The cookbooks that authors actually use

We all know (and appreciate) that food writers create amazing cookbooks, but they also use them for inspiration much as we cookbook aficionados do. Which volumes will you find on their bookshelves? Matt and Ted Lee, authors of several books including The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, have an answer. They interviewed several authors and developed a list of 18 cookbooks that cookbook writers and chefs actually use

Cookbook collage

Just like us, these writers use cookbooks as more than just an instructional guide; many of them are drawn to particular books by the stories they tell. That’s the case for Nicole Taylor, author of The Up South Cookbook: Chasing Dixie in a Brooklyn Kitchen.  Says Taylor, “I use cookbooks for two things-I have my stack to cook from because I know the recipes work, and then the ones I read like novels.” Dorie Greenspan likewise has her favorite classics, including a well-worn copy of Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts, but she also likes to peruse modern books such as Time: A Year and a Day in the Kitchen and Gather by Gill Meller. 

Even though the authors interviewed have outstanding culinary chops, even they occasionally need to refer to reference materials. A few of the books that authors consistenly consult for times, temperatures, and techniques include Master Recipes by Stephen Schmidt, La Varenne Pratique by Anne Willan, and The Cook’s Bible by Christopher Kimball. 

One question I have always had is whether cookbook authors use their own books. The answer, it appears, is yes. “And I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I use my own books a lot,” author David Lebovitz said. “I think cookbook authors all use our own recipes because we know they work, we know their quirks.” Karen Page and Andrew Dornenberg who wrote the excellent reference tome The Flavor Bible, do the same. “At this point, we’re mostly looking for ‘idea-starters,'” they say, and their books are perfect for that kind of intuitive cooking. 

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