My eyes are glued to the television whenever there are cooking competitions on. The excitement, sweat dripping from each chef’s face, new ingredients, and innovative cooking techniques are some of things that make it hard for me to turn away or get work done.
Food books are a better alternative. While food competitions get the blood flowing and the ideas pouring, food books provide the necessary information about the ingredients, techniques, options for substitutes to make the dishes on your own at your own pace. The best part of honing your skills is the reward at the end – a freakishly tasty meal. The following books to read will get your chef skills in shape for a lavish private dining experience at home.
There are millions of food books to read, but only a few have withstood the test of time. Modern Cookery for private families by Eliza Acton is one of those few books. If there was one book for food that you have to select, then it would be this one – crew the rest. It was one of the first to catalogue British recipes from the early 19th century and list specific quantities and cook times – it may sound simple, but was a revelation at the time.
The Joy of Cooking cumulates classic American dishes. This is a personal favourite, as it is one of the first cookbooks my mother bought to learn how to make traditional American dishes. Another classic, Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras, provides a similar experience but with French food, making French cuisine less intimidating with commonly found ingredients.
The way Bras changed French cuisine’s reputation, Shizo Tsuji changed the perception of Japanese food from unknown and foreign to haute cuisine. Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art provides information on the techniques and ingredients for a foundation of Japanese cuisine making this one of the more popular food books to read.
Ranking among popular books of their time is The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity. The book’s title might be the worst in culinary history, but at least it is based on the wisdom of America’s most imaginative chefs – so suggests the subtitle.
Practice Practice Practice
For those more comfortable in the kitchen, challenge yourself and practice. When you fall in love with a dish at a fine dining restaurant or are impatiently waiting to get a reservation for a dish you know you will like, try to create it at home. The executive chef most likely has a cookbook out there, so add it to your list of books to read. Getting in at Waku Ghin may take up to a few weeks, so try Tetsuya: Recipes from Australia’s Most Acclaimed Chef. For those looking to improve their dessert making skills, local Singaproean Janice Wong of the 2am:dessertbar invites you into her world, where attention to detail is key, in Perfect in Imperfection.
Don’t worry about reinventing the wheel just yet. Chefs are chefs because they have been trained and learned from others. Chef René Redzepi of Noma, grew up using Charlie Trotter’s cookbooks, including Charlie Trotter’s Seafood, discussing which seafood is sustainable and wine pairings for different types of fish. Chef Daniel Boulud’s first collection was Les Recettes Originales de Robert Laffont, a series of cookbooks by the best French chefs in the 1970s.
Learn to Adapt
For those looking for a healthy lifestyle, there are many good books with healthy recipes. Two books to read are Charlie Trotter’s Raw and Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi. These world renowned chefs have used their prowess to create healthy recipes that make you excited to eat vegetables and forget about the meat. With every new request or adaptation, comes knowledge and new skills, turning a previously stressful experience into an educational one.
Modern Masterpieces – Blending Food, Science and Art
While rooted in history and tradition, modern masterpieces blur the lines between food and science. Think of the classics as a helpful parent guiding you along in the kitchen and the modern masterpieces as a knowledgeable teenager working on his high school science project. The first of the modern classic books to read is The Art of Fermentation, which is a comprehensive guide for those looking to make their own fermented foods and beverages, like miso or fruit wine. In addition to recipes, this book provides explanations of the different processes that occur during fermentation.
Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine: the Art and Science of Cooking may be one of the most coveted food book series of our time as an encyclopaedia of the science behind contemporary cooking. Myhrvold has made a more accessible version, the Modernist Cuisine at Home, for those looking to experiment and have fun on their own.
In my opinion, the pinnacle of fine dining and molecular gastronomy was Chef Adria Ferran’s el Bulli. Ferran created a destination restaurant by combining food and science seamlessly. While elBulli has shuttered, its legacy of innovation and creativity live on in those that have visited and in Ferran’s El Bulli. Innovation is not limited to commercial kitchens.
Books to Read – Beyond the Kitchen
Developing your skills in the kitchen is both mental and physical. When your roast is in the oven, take the opportunity to immerse yourself in controversial and informative books of Michael Pollan, such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma or In Defense of Food. Another educational book is Fast Food Nation, which discusses the pitfalls of mass production.
Another option is take a break and lighten up. Books to read during kitchen breaks include highly entertaining and slightly crude Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain and When You Lunch with the Emperor: The Adventures of Ludwig Bemelmans. Other popular books for a highly entertaining mental break are: The Belly of Paris, Julie & Julia, and the One-Hundred Foot Journey.
These are the books to read to elevate your skills to the private chef level, but there are still other good books out there. Learn as much as you can and create a unique private dining experience with a competition of your own. You are sure to win over your friends.