What are good culinary reference books?
February 21, 2009 12:00 PM   Subscribe

I just got a job as a chef's apprentice, and I'm trying to collect scholarly culinary resources I can use to help me with my studies. So far my instructors have recommended The Professional Chef textbook put out by the Culinary Institute of the America and The Food Lover's Companion. Are there any other websites or books that are essential for would-be culinary professionals trying to learn a little more of culinary science, history, and cuisine classique?

I'm not looking so much for simple instructional cookbooks like The Joy of Cooking or How to Cook Everything. Nothing against them--I own them--but I need things that will give me deeper information about knife cuts, glaces, pastry work, French cooking, etc.
posted by schroedinger to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Knife Skills Illustrated
posted by special-k at 12:09 PM on February 21, 2009

The Larousse Gastronomique and Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking will both be indispensable.
posted by rtha at 12:10 PM on February 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

On Cooking by Labensky & Hause.

History, knife skills, food safety & sanitation, nutrition, kitchen staples, menu planning and food costing...this book is the most comprehensive book on cooking if you want to be a professional.

And all those chapters come before the actual cooking.

Good luck and Allez Cuisine!
posted by hal_c_on at 12:16 PM on February 21, 2009

second On Food and Cooking- great as a reference and especially for Chapter 15: The Four Basic Food Molecules. A great read for better understanding what's going on when food and heat interact.
posted by farishta at 12:17 PM on February 21, 2009

I recommend:

Classical Cooking the Modern Way
La repertoire - I carried a paperback version of this in my toolbox
Jacques Pepin
The Baker's Manual

I see others have mentioned On Food and Cooking and Larousse and On Cooking. Those are certainly must haves. On of my favorite things to do was scour used book stores for older version of some of the CIA cook books, as well as older versions of the Larousse, and any other cook books from some of the old school chefs like Fernand Point, and Paul Bocuse.

If most of my stuff wasn't in storage as we prepare to sell our house, I could probably list a dozen more titles. These are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.
posted by ralan at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2009

My sister likes The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine
posted by milkrate at 1:06 PM on February 21, 2009

Brillat-Savarin's _The Physiology of Taste_ is less of a reference book and more of a theory book, but should be read by all.

I second the CIA book, Escoffier, and most of the others above, of course.
posted by kcm at 3:58 PM on February 21, 2009

Besides technique, which are covered upthread, I would suggest these three books to give you ideas and a consistent base of knowledge on flavors, combinations and trends: Culinary Artistry, the Flavor Bible and What to Drink with What you Eat by Page & Dornenburg.

Magee is excellent for understanding Why. Start reading cookbooks, great and small, food porn or not. Right now, I am getting a kick reading cookbooks from small churches and communities.

Don't go for molecular gastronomy until the basics are an integral part of you then go from there to playing around with alginates, foams and all that. In the end, it is about taste and not being purely clever. Remember, Picasso knew how to draw before deciding to dismantle figurative art.
posted by jadepearl at 4:25 PM on February 21, 2009

Seconding Culinary Artistry and McGee.

Judy Rodgers (Zuni Cafe) writes beautifully about how food behaves.

The French Laundry cookbook has excellent techniques.
posted by AceRock at 9:29 PM on February 21, 2009

The Flavor Bible.
posted by LDL707 at 3:24 AM on February 22, 2009

To the above excellent suggestions, I would add:

Cookwise and Bakewise by Shirley O. Corriher

Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli

The Page & Dornenburg books are awesome, and McGee is essential.

Also, all of Michael Ruhlman's books.
posted by trip and a half at 5:17 AM on February 22, 2009

The Way to Cook may be too simple, but is the closest of Julia Child's books to a compendium of technique and principles, etc vs. a recipe book and has always had a place on my shelf next to La Technique and the rest.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:17 AM on February 22, 2009

Two more good resources are Cooking by James Peterson, which is more a how-to book than a recipe book, and On Food and Cooking, which goes deeply into the physics and chemistry of the kitchen.

Hope these are helpful...
posted by amcafee at 1:46 PM on February 23, 2009

By far the best book I've ever read or looked into about food, out of hundreds, is The Oxford Companion to Food:

`A food book for all time. The canon of great food literature just got one fat volume greater ... A must-have for any serious food follower' Gourmet

`Many things about the Companion are extremely impressive, but this sheer range is almost dumbfounding.' John Lancaster, Evening Standard

`a magnificent feast, over 20 years in gestation, eagerly awaited and well worth the wait.' Philippa Davenport, Financial Times

`the best food reference work ever to appear in the English language ... read it and be dazzled' Bee Wilson, New Statesman

`The publishing event of the year if not the decade ... Alan Davidson, the legendarily learned (and eccentric) former British diplomat and international authority on seafood ... and godfather of food scholars around the world, has written most of the 2,650 entries, in itself a stupendous feat .... Everyone seriously interested in food must own this book .... A great achievement.' Corby Kummer, New York Times Book Review

posted by jamjam at 10:46 AM on April 18, 2009

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