Teaching books blog

On Sunday I put a call out on Twitter for books that a 60-year-old guy could use to teach himself to cook and got scores of suggestions: Lots of Julia of course, but others that got three or more votes were Bittman's How to Cook Everything, Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, and The Joy of Cooking.  A couple mentioned Tom Collichio's Think Like a Chef and Madeleine Kamman's The Making of a Cook. A few kinds souls mentioned Ratio, a not unreasonable suggestion as it explores the fundamentals.  But after I read all these comments, and, having been speaking intensively with a couple of publishing executives about the changing nature of cookbooks I wanted to put this out as a post, to discuss the nature of the new cookbooks and also so that people can name their favorite teaching cookbook in comments so we have a more permanent record of them than we do on twitter.

I pulled the above stack (photo by donna, thanks!) randomly but they are all good books and all teach in their own way.  And "own way" is the key here.  Most of them don't overtly try to teach (Alton's and my books do, and the CIA pro chef series is an explicit culinary textbook), but some are more effective than others by being more than simply a compilation of recipes.

Now that the tsunami of free recipes has flooded the cooking landscape, what is the purpose of cookbooks?  Some of the points addressed by Sydny Miner of S&S and Bill LeBlonde of Chronicle Books at The Greenbrier included the fact that once we needed books of recipes, compilations, such as Joy or Craig Claiborne's The New York Times Cookbook.  But now, because recipes are a click away, books have evolved.  They come now with voice, with story, with a distinct personality.  Also, as Miner pointed out, decades ago, somebody in most households cooked (usually a mom) who passed a fundamental set of skills down to the children so that recipes could read, "use a lump of butter the size of a walnut, mix together with flour, egg, sugar, pour into a cake pan and bake in a moderate oven until done."  That was enough.  Now we must be very specific in our instructions because not everyone knows what moderate means, mix together how, etc. We managed to lose a generation of cooking knowledge.

Bill LeBlond commented that he was much, much more interested in unconventional ideas because the old model is just not selling anymore.

And while at Greenbrier a reader emailed to say this: "After getting used to reading food blogs, I’m
looking for the stories behind the food. Today, for example, I browsed
through 2 older David Lebovitz cookbooks and I missed the stories. I
now find traditional cookbooks to be dry/boring without the wonderful
stories I read on (good) blogs. Plenty of people can make up a recipe,
but not many are good story tellers or have something particularly
interesting to say."

What are the best teaching cookbooks out there and what are we now looking for in today's cookbook?

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165 Wonderful responses to “Cookbooks That Teach”

  • blowback

    As a Brit, I would suggest Delia Smith’s three-volume How to cook as the ideal book for some one learning to cook. When it was first published, it was ridiculed for including instruction on how to boil an egg but since then I have seen enough under and overcooked boiled eggs to understand where Delia was coming from.

    As for learning to cook from any Fuschia Dunlop book, forget it. While I think they are wonderful books, you have to be a fairly accomplished cook to even understand the recipes.

  • Jennifer S

    I like having the Joy of Cooking (reference always available at Mom’s & Grandmom’s), but I think now I would suggest one of Jamie Oliver’s books. They have great pictures, and he uses a voice that is encouraging to cooks, not intimidating. Certainly some ingredients might not be easily available in rural areas, but he has master recipes and ways to change them. I love the “come on, get your hands dirty” voice.

  • Lorrie

    I absolutely agree with the reader who e-mailed you whilst at Greenbriar. Reconnecting with the soul of the recipe is vital. In my own on-line food journal/blog, it is my hope that people will reconnect with nourishing their bodies, as well as their souls, while at the sime time, nurturing the global environment. This can be hands on, messy and flat out fun, because one is connecting with the passion of the recipe. It is for this reason, that I have come to to adore both Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater. Both have stated that there is nothing more precious to them, than to have a reader come to a signing with a spattered, dog-eared and written in cookbook, because they know the reader/cook has really connected with their writing and recipes and made them their own, simply using the given recipe as a suggestion. I think that is the heart and soul of cooking.

    In recent publication are Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life” and Tessa Kiros’s “Falling Cloudberries”. Both are wrought with rich narrative, so much so that by the time one reaches the recipe, they find themselves sprinting for the kitchen–or at least planning their next meal.

    Additionally, as chefs/authors find wider audiences, I believe that both European and North American measures will have to be included in cookbook publications.

    Lorrie King
    http://read-n-eat.com/

  • Natalie Sztern

    I actually wish I could open a cookbook and press a button and watch the cook doing the video of the printed recipe in front of my eyes….

  • Brooke

    I started my own blog of recipes as a simple online archive of what I’ve tried, what we liked (and didn’t) and what modifications I would make for next time.

    I include links to online tutorials and other sites (like yours) with real recipes that work as a reference for the future.

    I am excited that family & friends are now contributing but it honestly was started to reduced the volume of cookbooks & magazines in my kitchen!

  • Kristine

    Ditto on Bourdain’s Les Halles. It taught me some great “basics.” I also go straight to Jacques’ La Technique and La Methode when trying something new, as well as Julia’s “Way to Cook.” All have been mentioned already, but they are my go-tos. I haven’t finished Ratio yet, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be added!

  • 123

    I agree with many here that books with an emphasis on the stories and/or histories behind the food are great teaching tools. Understanding why a particular recipe is important to a culture or a place, and then having a thoughtful, well explained take on a recipe – particularly when it is sensitive to what can actually be done at home – provides a context that helps you better work with a recipe. Years ago, I enjoyed books of this type by Lynne Rosetto Kasper (The Splendid Table), Jeff Smith (many of the Frugal Gourmet books – in particular Three Ancient Cuisines), and I recently enjoyed reading Jamie Oliver’s latest – Jamie at Home, in which he focuses on ingredients that can be grown in a home garden, with growing and harvesting tips. It is also beautiful to look at and hold.

    Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” is practically a food geek degree program packed into 800 pages…and has been a remarkable book in teaching me how food works.

    One other note: Although not books, both Cook’s Illustrated and Saveur magazines are amazing “teaching” tools. Cook’s actually publishes all of the year’s magazines into a hardbound edition. The excellent writing in Saveur that focuses on the cultures and people behind a cuisine have taught me a lot over the years.

  • Florence McCarthy

    While my husband was preparing Cal-French cuisine for high paying guests I was left at home to fend for myself — a foodie but not a cook. I turned to my cooking trinity: Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham, our complete collection of Cook’s Illustrated and Jacques Pepin (La Methode &
    La Technique.)

    P.S. My husband wanted me to add his first cookbook experience – The Joy of Cooking.

  • Steveo

    I really learned a bunch from mario batali’s book molto Italiano for taking the intimidation out of cooking. And I stand by the river cottage meat book, because it is probably one of the most overlooked cookery books.

  • Sara

    I really like “The Practical Encyclopedia of Baking” (it has pictures of each step in the recipe) The Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, I’m Just Here for the Food and now Ratio. For Indian food I highly recommend “The Indian Spice Kitchen” by Monisha Bharadwaj.It’s food history and recipes all in one.

  • gabriella

    i am one of those cooks with few cookbooks.

    i grew up with the joy of cooking and julia. that is what I know. that is what i love. and i a ma pretty good cook.

  • AliceWaters:Abridged

    I adore Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom by Julia Child. It’s a very thin book that’s all about the basics of, say, a quiche and then goes on to suggest a few variations. It’s what I turn to again and again for ideas about where to start.

  • Chris

    I have learned more technique from the French Laundry and Bouchon than any other books. While many may critique the focus on ‘fancy’ food, Keller’s (and Ruhlman’s) explanations of the fundamentals have permeated all my cooking, most of which is thrown together based on what’s in the house at the time.

    As for what I personally am looking for… I often find myself wishing that cookbooks had more photos of the process. Take Keller’s agnolotti in the French Laundry, which I’m planning to make this w/e as my first foray into homemade pasta. Great photos of how to roll and cut them, but a shot illustrating what is meant by (and I’m paraphrasing here) ‘the dough should be rolled thin enough that you can see your fingers through it but not so thin as to be transleucent’ would be valuable. Otherwise, more detail on flavour pairings. I love Culinary Artistry for this.

  • ctussaud

    Please tell him to read M.F.K Fisher, Julie and Julia, Jeremiah Tower’s books. I think he would appreciate Victor Gordon’s The English Cookbook ISBN 0224023004 (probably oop but available at Abebooks or the like).

  • Susan Greene

    The best baking cookbooks are still those written by Maida Heatter. I love her introductions to the recipes and how she is very ddetailed in her explanations. It is as if she is right there in the kitchen holding your hand and reassuring you along the way. She explains ingredients, cooking equipment and technique. Perfect!

  • Joanne Chang

    For baking, I always point my bakers to Flo Braker’s Simple Art of Perfect Baking and Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Cake Bible. Both do a terrific job of explaining WHY you should do something a certain way in baking. I skipped baking school with these under my belt (actually my bed)! Julia’s Baking with Julia is a classic too of course.

  • Wilma de Soto

    I’ll probably be run out of town on a rail, but I learned a lot from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

  • Nick

    One approach that I particularly liked was in Ming Tsai’s “Simply Ming: Easy Techniques for East-Meets-West Meals.” The book teaches a master recipe and then follows up with several other recipes that utilize the master recipe.

    Chef Tsai, Jose Andres and others provide tips and beverage recommendations that shed some light on how to elevate a meal and make a recipe substitutions when in a pinch. These “add-ons” help to make recipes more approachable.

  • Robin Benzle

    I’ve always been inspired by The Dion Lucas Book of French Cooking for dishes that always turn out beautifully. Also, you must check out my online cooking show, Chow Time, at http://www.robinbenzle.com. My mission has always been to inspire people to make their kitchen a more interesting place – through unintimidating recipes and humor.

  • Roberto N.

    It’s hard to say what is the purpose of cookbooks. The CAP Books from france were a treasure trove of technique, but on the other hand a book like Cucina of Le Marche gave me a lot of insight about Fabio Trabocchi’s origins and let me undertand his cuisine much more. Too bad I read it when I was no longer working for him. Others are more like inspiration.

  • milo

    I have always found Joy of Cooking to be extremely useful for both recipes and techniques, tons of information in there.

    And I’m partial to the 1997 edition, it was their best yet, and I consider the newer one a disappointment and a step backwards.

    I have to admit, with all that is available on the internet, it takes a lot for me to buy yet another cookbook. They are probably more useful to flip through and get ideas what to make than to go look up a specific recipe.

  • Jesse

    Wow… until I wrote this, I really didn’t understand what a hard question this is! Indeed, I agree that nearly any growing foodie finds their short-list of treasures being overwhelmed by piles of books that are either useless or just boring to them.

    I think a great “teaching cookbook” has to have at least three qualities:
    First, it must motivate you to seriously read it. Secondly, it must give
    you the desire to actually cook from it– it must have the magic to
    actually get you into the kitchen. Finally, it needs to provide
    information of great explanatory power, otherwise it is just a recipe
    collection.

    Here are some books that came to mind while I thought about this:

    * “Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook” claims not to be a book that
    will teach you how to cook, but accomplishes the opposite. It was the book
    that started to give me real culinary tools to go beyond “follow the
    recipe”. It was too fun to put down, got me in to the kitchen all the
    time, and (often slyly) taught me a lot. Another point about it that must
    not be underrated is that it provides so many starting points to branch
    out of, including a great bibliography that helps you go beyond it. Very
    rare, indeed.

    * “Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques” for me has a great balance between
    the serious and playful, and tons of information. It’s also fun to cook
    from!

    * The CIA book is a bit too dry to read just for fun. Everything’s
    restaurant scale. Useful? Absolutely. A great teaching cookbook? Not for
    me, because I almost never cook from it!

    * “Larousse Gastronomique”. Not really a cookbook, but I sometimes read it
    for very long stretches of time. Teaching? Well, not really: I seldom cook
    from it. But, is it ever interesting!

    * Fergus Henderson’s books are motivating to me. I cook from them
    frequently. The better I get, the better the results are. They get me in
    to the kitchen, and get me to cook new things. There’s little on
    “teaching”, but tons of magic!

    * I think I can add “Ratio” to my list, because it’s the only book I have that describes all things dough and baking in a way that actually makes sense to me. Somehow, it’s getting through my fear, and I’m actually making the stuff! Interesting + good info + actual cooking = good teaching cookbook!

  • Josh Condon

    Sorry – just realized the way I opened that post was unclear.

    The title is “The Best Recipe Book,” not “Absolutely The Best Recipe Book.”

  • Duncan

    I honestly have learned a bunch from The French Laundry and Bouchon books. I know they can be a little intense and complicated in some respects but I love the way the idea behind the method is explained. As an example, after reading about the proper way and the reason behind blanching haricot verts I use that method all the time with lots of different veggies.

  • Josh Condon

    Absolutely The Best Recipe Book by Cook’s Illustrated / America’s Test Kitchen.

    Rather than giving a single recipe, they look at the various ways fundamentals (roasting a chicken, say), test it out 40 or 50 different ways, then give scientific and practical reasons why they came up with the recipe they did. They also have instructions for everything from boning a chicken to seasoning a cast-iron skillet, plus experiments to see if, say, washing mushrooms really does waterlog them (the answer is no, contrary to popular wisdom).

    You can read the book front to back and be a better cook just from the fundamental food knowledge it imparts.

  • sara

    It depends on what kind of cooking you’re trying to learn.

    For french, I like Julie.

    For italian, any of Marcella Hazan’s excellent tomes. I learned risotto from “Marcella Cucina.”

    I love Zuni for that fresh california take. Jerry Traunfeld’s recipes also excel in the simple and fresh realm.

    The flavor bible (as mentioned above) for experimenting with food pairings.

    Rick Bayless for mexican.

    Jennifer Brennan’s the original thai cookbook for thai.

    But the first cookbook I fell in love with was Jane Brody’s, “Good food.” Simple, reliable and mostly good for you.

  • Harlan

    I once read somewhere someone (maybe it was you, Ruhlman!) talk about how to learn how to cook. They suggested making a list of 30 recipes that you’d like to know how to make. A variety of fairly basic stuff, like waffles, chicken picatta, white bread, a stir fry, etc. And then you make those 30 dishes over and over again. Start out with the recipes in Joy (or wherever), then try some suggested variations, then look at a variety of recipes in other cookbooks or on the web, and try to figure out what makes them the same or different, then make up your own variations.

    Someone should write a cookbook like that for beginners who really want to become good cooks. Or better yet, create a web site, where you can take notes, compare with other people doing the course, see links to other recipes, etc.

  • beerick

    to respond to the second part of the question, I look for cookbooks that have a larger picture than just recipes. A seasonal perspective is great, or a look meals rather than recipes. Or interesting insights into ingredients. Present challenges and contexts. Plain ole recipes is a tough market against the internet and already-favorite authors.

  • Mike Fincham

    I don’t think that any cookbook actually “teaches” because there is no teacher present. Even the CIA tome is really just a textbook. I view cookbooks as textbooks. The best of them have a strong authorial voice that tries to fill the void and anticipates the potholes awaiting the reader. Shirley Corriher’s Cookwise and Alton’s books are a good example of books that succeed in this respect. Ratio would fall into this category. The French Laundry cookbook teaches at times (Big Pot Blanching), but it mostly a collection of recipes. The narrative structure in between the recipes in TFL helps, but I think a hybrid approach of using the TFL book and Carol Blymire’s excellent blog on TFL is closer to a experiental teaching method. I’d like to see more cookbooks utilize the web and a “cook the book” blogging style to flesh out the measurements and instructions on the page.

  • Todd

    The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes by Barbara Tropp. It has great chinese recipes and teaches a little bit of method throughout a lot of its recipes.

  • matt wright

    For me, I have learned so much from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. Just a fantastic book, written in an age when it was OK to write a book that required some skill in the kitchen.

    Bouchon is another favorite for learning too.

  • beerick

    I’m a fan of Peter Berley’s books. The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen is fantastic (even for non-vegies like me), as are his others. He sneaks a lot of lessons into his recipes.

  • Kevin Hennessy

    My go to books are The Art of Cooking 1&2 by J.Pepin. The Way to Cook by J. Child. The Zuni Cookbook by J. Rodgers. The Making of a Cook by M. Kamman. Professional Baking by W. Gisslen

  • Bruce Harlick

    How to Cook Everything was a fantastically useful book; I learned approaches to making things that I thought I’d never do.

    I also enjoy Cook’s Illustrated magazine because of the approach they takes. Reading through the development of their recipes, I can see what they tried, what didn’t work and how they ultimately ended up with what they published.

  • Pat

    I like (and am sad to see it neglected here) Julia Child’s ‘The Way To Cook’. Its aim is to teach, its recipes are great, its pictures are helpful, and her wise and funny stories and hints are the ‘icing on the cake’. Also votes for ‘Mastering the Art’, Joy (older), Alton Brown’s books. I’m enjoying how ‘How To Eat Supper’ is teaching me what it claims to do, but that may be a second course or a refresher.

  • Charles Thompson

    It seems to me that there’s teaching someone to cook by technique — and I’d vote for any book that teaches French methods, Julia being top of the list; and then there’s teaching the concepts of food and cooking, understanding taste and flavor, cooking and eating as a way of life. Such writers as Richard Olney, Elizabeth David, and MFK Fisher come to mind. As far as today’s cookbooks and food writing, maybe that’s why the books/blogs with stories and memories combined with recipes and cooking techniques resonate. Maybe we are now beyond just needing to learn technique?

  • Dennis

    I have too many cookbooks. What has by far the most use is Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything. The whole family uses it. Personally, my favorite books are James Peterson’s Cooking (along with Sauces but not as a general cookbook) and Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone. I have Alton Brown’s books, but the Peterson book is better IMO.

  • Laura

    As a cook that likes to be told just as much how and why to do something as what to put into it, the books that really set me off into being able to cook vs being able to follow a recipe have that style. I always recommend Nigel Slater’s Appetite and Real Food – both are simple fare (but excellent) written in an accessible style. Every recipe has variations and suggestions – invaluable to those that want to go beyond the basic recipe.

    I also refer to The New Best Recipe regularly for the same reason. The explanations of why and how let me decide if I want to look for a fussy ingredient or substitute, follow all 18 steps or cut corners, and what the consequences of those decisions might be.

    Charcuterie, River Cottage Meat, etc, are great references once you already understand the basics. They’ve taught me a lot, but I wouldn’t recommend them as a starting point.

  • 19thandfolsom

    Oh, and other things I look for in cookbooks:

    (a) authenticity
    (b) explanations of the story behind the food, whether that’s technical (about some aspect of the dish) or personal (“I first ran across this when I was walking through an Italian meadow…”)

    From a usability point of view, layout and graphic design are incredibly important. There are some gorgeous and well-written cookbooks out there that are printed with a point size of 11 or 10 or in grey against a white background. They’re hard enough to read held close to your face, let alone while sitting on a counter while you’re cooking at the same time.

  • Amber

    I would second (or third) most of the suggestions already listed, but Nigel’s Slater’s “Taste” really got me thinking about cooking as an extension of eating. I think his unpretentious style would also appeal to a new cook.

  • StumptownSavoury

    I learned from Julia Child, both on TV and “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Early editions of “The Joy of Cooking” are excellent reminders of what I should know. Fuschia Dunlop’s “Land of Plenty” taught me what Chinese cooking should be like. Jacques Pepin’s “La Technique” showed me how to do the things Julia encouraged me to do.

    But now? If I can’t remember, I use the cheat sheet I copied from “Ratio” to remind myself. Thanks Michael!

  • 19thandfolsom

    I learned to cook with Viana La Place’s Pasta Fresca, Unplugged Kitchen, and to a lesser extent, Cucina Fresca. They worked for me because they suited my approach to food at the time: simple food that focuses on letting the natural flavors come through, made with organic ingredients.

    What I look for in cookbooks now are the elements of finesse. Can it teach me to reach new levels in flavor, plating, and overall composition?

  • Lucy Vaserfirer

    Anything by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. Becoming a Chef, Culinary Artistry, The New American Chef, What to Drink with What You Eat, and The Flavor Bible are some of the best teaching books out there.

    As far as what readers are looking for next, I’m trying to figure that out before I write my next proposal! I’m hoping that new, exotic ethnic cuisines might be on the list. I grew up with the amazing foods of Uzbekistan, and I would like to share those recipes with readers.

  • carri

    My first favorites were The Silver Palate Cookbooks…I loved the whimsical drawings and great stories, though, truly, Joy of Cooking and Julia’s The Way to cook are where I go for practical methods and formula’s that work.

  • jfwells

    Hello – just found your site and Ratio and am excited about both.

    I would add to Alton Brown’s books, the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Besides those, I find that most of my recipes and cooking ideas come from blogs these days. There are some amazing amateurs out there that have combined a modern writing style, cooking/baking, and excellent photography.

    jfwells

  • Thom

    I’m totally surprised that nobody has mentioned this yet, but I’m going to put my vote in for The Fundamental Techniques of Classical Cuisine by the French Culinary Institute. As someone who aspires to one day go to culinary school, finding cookbooks that really teach technique was something I focused on. I must say that the FCI book is more of a teaching book than the CIA book, Professional Chef, because it explains the techniques rather than simply being a sort of new cooks reference, which is what the CIA book seems to be (I also have and use Professional Chef, in addition to the CIA books on baking and pastry and Garde Manger).

  • Bbq Dude

    For a beginner, I always recommend Joy of Cooking (any version before Ethan Becker got his hands on it) and Kamman’s Making of a Cook. Making of a Cook opened my eyes to new techniques, new foods and new ideas, while Joy simply pointed me towards the stove and showed me how much fun cooking can be. The first rabbit I ever cooked was using a recipe from Joy.

    The thing that cookbooks bring that the internet doesn’t is trust. I trust that any recipe I look at in Joy will be good (though perhaps a tad bland). With an internet search, you’re at the mercy of the vast majority of recipes which are bad (just try looking up margarita on google and find how many of the top hits are just simply lousy).

  • Chris D

    Unfortunately, cookbooks do little more than show recipes. A little plug, Ratio has inspired me to experiment with many things including crepes and homemade bread for the first time. These days, most technique can be found on the web. The future of cookbooks may be Kindle with accompanying video.

    Art of Simple Foods does a good job breaking the dishes up into technique (a rarity), but does not go far enough with instruction to be truly great. I would like to see a cookbook that teach technique including what to do and what not to do, what to look for and what to avoid.

    Also, it would be cool to have a book on various plating techniques including family style, stacking, deconstruction, etc. But I would not want a huge, coffee table food porn book of pictures. Rather, just simple instructions on what great chefs have learned with accompanying illustrations which support the lesson.

  • christopher

    I have a lot of cook books and never use any. Most are little more than food porn; glossy pictures and uninspiring recipes. “The Whole Beast” is the first book that speaks in a language that makes sense to me. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and leaves room for interpretation. “Let the ingredients get to know each other” is more meaningful than “simmer for 5 minutes.” Sometimes 5 minutes isn’t enough or is way too much. Its better to let the food guide you through cooking it rather than a book. My $0.02 anyway…

    The Whole Beast also contains wonderful asides that aren’t recipes but give you enough to make it. Bath chaps are a favorite.

  • Jason

    BakeWise and CookWise, both by Shirley O. Corriher, offer a lot of science to explain recipes and allow for experimentation to change recipes.

  • Camille

    I got How To Cook Everything in college and loved its recipe + variations aesthetic.
    In culinary school, I marveled at how “correct” all the methods in The Silver Palate Cookbook were, and learned a lot about how to compose meals.
    Working in a professional pastry shop, La Pâtisserie de Pierre Hermé was indispensable: great flavor ideas and solid techniques.
    I have most recently fallen in love with Fergus Henderson and his Nose to Tail books. They really urge you to take a step outside your comfort zone, which is a great way to learn and improve your cooking, even if you’ve been doing it for years!

  • Alison

    Back in the day, I learned to cook from Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’ The New Basics Cookbook. It’s full of interesting little tidbits, which today might seem quaint, but back then they thrilled me.

  • Jason

    I learned a lot from Bourdains Les Halles book. It does a good job of explaining the mental mise en place which has helped me more than anything.

  • Madison Foodie

    I think the The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg fits into the same “Cooking 2.0″ vibe that Ratio is channeling. Their guide isn’t about recipes per se, but an exploration of flavor combinations of different ingredients that can add complexity and interest to a basic dish.

  • CB

    Two worn copies of Pierre Franey cookbooks are my guides for so many recipes. And his story is wonderful.

    60-Minute Gourmet and Cuisine Rapide.

    Oh – and I’d recommend my own – Everybody Grills! – because what’s cooking to a guy if it doesn’t involve grilling?

  • Martha

    How to Cook Everything was definitely the cookbook that moved me a big step further toward serious cook, rather than someone who just follows recipes really well. I think the way it is laid out explaining an ingredient or technique and then offering several suggestions makes it an excellent teaching cookbook.

  • Schlake

    Long ago, if a cookbook only had recipes, I called a recipebook (with disdain) and not a real cookbook.

    Now, I can cook, and I don’t need help deciphering even the most obscure recipe (such as pork pie in Kurlansky’s new book whose cooking instructions are only an admonishment of how not to cook it).

    What I admire most these days is genuineness. Cookbooks written by anthropologists are the best cookbooks out there. They give detailed recipes that are deadly accurate in their reproduction.

    By the way, Twitter is a sign of impending brain damage.

    When I recommend starting cook books my list is: Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here For The Food, Mark Bittman’s I Can’t Believe I Wrote The Entire Thing (How To Cook Everything), and Marion’s Joy Of Cooking (either an old one or the very recent one). After that it gets harder to choose. I’d have to jump from a list of three to a list of 50, because I just can’t choose.

  • Brad Urani

    Alton Brown’s ‘I’m Just Here for the Food”. Beneath the humor and Nickelodeon graphics is real usable cooking knowledge properly presented and scientifically explained.

  • Leslie

    I think the best cookbook to teach someone to cook is the one that makes them want to cook. Photos are key for beginners, as are explanations of techniques. Anything heavy enough to double as a doorstop is out. I think Bittman’s book is a great resource for someone learning to how to cook, and Kamman’s is wonderful for forming a bond with the food.

  • Michael Greenberg

    Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is fantastic. It has a large section on vegetables discussing selection, storage, cooking techniques, and complementary flavors for each — along with a few sample recipes to help you get started.

    Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty teaches technique and approach as much as it provides excellent recipes. The stories are interesting, also, with Shark’s Fin and Szechuan Pepper making a good companion.

    Of course, Charcuterie is the first cookbook I read that really changed the way that I see food, not just the way I use it.

  • Todd

    I vote for Charcuterie – I learned (and am still learning) a ton from it!

  • chris brandow

    the original chez panisse cookbook written with Paul Bertolli, was absolutely incredible. to think that it was written 20 years ago, it shows why chez panisse was on the forefront of fresh, local & simple. I learned a ton, though I have yet to cook many of the recipes.

  • DC

    A vote for Jacques Pepin’s “The Art of Cooking” and “Complete Techniques” here. And a hearty nay for Bittman.

    As to what people are looking for: no idea.

  • underground chef

    definitely cookbooks with narrative attached. the river cottage series is particularly helpful in this respect. i have always wanted to know how to think about food, not simply to know a recipe. about five years ago i determined that this was the best way i could learn. first purchase was larouse gastronomique. and since then i have never purchased a cookbook that did’t have the thoughts/stories of the chef. food without story is disembodied and impersonal, the anti-thesis of what food should be.