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Becoming a chef requires years of studies, apprenticeships, and most of all practice. But if you have the right books to guide you along the way, the process becomes even more enjoyable. And the same is very much true for amateur cooks or epicures who prefer to prepare and enjoy their food at home.
That’s why we reached out to some of the best chefs right now and asked them to share with us the culinary books and cookbooks that they have learned the most from. The result is just as fascinating and diverse as we hoped. From classic French and Italian recipes to how to cook with mushrooms or become a pro in healthy, plant-based cuisine, every single book on this list deserves a place in your kitchen.
Growing Up on the Chocolate Diet by Lora Brady
Recommended by: Chef Ralph Brennan of Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group which owns multiple restaurants in New Orleans including Napoleon House, and Red Fish Grill in the French Quarter, and Ralph's on the Park.
Why did you buy this book? “Growing up as a Brennan in New Orleans meant that I was born into a restaurant family. The title—Growing Up on The Chocolate Diet— immediately resonated with my own early memories of sneaking desserts from the kitchen at Brennan's!
Why do you keep referring to it? “I have been eating and serving the Beta Noire chocolate for over 35 years.”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? The Bête Noire flourless chocolate cake is my absolute favorite chocolate cake. Every bite is a burst of chocolatey-fudgy goodness.”
To buy: $9; amazon.com
Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions by Domenica Marchetti
Recommended by: Chef Fabio Trabocchi, the award-winning chef and owner of several restaurants around the world including the Michelin-starred Fiola and Del Mar in Washington D.C.
Why did you buy the book? “I love all of Domenica’s books, but this one is particularly good as it shares a practical approach to creating an Italian pantry of items that extend beyond one dish.”
Why do you keep referring to it? “[It is] a great reference for everything from making Nocino [liqueur]to canning tomato sauce.”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? “The Bucatini all’ Amatriciana and versions of it were a favorite simple dish for lunch from my childhood. I actually have a version of the recipe in my own cookbook, Cucina of Le Marche: A Chef's Treasury of Recipes from Italy's Last Culinary Frontier. The guanciale—cured hog jowl—is a rich and succulent cured meat with exquisite flavor. It’s great to keep on hand for lending robust flavor to beans or to enrich stews, when not using for pasta, of course.”
To buy: $17; barnesandnoble.com
Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg
Recommended by: David Guas, the award-winning cookbook author, and restaurateur who owns Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery just outside of Washington D.C.
Why did you buy the book? “This was the first book that I bought when I was hired at the Windsor Court Hotel [in New Orleans]. I had just started out—I didn’t have any pastry experience and this book was recommended.”
Why do you keep referring to it? “I consider this to be the ‘pastry bible.’ I still keep a copy in my restaurant kitchen.”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? “It's almost impossible for me to pick just one recipe. The binding is ripped and every page is stained from years of use.“
To buy: $45; barnesandnoble.com
The Complete Robuchon, by Joel Robuchon
Recommended by: Chef Christophe Cussac who trained under legendary chef Joël Robuchon and today serves as head chef for all four of Robuchon’s restaurants at Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo.
Why did you buy the book? “This book is Joël Robuchon’s modern reference for learning about the great classics of cooking as well as his creations with advice on preparations and product.”
Why do you keep referring to it? “It’s a cookbook every amateur or professional cook should have. I never failed to get the updated editions and still consult it regularly. I love that it’s a timeless treasure trove of 800 recipes accessible to all, for everyday or special occasions.”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? “My favorite recipe is the Lobster with Sauternes. I like this original recipe for its finesse and the simplicity of its preparation. “
To buy: $28; barnesandnoble.com
Les Menus Detailles De La Menagere by Henri-Paul Pellaprat
Recommended by: Cyril Cheminot, executive chef at the Fairmont Mayakoba Riviera Maya.
Why did you buy the book? “I didn’t buy it—it was a gift from my mother who was also a chef throughout all of her professional life.”
Why do you keep referring to it? “It is a book that features the traditional French kitchen. My philosophy is 'anticipate the future, respecting the past.' This book aligns with my professional position.”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? “La Poule au Pot—a version of homemade chicken stock. It’s the recipe my mom used to cook for me when I was growing up back in France. It brings back all the good memories”
To buy: $24; amazon.com
Champignons by Chef Régis Marcon
Recommended by: Chef Philippe Gelfi, formerly of the Michelin-starred La Reserve and Bistro Volney in Paris, now at the helm of Grenache in Lisbon, Portugal.
Why did you buy the book? “I bought it because I loved my experience at chef Régis Marcon’s three-Michelin starred restaurant.”
Why did you like the book? “What I love the most about it is the authenticity of the products chef Régis Marcon uses and the love for his region.”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? “My favorite recipe is the Porcini Mushroom Gnocchi. It's a recipe that the chef served me when I had dinner there. Gnocchi is a simple recipe that I loved to make as a child, and this one with the porcini brings the recipe to another dimension! Plus, mushrooms are one of the products I like to work with the most.”
To buy: $103; amazon.com
Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Steven Cook and Michael Solomonov
Recommended by: Chef Jonathan Benno of New York City’s Leonelli Taberna and the Michelin-starred Benno.
Why did you buy the book? “I love Michael Solomonov’s restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia and I wanted to learn more about the cuisine of Israel.”
Why do you keep referring to it? “I picked up the book again recently to challenge myself in the kitchen now that we are home every day. The recipes are of course well written and delicious, but a great cookbook is more than just recipes—it is the story of ingredients, people and their history which is present throughout his book.”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? “I started with hummus and am building from there. Lessons, like soaking, baking soda and using ice cubes during the blending process, are incredible tips to have in your back pocket.”
To buy: $22; barnesandnoble.com
Food, Food, Food by The Ranch Malibu
Recommended by: Chef Meredith Haaz of The Ranch Malibu.
Why did you buy the book? “The book features more than 100 plant-based recipes for any meal of the day along with snacks, desserts, dressings, and hot sauces.”
Why do you keep referring to it? “One of my favorite things about the cookbook is the variety of recipes. There really is something for everyone! It is also a great resource of information about plant-based cooking and a way to start incorporating more plant-based meals into your life.”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? “I am born and raised in Los Angeles, so I am a big taco girl. So, of course, the Lentil Walnut ‘Meat’ Tacos are a favorite of mine. The texture and flavor of the ‘meat’ is so good and topped with one of the hot sauces from the book—amazing!”
To buy: $38; theranchmalibu.com
Cooking By Hand by Paul Bertolli
Recommended by: Justin Smillie, a James Beard nominee and head chef and co-owner of the culinary hot spot, Upland in New York City.
Why did you buy the book? “I love that the book is organized into ideological recipes and approach.”
Why do you keep referring to it? “It was published when I was starting out, and to this day it’s what I go back to if I need to re-center”
What’s your favorite recipe from it? I have a favorite section of the book: “Twelve Ways of Looking at Tomatoes”
To buy: $26; barnesandnoble.com