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Cookbooks of the decade


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The Guardian newspaper published this list of the 30 most influential, innovative and, for want of a better word, best, food books of the last 10 years. Although there is a hefty UK bias, what do people think and what did they miss out on?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2009/dec/23/best-food-books-decade

I was very pleased to see some of my true favourites there: Essence is a wonderful book the River Cottage Meat Book has been my go-to for all carniverous recipes, Thai Food is the bible of Thai cooking and The Big Fat Duck Cookbook is the most insane but beautiful of all my cookbook purchases.

Books that I think they overlooked? The French Laundry, Alinea, Rick Stein's Seafood.....

Adam

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Cookbooks or books about food? Two good, but different categories, I think.

I thought Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours helped me start to bake things with more slightly more sophisticated flavours than the typical chocolate chip cookies I had been used to, but in a way that was accessible to less adventurous palates in my family. She gets my vote for an important cookbook.

As for books about food, I thought Omnivore's Dilemma covered a lot of areas that had previously been examined more comprehensively, I thought, by Margaret Visser's "Much Depends on Dinner", especially the bits about corn. I received "In Defense of Food" for Christmas, though, and I'm looking forward to reading that. I'd really like to read through McGee; as a matter of fact, it's on my list of resolutions for this year.

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I don't think that there's any question that McGee's On Food and Cooking was and will continue to be the most important book about cooking of the decade. We all have our favorites, but that's the only book published in the decade with which everyone publishing a book on food had to reckon.

You could argue that it influenced many important cookbooks that followed, either by incorporating information from it (Keller's books but also Ruhlman & Polcyn's Charcuterie, Alinea, Corriher's Cookwise, Fat Duck, etc.) or by reacting against the sort of "scientific" cooking derived from its principles (River Cottage, Nose to Tail, Pig & Sons, etc.). Arguing that is probably going too far, but you could do it.

We'll look back on McGee the way that Brian Eno looked back on the first Velvet Underground album: only a few hundred copies sold, but everyone who bought that record started a band. I think that everyone who read McGee cooked in a fundamentally different way after reading it.

I would agree with the Guardian that David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster was the best piece of food writing in the decade, hands down, no contest.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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We'll look back on McGee the way that Brian Eno looked back on the first Velvet Underground album: only a few hundred copies sold, but everyone who bought that record started a band. I think that everyone who read McGee cooked in a fundamentally different way after reading it.

Well, maybe we'll look back on the first edition that way. Don't forget that the new McGee is a revised edition of a book that had been out for 20 years previously. To the extent that McGee was influential in inspiring a generation of chefs (and even home cooks) to think more scientifically about cooking, to use the knowledge of the chemistry to their advantage, that influence had already begun. I'd also be willing to bet that the sales of the new edition have been substantial.

A few years back, when I was working the desk at the FCI library, Kitchen Confidential was the most widely-circulated book in the library. I'm not sure what that means in terms of its influence, but clearly something. The French Laundry cookbook was probably #2.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Three random thoughts:

The 2004 edition of On Food and Cooking wasn't just a revision; it was a complete overhaul -- so much so that everyone I know who already owned the first edition (1999, I think) nevertheless felt compelled to buy the second.

Would it be helpful to distinguish between good books and influential books? Alinea is a wonderful tome, but I suspect it preaches to the converted. Its influence might be felt more in the publishing industry than in food circles. Contrast that with Charcuterie, which sent so many of us off in search of pink salt, hog casings, home smokers and retrofitted wine coolers.

Mitch might be correct that, in the long term, Under Pressure will turn out to be enormously influential. But I have to put in a plug for eG Forums here: it seems unlikely to me that Keller's book has a greater reach than our own sous-vide topic.

Dave Scantland
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dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Mitch might be correct that, in the long term, Under Pressure will turn out to be enormously influential. But I have to put in a plug for eG Forums here: it seems unlikely to me that Keller's book has a greater reach than our own sous-vide topic.

Keller's book has only been in print for around a year and a half. Give it time. It is the way of the world that eventually a number of codified and persuasive books will have wider reach and greater influence than any discussion thread on an internet food forum. This is the power of organization. Already I would suggest that Douglas Baldwin's internet sous vide guide has greater reach than our sous vide thread, despite the fact that the preponderance of the information contained in the two sources is the same -- again, because Douglas has it all in a single, handy and reasonably-concise format.

As for Under Pressure in specific, I have my doubts as to whether it will have all that much influence. Fundamentally, most of Keller's books are more about documenting what they do at his high-end restaurants than treating a subject in any kind of comprehensive way or providing information that is extensible to other recipes, etc. Keller's books don't even necessarily set forth or attempt to advocate on behalf of his viewpoints on food and cookery. It's more like, "we get some really good mackerel at the French Laundry and I thought it would be a good way to marry this with the wonderful prosciutto we get, so we take two mackerel fillets of 100 grams each and trim them to..." Contrast this to, for example, Mario Batali's cookbooks which, while documenting recipes from his restaurant, do much more to convey his philosophies about this style of cookery and approach to food, and also suggest more ways to extend some of these ideas and practices into other dishes (I would suggest that the Babbo Cookbook is one of the best of the decade, BTW -- it's interesting that Batali doesn't seen as au courant now as he did in 2002, but his influence was tremendous in this decade). When Douglas and Nathan publish their books (and there will be others as well) I would predict that they will have far greater influence than Under Pressure.

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The 2004 edition of On Food and Cooking wasn't just a revision; it was a complete overhaul -- so much so that everyone I know who already owned the first edition (1999, I think) nevertheless felt compelled to buy the second.

This is true--but I think the point stands that Chris's analogy still applies more to the first edition than the second. Possibly the second edition may be more influential in the long run, but if so, it's not just because of the additional (valuable) information, but because McGee's reputation precedes it, so the second edition will be very widely read, much more so than the first. And the movement in the culinary world that Chris refers to was already underway when the second edition appeared--again because the influence of the first edition was already at work.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I have to stand with others who don't consider "On Food and Cooking" a book of the aughts.

Yes, the reworked and expanded second edition achieved much more attention at the time of publication than the first edition, but this is because the first edition published in 1984. Think about how different cooking was back in the 80s in this country. Twenty years is a pretty long time to grow an audience. Suggesting that "On Food and Cooking" is a book of this decade is a bit like suggesting that Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" is a book of the 1990s (it is in fact a combination of two books that had been published in the 1970s). Yes, "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" generated more excitement in 1992 than did "The Classic Italian Cook Book" in 1973 and "More Classic Italian Cooking" in 1978. But this was an excitement that was made possible by the influence of the previous two books.

Most intensely food-focused people (and let's be honest, the people who are buying and reading the vast majority of cookbooks and food-focused books are not buying On Food and Cooking) were well aware of "On Food and Cooking" before the turn of the 21st century. I think I got my copy sometime around 1992 after having read his interesting follow-up book "The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore" (this is the book that first interested me in the possiblities of LT/LT sous-vide-like cooking techniques, as it has a chapter on the benefits of "cooking below the simmer"). The extent to which the second edition was received with excitement really does reflect the influence of the 1984 publication more than anything.

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My first response to this list was to pre-order Darina Allen's book "Forgotten Skills of Cooking." I want to learn how to smoke stuff in a cookie tin.

This is certainly an Anglo-Centric list, and apart from McGee, "Kitchen Confidential" is my nomination for the most important food book of the oughts. It's a Ripping Yarn about being a journeyman cook, a comfort and joy to those in the biz and probably has the dubious distinction of producing too many middle-aged career changers. It's a classic.

The "pink" Thompson Thai book inspired an endless topic in the early days of eGullet.

For the rest:

"The Gift of Southern Cooking" Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis

"Fast Food My Way" and "More Fast Food My Way." Jacques Pepin

"Cooking" James Peterson

"The Paris Cookbook" Patricia Wells (worth it for the Parmesan bread alone.)

"Baking from My Home to Yours" Dorie Greespan

"Garlic and Sapphires" Ruth Reichl

"It's All American Food" David Rosengarten

I'm laughing about how this is such a dude-centered, SSB topic.

Edited to add: "Charcuterie." An important, joy-giving, "let's put on a show!" cookbook.

Edited by maggiethecat (log)

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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interesting list, I'm surprised to have 6 or 7 of those books, as it's pretty Britain based. A list written in the US would be very different and would not include many of those on this list. Does any cooking magazine or paper compile a list like that here in the US?

I guess we could try to do so here too, but I'm afraid it would take the better part of the next decade to finalize it ;-)

on McGee, I love the book but - and I do have a science background - it goes a bit too far into detail (for me) and I find myself skipping over things. I just don't need the full bloody detail about the last molecule's reason for changing. It is interesting, but not something I tend to memorize. Or use in cooking.

I don't think the book is necessary for good cooking or even great cooking, after all, that has happened for centuries before. It is >interesting< to read the science behind what happens, but personally I can't say that the book (and I read it twice) changed or influenced my cooking as much as some other books did, largely those by Thomas Keller. Of course, just a personal opinion, and well all know how it is with opinions :laugh:

On my personal list - which would be much shorter - there'd be Keller and Reinhard and the Zuni Cafe book, Thailand the beautiful cookbook (or what it's called, don't have it handy) and a couple meat books including charcuterie, the river cottage book, seven fires.

But then, that's the problem with these lists, maybe they be done by one person or a group, they'll never include all of "your" books and they will include some "total duds" too ;-)

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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  • 2 months later...

The Guardian newspaper published this list of the 30 most influential, innovative and, for want of a better word, best, food books of the last 10 years. Although there is a hefty UK bias, what do people think and what did they miss out on?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2009/dec/23/best-food-books-decade

...

Adam

In case the link goes dead; here are the guardian's choices:

1. McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture by Harold McGee

(Hodder & Stoughton, 2004, £30)

2. Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking: Part II, by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly

(Bloomsbury, 2007, £17.99)

3. Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

(Bloomsbury, 2000, £8.99 in paperback)

4. In Defence of Food, and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

(Penguin, 2009, £9.99 (new paperback edition) and Bloomsbury, 2006, £7.99 respectively)

5. The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

(Hodder & Stoughton, 2004, £30)

6. Thai Food by David Thompson

(Pavillion, 2002, £25)

7. Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop

(Penguin, 2003, £14.99)

8. The Kitchen Diaries: A Year in the Kitchen by Nigel Slater

(Fourth Estate, 2007, £16.99 in paperback)

9. The Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark

(Ebury, 2003, £17.50)

10. The Big Fat Duck Cook Book by Heston Blumenthal

(Bloomsbury, 2008, £125)

So that's the top 10. The next six were independently nominated by more than one of the panel.

1, British Regional Food: In Search of the Best British Food Today by Mark Hix

(Quadrille, 2008, £14.99)

2. The Taste of Britain by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown

(HarperCollins, 2006, £25)

3. Shopped: the shocking power of Britain's supermarkets by Joanna Blythman

(Harper Perennial, 2005, £7.99 in paperback)

4. European Festival Food and Classic Spanish Cooking by Elisabeth Luard

(Grub Street, 2009, £20 and MQ Publications, 2006, £14.99 respectively)

5. Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence

(Penguin, 2004, £8.99)

6. Culinary Pleaures by Nicola Humble

(Faber & Faber, 2006, £9.99)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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