I read cookbooks like novels, and I have ever since I discovered my mother’s late '60s edition of Betty Crocker. I have more than 400 food books, and I love them all, even the ones that aren’t very good.
I have loved the Dean and Deluca Cookbook, by David Rosengarten, for 17 years. The beauty of this book is that it not only explains ingredients in delicious detail, but the recipes themselves are excellent and veryprecise. It was written during a time when world cuisine was beginning to influence cooks. It demystified then-unusual cuisines like Moroccan and Thai, while putting fun twists on American classics. I still use it today when I need inspiration.
Jeffrey Steingarten, a delightful author with a witty and erudite style, wrote a book called The Man Who Ate Everything in 1997. It is part cookbook, part food journal, part scientific treatise and all-the-way wonderful. This collection of essays ranges from a step-by-step list of how he conquered his food phobias like kimchi, blue food and Greek food, to a diatribe against butter substitutes. It is so funny and so smart.
Crescent Dragonwagon has written several great cookbooks, and when I was incubating the seeds of my restaurant, I stumbled across her book Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread. Ms. Dragonwagon ran a bed and breakfast in Arkansas and fed her guests well, with soups and breads that were, for the time, quite unusual. I use her chicken stock recipe as well as her Cuban black bean soup to this day.
It’s easy to tell which books I use most often, because their spines are broken, they are splashed with sauce and some pages stick together. That’s the sign of a good book, in my estimation!