I've seen a few of my favorite chefs come up with a list of their favorite cookbooks recently, and it's always fun to see what they're really in to, and maybe you share an love of a particular book with them. I'm a cookbook junkie, so when I'm not physically cooking, often I'm reading cookbooks - constructing the dishes in my head, thinking about the techniques, forming new associations that I may not have considered before...and marveling at the pictures (food porn...mmmmmm).
So here's a handful that I keep going back to and what I love about them. They're all pretty different, but the common thread that ties them all together is that they succeed in being much more than just a cookbook, or a story book with recipes and pretty pictures. They're books that successfully communicate the philosophy that drives the chef and/or restaurant, and the risk and obsessive determination that goes in to making a world-class restaurant.
Momofuku by David Chang & Peter Meehan
I'm a pan-Asian food junkie, which seems to be a common theme among classically-trained (European) cooks. And it probably has something to do with the flavors being the complete antithesis to the food of the Upper Midwest. My favorite thing about this cookbook is that it's not just a cookbook. They did a great job illustrating the trajectory that led to Chang opening Momofuku, and a strong narrative to how it all came to be. The recipes are delicious (especially the steamed buns, which I could eat three meals a day with assorted stuffings), and the book is laid out really nicely.
The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
This is the obligatory entry to just about any favorite list. It's pretty much the origin of food porn, and a really fun read, at that. I especially enjoy the profiles of the people who supply the restaurant. This is the book that basically single-handedly drove many of the cooks and chefs of my generation into the industry.
Noma: Time & Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi
This book first appealed to me in the way that Marcus Samuelsson's "Aquavit" cookbook did. Being of Scandinavian heritage, I thought it was exciting that someone was working to redefine the cuisine of the region and bring some respect to it. Now, I'm involved in a restaurant focusing on modern Nordic cuisine (though far less avant-garde), and it's helped me understand the region in a very modern context...and the photos are gorgeous...
A Day at El Bulli by Ferran Adria, Juli Soler, & Albert Adria
Definitely the most unique cookbook I have in my collection. Breaking down a day at the legendary restaurant almost by the minute and providing very comprehensive explanations of philosophy, creative process, techniques and products used. An absolutely fascinating look into the physical manifestation of a mind that functions like few others on the planet.
Pork & Sons by Stéphane Reynaud
I'm not particularly skilled or knowledgable in the realm of charcuterie, but it's been a constant point of fascination since I began my culinary odyssey. Another great example of a cookbook that tells a story while providing a wealth of information. Where Michael Ruhlman's "Charcuterie" (another favorite) provides the step-by-step foundational knowledge in a very methodical way, Reynaud opens you up to the world of beautiful, old-school French pig-wizardry. The hilarious little piggy illustrations are just icing on the cake.
My Last Supper... by Melanie Dunea
Probably the most entertaining and fascinating in my collection. Dunea interviews fifty of the world's top chefs about what their ideal last supper would be. Ranging from the simplicity of good bread, butter, and sea salt, to multi-course decadence in the halls of Versailles, the responses are brilliant and often unexpected. More of a coffee table book than cookbook, but still a valuable addition to any collection just for the glimpse into the personalities of some of the leaders of the industry.
Coco: 10 World-Leading Masters Choose 100 Contemporary Chefs by ed. of Phaidon Press, et al.
This one was a gift to my from my friend and mentor, Chef Don Saunders. Ferran Adrià, Mario Batali, Shannon Bennett, Alain Ducasse, Fergus Henderson, Yoshihiro Murata, Gordon Ramsay, René Redzepi, Alice Waters and Jacky Yu each chose the ten chefs that get them excited. The result is an introduction to some REALLY talented chefs all over the world whose styles range from an all-grill concept to various expressions of the avant-garde movement.