Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Selecting cookbooks

My mignons,

I have had some questions about what cookbooks are good to get so here you go.

I will give a bit of explanation on my thoughts and then give you a bulletpoint list of cookbooks and chefs to look out for.
 In my formative years as a culinary upstart I used to buy a shitload of cookbooks.  Now, because I kick so much culinary ass I don't really buy many cookbooks.  Honestly, I stopped buying cookbooks for my personal use about 10 years ago. The only time I buy cookbooks are for work.  Being a hotel chef is different from being a restaurant chef in that I often have to be able to cook a number of different cuisines due to the fact that you often have a few restaurants featuring different cuisines and people are staying in your hotel so you need to offer more choices.  Plus, hotels have something freestanding restaurants don't; banquets.  Banquets can be anything from a wedding dinner featuring traditional French food to a Middle Eastern buffet or a sushi station so I would buy cookbooks that featured traditional and authentic recipes.  The best way to piss someone off is to bastardize their cuisine.  Even though I rock as a chef one cannot learn every cuisine in a lifetime so in hotels I would always have the resources handy to produce food of any kind. .........did I say I rock?!!!  Ah, yes I did.  Now on to the books you need.

-Get a culinary textbook used in culinary schools. This will cover all the basics.  Just go to your local bookstore and someone there should be able to help you out.  If your local bookstore is Wal-Mart you are pretty much F_ _ked!

-I always go for cookbooks that offer tips in addition to the recipes.  It is great to find a cookbook with great recipes but when you have tips or some lessons thrown in there it helps you understand what you are doing as opposed to just doing what it says.  If you understand why you are doing something you will retain the information better.

-Don't always go for the hottest new cookbook from the hottest celebrity schmuck chef.  Just because someone is the hottest new thing since sliced bread does not mean their recipes are better.  You are talking about taste, don't forget that.  One cookbook may say to use four kinds of cheese in it's lasagna recipe when another may say to use two.  How do you say which is better?  Take it from me as someone who has been in the business for a number of years and knows how it works; the food business is like any other business.  If you have a great PR firm getting your name out there you don't need to be that talented or skilled so remember, don't always go for the big names.

-Pick a cookbook with recipes that are written in a way that is easy to follow for you.  If cooking is to you what auto mechanics are to me then it needs to be written in dumb ass style and then some.  The best thing to do is figure out what kind of cookbook (say Italian for example) you want and pick three or four books from that category and read through them.  To take it further, pick out a recipe that is in each of the books and compare the recipes.  Do that with a few recipes.

-Pick cookbooks based on what your needs are.  Do you host dinner parties and cocktail receptions?  If so, get books geared to that.

-Often these celebrity chefs from fancy five star restaurants release cookbooks with advanced recipes from their restaurant.  Don't buy these cookbooks unless you plan on devoting some time in the kitchen.  When you get into the world of fine dining often one dish can take a number of days to prepare because of the steps involved.  To give you an idea, I used to do a torchon of duck foie gras.  Here is the basic preparation.  Day 1-soak the foie gras in milk overnight.  Day 2-clean the foie gras and marinate overnight.  Day 3-form and cook the foie gras.  Let sit overnight.  Day 4-serve.
If you want to learn how to do some of these more advanced techniques, then by all means do it, I just want you to know what you may be getting into.  All recipes are not like that though.

Now here is a list of books and chefs/authors.

-"Cookwise"by Shirley Corriher.  One of the best books I have ever read.  She explains the science behind what is happening in the cooking process without getting so scientific that it is frustrating to read.
-"Culinaria"-this is a series and they have cookbooks for most countries.  I have the ones for Spain, France, American and Greece.  These books will teach you the traditional way of preparing the recipes from each country.  Very good
-"Larousse Gastronimique"-Any serious or half-serious chef/cook has this.  This is like the Holy Bible of cookbooks.
-"Escoffier"-another classic like Larousse.  They say Escoffier was the first celebrity chef.  He died not long ago.  I think it was 1935 or something.
-"Martha Stewart's hors d' oeuvres handbook."  I have used this one a lot when I have needed new ideas for cocktail receptions
-"The French laundry" and "Bouchon."  Thomas Keller is the chef and author of both of these books and he is in my opinion one of the best chefs in America.  He is one of the few who can take classical dishes and prepare them in a modern style why maintaining the integrity of the original dish.
-Anything by Julia Child is always good.
-Reference books are also good to have like ones with ingredients, culinary definitions and so forth.

Since I haven't bought any cookbooks in a while I don't know what is hot right now.  Remember the internet has some great sites.  Emeril's, Martha Stewart's,, and there are others.

Happy cooking and good luck

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