Your Favourite Chef’s Favourite Cookbook
I read cookbooks like their novels; I own multiple cookbooks which I’ve pored over countless times despite having never cooked an actual recipe from them. You might think that strange but I love the weight of them, I love the seriousness of them, and I love the comfort of knowing that they’re filled with precise instructions which – if you follow them to the letter – will always give you your desired end result. You’re never in danger of getting an unsatisfying ending or a cliffhanger from a cookbook. Just imagine what the uproar would have been like around Islington if Ottolenghi had left off the final step of his no-churn raspberry ice cream.
Now, we all know that your favourite cookbooks of all time are the wonderfully well-used MOB Kitchen cookbooks that you’ve got on your kitchen counter, right? I also know that we've already recommended some brilliant restaurant cookbooks and vegan cookbooks to you before. But what about professional chefs out there? What do the best chefs in the country cook from when they’re in need of some divine dinner inspiration? Well, chefs are mortals and use cookbooks, too. A lot of them find inspiration in the pages of cookbooks focussed on cuisines divergent from their own areas of expertise while others find diving deeper into the work of their contemporaries to be a more fulfilling use of time.
Chefs love food more than most people love their children so you shouldn’t be all that surprised that the good majority of cooks and chefs out there are absolute cookbook fiends. I even spoke to one chef who admitted that she recently had to pry three pages of the cookbook they adore apart with a scalpel because there was so much soy sauce on it.
To find out which cookbooks are most worth your time, we asked a range of the UK’s top chefs to tell us about their favourite cookbooks of all time. Here’s what your favourite chef’s favourite cookbook is.
Roberta Hall McCarron – The Pastry Chef's Guide by Ravneet Gill
"One of my favourite cookbooks is The Pastry Chef's Guide by Ravneet Gill. The book has a fantastic range of recipes for all occasions but what I find most impressive is how easy everything is to understand. Pastry can be quite complicated and is very precise, but Ravneet makes it sound so easy with great explanations as to why you should do something a certain way. The recipes are both foolproof and delicious!"
Roberta is the head chef at The Little Chartroom.
Chet Sharma – Made in Italy by Giorgio Locatelli
"I’ve been hoarding books for as long as I can remember. At my last count, the collection sat somewhere in the region of 1000 books. Despite that, there has always been one cookbook that I still turn to instinctively whenever I need inspiration; Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy. This was the first book I bought about food that I read religiously, cover-to-cover, and it was because of this that I went to work under Chef Locatelli. It’s not just a beautifully compiled list of recipes, but what comes through clearly is his fervent obsession for quality produce, hyper-seasonality and real hospitality."
Chet will open his debut restaurant Bibi later this summer at 42 North Audley Street, W1K 6ZR.
Julie Lin – The Food of Sichuan by Fuchsia Dunlop
"This is the only cookbook I use as a direct manual. I tend to cook by using the Malaysian/English term ‘Agak-Agak’ which my cousin rather beautifully translates as – ‘Season the dish until the spirit of our ancestors tell us to stop.’ However, something quite incredible happened when I picked up Fuchsia Dunlop’s book, The Food of Sichuan – my cooking instinct was no longer needed, her dishes are seasoned to perfection.
Fuschia explores the intricacies of Sichuanese food with such passion and respect for the culture. There is hot and numbing perfection to be found in the ‘Traditional Dandan Noodles.’ The ‘Leaf-wrapped Glutinous Dumplings’ are so fragrant, yet soft and delicate. The star of the show for me, has to be - ‘Fish Fragrant Aubergines’ salty, punchy, melt in the mouth aubergines that when draped over steamy jasmine rice just make my heart sing."
Julie is the chef and founder of Julie's Kopitam.
Jake Finn – Finding Fire by Lennox Hastie
"Finding Fire by Lennox Hastie is far and away my most-thumbed book ever. It’s just such an interesting book, full of things you wouldn’t expect. It’s NOT a traditional BBQ book – for example, there is one section dedicated to different leaves like radicchio, endive, etc all smoked and grilled. Ultimately, this has formed the base of my grilled baby gem lettuce Caesar salad, a firm favourite on the Cinder menu right now."
Jake is the chef and owner of Cinder.
Erchen Chang – Cooking With Scorsese by Hato Press
"This is not your traditional cookbook. I draw a lot of inspiration from films so I love Cooking With Scorsese as it is a series of cinematic cookbooks, capturing scenes of cooking and dining moments from movies. It’s fun, inspirational and a total pleasure for the eye."
Erchen is the co-founder and creative director of BAO.
Karan Gokani – Noble Rot: Wine from Another Galaxy by Dan Keeling and Andrew Mark
"I hoard cookbooks and tend to read them more as storybooks than instruction manuals. So naturally, I tend to lean towards books that are centred around travel and stories than those which are purely recipe-photo-recipe-photo. Not strictly a cookbook, Noble Rot: Wine from Another Galaxy is one of the sexiest books I’ve picked up. It’s visual, comprehensive, engaging and perfectly captures Dan and Mark’s incredible personalities on its pages. Similarly, the Pizza Pilgrims book is a great reflection of their brand and a really fun read. For seasonal ideas, I love The British Larder by Madalene Bonvini-Hamel. The more classic books on my shelf I keep revisiting are McGee’s Food & Cooking, Kenji Lopez Alt’s The Food Lab and the good old Ceylon Daily News Cookery Book."
Karan is the founder and director of Hoppers.
Aled Williams – White Heat by Marco Pierre White
"My favourite cookbook of all time is Marco Pierre White's White Heat. I remember as a young Chef opening it for the first time and instantly being encapsulated by Marcos’s food and by Bob Carlos photography. The way Bob captured Marco, a young Gordon Ramsay and Stephen Terry in one of the most iconic kitchens the UK has ever produced is amazing. Some of Marcos dishes have become iconic and reinvented in many ways in many kitchens."
Aled Williams the head of food at TRUEfoods.
Pam Yung – Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli
"This isn’t a glossy coffee table book – there are not a lot of shiny pictures and it’s pretty text-heavy – but it’s rich with information about what to pay attention to, and how to follow your instincts rather than just recipes, which is critical for someone who is learning how to cook. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers, which is a California classic, also tells you how to taste a dish and add ingredients, which is a beautiful way to approach cooking."
Pam is the head chef of Flor.
John Javier – Relae - A Book of Ideas by Christian Puglisi
Christian Puglisi’s Relae - A Book of Ideas is the one cookbook that changed my cuisine forever and helped shape what we did at MASTER. Not only is it full of useful recipes but he also writes about his creative process with each dish. Throughout my career, I’ve found that the ‘whys’ are more important the ‘hows’ and I can’t recommend this book enough to any young chef trying to develop their own style and flavour.
John is the group development chef at Pachamama.
Brad Carter – Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson
“My all-time favourite cookbook has to be Nose To Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson from iconic British restaurant St. John. I bought it in 2003 and still look at it regularly as their philosophy of making something delicious every part of the animal is completely aligned with mine. What he did was so pioneering back then, serving offal in London in the 1990’s, but it is still so relevant today. I love the minimalistic approach to the book and there’s some great humour in there, especially with the images. All the recipes are class and it’s food you actually want to eat. At this time of year I always cook the boiled chicken with leeks and aioli, tarting up the dish with veggies from my allotment and wild garlic found in the woods just out of the city."
Brad Carter is the chef director at Carters of Moseley.
Kian Samyani - The Turkish Cookbook by Musa Dağdeviren
"I love The Turkish Cookbook by Musa Dağdeviren. Being a Phaidon publication, it is of course an absolutely beautiful book, and is about much more than just cooking recipes. Musa is amazing chef (he’s been featured on Chef’s Table) and the book goes into huge detail about the culinary history of Turkey. Although there are some recognisable dishes in there, like lamb Adana, there’s also a lot of incredible little-known regional dishes from across the country – it’s a real education. It’s one of those books where I want to cook every single recipe and I can spend hours getting lost in those pages and studying the similarities to Iranian food."
Kian Samyani is the chef-founder of Berenjak.
Jamie Halsall – The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
"The first cookbook I bought was The French Laundry Cookbook. It was, and still is, one of the greatest sources of inspiration to me. I have fond memories of my formative years scrolling through its pages and soaking up every word and image. There’s a very simple message underpinning the book. Do something and do it very well. It showed me that cooking wasn’t a dropout vocation but something that took real skill and to be an accomplished chef was something to aspire to. “It’s not about perfection; it’s about the joy of striving.”
Jamie Halsall is the head chef at Cin Cin Fitzrovia.
Kundan Singh – Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Pag
"Culinary Artistry is one of my all-time favourite cookbooks. The book itself interviews leading chefs on how they find their inspiration for dishes and new flavour pairings. Using various recipes as examples, they discuss what makes them select and pair ingredients and how flavours work together to create something exceptional. The book has pushed me to experiment with new ingredients on the tandoor – the most recent being raw jackfruit!"
Kundan is the head chef at Tandoor Chop House.