I’ve always thought that a great meal out, an expertly laminated pastry, or a perfectly ripe piece of fruit from a proper greengrocers is, to a trainee chef or anyone pursuing a career in hospitality, what a textbook is to a university student.
However, with restaurants closed and many furloughed chefs, bakers and apprentices left with more time on their hands than ever before, it’s the perfect opportunity to return to the books for reading and research.
Without wishing to contradict my opening statement, I am a chef who loves books. The number of fiction books on my wish list is as long as my arm, but the list of cookery books, chef memoirs, food journalism and recipe books is even longer. Thanks to lockdown, I have the opportunity to, at least begin, to work my way through this list. Below I have complied some of the top books I’ve read that have shaped the way I think and feel about food, hospitality, the systems and craftsmanship surrounding it and the people that make this wonderful industry.
Delia Smith’s Complete Guide – Delia Smith
Hear me out. This is the recipe book I grew up with. Originally the possession of my grandmother, this book was passed down to my mum, and then eventually to me just as I began to flex my baking muscles as a child. Delia’s writing is simple and succinct, making her recipes foolproof for even the most inexperienced of homecooks. My own copy is filled with as many slips of paper containing indicating well worn family recipes as it is with scrawled with annotations on the sides of pages. An heirloom classic of a book.
Larousse Gastronomique – Prosper Monagné
A must for any budding chef hoping to learn classic French cookery. It is an encyclopaedia of the old school dishes and techniques, with modern editions updated to include even the most modern cookery techniques. Simple to navigate and filled with diagrams and illustrative photographs; ‘Larousse Gastronomique’ was essential to me when training to be a chef. It remains a good source of inspiration to me even today.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – Samin Nosrat
I thought I understood most of the basics of the science behind cooking. That was until I read ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’. Samin Nosrat is as talented a writer as she is a cook, with a unique ability, not dissimilar to Delia Smith, to explain why and how we cook the way we do in a simple to understand manner. Why do we season meat before it is thrown on to the grill? What happens when we add salt at different stages of making pasta dough? Nosrat’s wonderful personality shines through as she explores the fundamentals of cooking, combined with colourful annotated notes and diagrams. An easy to read but informative cook book that I have recommended to many apprentice chefs and home cooks.
McGee on Food and Cooking – Harold McGee
A serious science book. I bought this in the second lockdown and am still working my way through one chunk at a time. It is the most detailed food science book I have come across and a valuable investment for even the most experienced of chefs. It has blown my mind on many occasion. Who would have guessed that clove contains similar chemical compounds to banana so may be added to banana bread to enhance the flavour? This book was recommended to me by the wonderful @hollyshootsandchefs and has been a great discovery.
White Heat – Marco Pierre White
A classic for a reason. Part memoir, part recipe book, this can be found on the shelves of almost every chef I know. It is an unrivalled source of l inspiration and showcases the tour de force nature of Marco Pierre White. He is in many ways unmatched in his accolades and what he achieved as a young chef. Yet, this book was invaluable in showing me just as much what I did not want from my career, as much as it also inspired me. Burnout, aggression and abuse are rife in the anecdotes of MPW and reading this made me aware that I didn’t want those to be prevalent in my future.
Memories of Gascony – Pierre Hoffman
One of the most beautiful and nostalgic books I have ever read. Another memoir-recipe book hybrid, Memories of Gascony guides the reader through a year of the life of a young Pierre Hoffman spending his holidays with his grandparents in the rural south of France. It is an intimate look at a bygone era of village cooking, where food was seasonal, local and simple but not lacking in flavour or passion. It is one of my favourite books to read, and offers a much needed form of escapism right now..
Always Home – Fanny Singer
What is it like to have the mother of modern American cookery as your mother? That is exactly what Fanny Singer explores in her memoir. Filled with recipes and anecdotes of what it is like to grow up in a restaurant, ‘Always Home’ is a wonderfully written book and an insight into the family life of Alice Water’s – one of the most influential cooks in the ‘slow food movement’. Fanny Singer reflects wistfully on her childhood, her relationship with her mother and how growing up in Chez Panisse shaped her and how she views food. It is a warm and intimate portrayal of life as a chef, a mother, a daughter and what food means to us.
You and I Eat The Same – MAD Symposium and multiple authors
A collection of essays offering a more political stance, on food, the importance of what we eat and how and why we are perhaps all more similar than we have been lead to believe, regardless of our age, background, culture or heritage. This book lends itself to being dipped into, one chapter at a timeout, and ancourages us to question, reflect and dwell upon ideas that we may have yet to fully explore. A discussion on food anthropology knowledge for anyone with a serious interest in food and how we interact with it in society.