Chef Jeremy Lee expounds on his favorite cookbooks

classic cookbooks

There are cookbooks and then there are cookbooks. The former operate as an instructional manual, providing the outline you need to make a particular dish. The latter, on the other hand, transport you through time and space, allowing you to better understand a culture and inspiring you to create. Chef Jeremy Lee talks about the books that he places in the latter category in an interview with The Guardian

Lee, who began his cooking career in the 1970s, grew up in a household where reading, cooking, and eating were equally enjoyed. He recalls his mother sitting at a kitchen table strewn with cookbooks, with a pad and pencil at the ready for notetaking. This is how he best enjoys reading cookery books, at home surrounded by “piles of this, that and the other.” 

The chef is a bit disparaging of modern cookbooks replete with glossy photographs, positing that the reliance on beautiful pictures may signal a diminishment of the quality of the writing as well as the cook’s imagination. This view seems a bit misguided, as many books today contain eloquent writing and masterfully evoke a strong sense a time and place (see the recent reviews in The 2017 Piglet for examples, including Ronni Lundy’s Victuals and Vivian Howard’s Deep Run Roots).

This criticism aside, Lee aptly explains why particular cookbooks stand the test of time in his description of the books that have inspired him over the years. He provides a short list of five cookbook writers – all women – whom he elevates over the rest. These writers are Elizabeth David, Jane GrigsonF. Marian McNeill, Florence White, and Eliza Acton

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