a production. It’s empowering. The best cookbooks are.
Hot Sour Salty Sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugiud
One of my first kitchen jobs was as a line cook at the Southeast Asian street food restaurant, Spice Market, in Manhattan. My first night there I mistook fresh turmeric for ginger, and for the whole first week even though I was the girl who made the rice, I couldn’t tell you the difference between long grain short grain. Hot Sour Salty Sweetsaved my job and nurtured a love for the food we cooked and the place that food came from. Like the best books about the food of a particular place, Hot Sour Salty Sweet is really about the people of Southeast Asia told through the lens of their food.
Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott
I’m not a baker, but if I’m going to bake, I go all the way- albeit with the help of a detailed guide of how to get there. Southern Cakes is a comprehensive, trustworthy reference for the most elaborate of American sweets. If I’m going to make a cake, I reference it and nowhere else because layer cakes are gifts that represent time spent in honor of their recipient. If I’m going to spend the time, I’m damn sure going to follow a recipe I’m certain will work. Southern Cakes has never let me down.
Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann and Peter Kaminsky
A precursor to our restaurant culture’s obsession with cooking over live fire, Seven Fires is inspiration for anyone who likes charred but bright flavors. It sucked me in and made me want to rush out and cook some MEAT. Now, several years later, I find myself turning to Seven Fires for the multitude of ways Mallman prepares potatoes and for his rustic yet refined approach to vegetables.