Jeremy Leinen, CEC, Executive Chef of Dunwoody CC, says these particular books have influenced the way he cooks, plates and thinks about food.
Every chef I’ve ever known has a pretty serious collection of cookbooks. Some have been read very thoroughly, and some are more “coffee table” type books revered for the sometimes stunning photography of the food (see “Cooking with the Seasons” by Jean-Louis Palladin). Asking a chef to choose a favorite cookbook is often quite difficult, as we usually love them all. After pondering a bit, one can think of which ones we refer to the most. Naturally, those are likely identified as our “favorites.”
With that, I’ll discuss my top five favorite cookbooks, in no particular order:
“Under Pressure” by Thomas Keller
For a lot of chefs, this is probably the cookbook that made the technique of “sous vide” cooking accessible. This technique has been around in Europe since the 70s but was still considered very new in the US when this book was published in 2008. I had just left the Greenbrier when the book came out, and while I was exposed to a bit of the technique there, nobody really taught me how to do it. It was something we would try to do and we mostly just guessed, at least until this book came out. This is still probably the best book you can buy to get acquainted with the how and why of sous vide cooking (other than maybe “Modernist Cuisine” which I don’t own). Almost no more guesswork, as there are cooking times and temps listed for so many ingredients, from meats to seafood, vegetables, and custards, you’ll have some idea how to get started with nearly anything you’d want to cook. Also of extreme importance, this book discusses the food safety aspect of the technique so you’ll know what you need to know to perform this technique safely. Besides the really helpful info for sous vide, it’s Thomas Keller so there’s plenty of pictures of some seriously gorgeous food and recipes for quite a few other components that don’t involve sous vide.
“Baking and Pastry” by The Culinary Institute of America
I’m not a pastry chef. I don’t have a pastry program at my club, but I have to be able to make some pastry items. This book comes in extremely handy for having a lot of basic, fundamental recipes like different types of cake batters, breads, cookies, mousses, etc. If you’re looking for something highly specialized and unique, this book may not be all that helpful. But if you just need to make a basic this or that, I can’t imagine not being able to find what you need in this book. One disclaimer: I’ve heard from some people over the years that you can never trust the recipes in CIA textbooks, as there are misprints and mistakes and inevitably some of the recipes don’t work. I’ve never had that happen, personally. I have two versions of this textbook, and they’ve both been extremely helpful to me over the years.
“Charcuterie” by Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a charcuterie junkie, and this is the book that got me started. This is another one of those subjects that I got exposed to, was intrigued by, but never had any direct or structured training. This book takes the guesswork out of it. There’s a recipe here for any basic items you may need to make, like sausages, pates and terrines, bacon, cured whole muscles, etc. Most are straightforward and simple versions of these, but some more interesting versions are thrown into the mix as well (like the foie gras hot dog, for example). Again, this book also addresses the important subject of food safety in regards to the techniques involved so you’ll know how to do this safely. This book is simply a must-have if you have any interest in charcuterie at all.
“The Square” by Phil Howard
This is a book I actually can’t remember the last time I looked at, but I have great reverence for it for very different reasons than the other books on my list. “The Square” is the most detailed cookbook I’ve ever encountered. The recipes are extremely well organized and the technique is thoroughly (yet concisely) explained. This is a Michelin-starred restaurant, but the food may not appeal so much to an American diner. That said, the value in this book is the detail in the technical explanations and getting an example of how to really write recipes at a high level. You may not ever serve a single dish from this book, but you’ll probably learn a trick or two to improve some things you already make, and you’ll almost certainly come away with a better grasp of how to write detailed and well-organized recipes.
“Eleven Madison Park” by Daniel Humm
This one probably doesn’t need much of an explanation, as it’s one of the best restaurants in the world. Obviously, the photography is stunning. That aside, this book is full of excellent recipes for individual components that come in handy all the time. Purees, gels, crumbles, compound butter, the list is almost endless and you can use the components however you need, without having to do any entire dish out of the book if you don’t want to. The granola recipe is one of my favorites. I use it regularly. The practical use of this book can’t be overstated, and that might be a bit surprising to say about a book written about a Michelin three-star restaurant.