Cookbooks. Every day it seems a new cook book is launched, continually feeding our fascination with all things new in food. But which cook books do professional chefs turn to time and time again, and why…
Solid recipes are like culinary currency in kitchen slang, some are like myths and legends as it happens… someone always knows someone who cooked THAT special sauce recipe with the sous chef who might have once worked with Marco.. and so, the legend of THAT recipe lives on.
During one of our monthly chef sessions at Trinity, the bartlett mitchell chefs and I debated cookbooks. Each chef was asked to bring a book, talk about its relevance and describe a favourite recipe. It turned out to be an insightful and a fun way to share our own personal stories.
Adrian brought along the J Sheekey book from his time at the iconic restaurant of the same name – claiming to have fallen in love with food there and cooked the fish pie many times over.
Neil lauded the old but still relevant Gary Rhodes around Britain – a step back into an era of the Brit food revolution, this book had clearly impacted Neil’sfood life.
For Pete the French Laundry Cookbook, oozing with finest and detail that inspired a whole generation of chefs internationally. Some less successful books – the Milk bar cookbook it was decided that, although brimming with innovation, it brought too much sugar to our British palette.
Being in Trinity I was able to display some of my collection, now topping over 300 cookbooks – which brought on a discussion around how food learning was treated and shared prior to smart phones and social media. God forbid we had to actually read…
I produced my most treasured book, a copy of Le Répertoire de la Cuisine. Given to me my mum and dates from her college days in 1968.
I proceeded to cook a recipe from this book to the letter and follow this with a modern interpretation of the same classic dish Sole Bonne Femme. The modern version dropping butter and cream, increasing umami and lightness. A great exercise for the more modern cook and a lesson in the fundamentals.
Our fascination with new books knows no bounds, hoping to find the secret to an individual’s cuisine and style. Sadly, these are rarely exposed and so often modern cook books are watered down and produced on a budget with pretty pictures taking stage over in-depth copy.
One book this does not apply to is White Heat – a book that defined a generation of chefs and restaurants in the UK – sure, this is one for the avid chef but the message of heart and soul is clear for all to see.
It was concluded that there are so many cookbooks covering all manner of cuisines, but generally we use each one for a single solid go to recipe. For example – my wife always cooks the garlic roast chicken dish in Simon Hopkinson’s brilliantRoast Chicken and other stories book. For me.. well I wrote my own in the end and although that process is far more encompassing that I could ever imagined, it does mean that I now have 120 solid go to recipes that represent me and we use the book at my restaurants day in, day out.
At the end of a fascinating session, A new chef recruit to bartlett mitchell – Alex fresh from school and in the infancy of his cooking career asked for advice on which books to buy. The answer was clear as day – Larousse gastronomic / memories of Gascony by Pierre Koffman and Practical Cookery would provide the building blocks and foundation any budding chef could ever need.
My top ten (non-educational specific) books of all time
White Heat – Marco
Memories of Gascony – Pierre Koffman
The French Laundry – Thomas Keller
River Cafe Cookbook – Ruth and Rose
Vegetables – Charlie Trotter
Forgotten Skills – Darina Allen
River Cottage Meat – Hugh F Whitingstall
Nose to Tail – Fergus Henderson
The Cheese Room from La fromagerie – PATRICIA MICHELSON