Food Books I Don’t Want to Live Without

These are neither the best cookbooks nor the most trendy. They are simply my personal favorites, books I’ve re-read over and over and dip into again and again. Often, a sentence I’ve written will jump back and remind me of the book and style that inspired it. First round below. More to follow as I remember them.

Delights and Prejudices – James Beard’s autobiography. 1961. Another life lived in terms of food – what he ate, what he cooked, what people around him ate and cooked. I learned how to talk about food from him.

Glutton for Punishment – Jay Jacob’s autobiography. Gourmet’s NY Restaurant reviewer in the 70’s and 80’s, he had a literate style, used the word sapid in every story he could, and had eaten and drunk on three continents without taking himself too seriously. The ups and downs in the story of his love for a long-time girlfriend can lift your heart and break it. And, there is the food–the epic snail eating battle in France, the platter of prawns in India, the trip up the Hudson in a canoe and the river people who cooked for him…

Making of a Chef – Michael Ruhlman’s time at the Culinary Institute. Inspired me to take some classes there and for anyone who knows they will never cook professionally, but still loves the romance, the heat, and the stress, it is a wonderful read.

Roadfood Goodfood – Jane and Michael Stern. Who does not want to read about pork tenderloins in Iowa, meat and threes in the South, gumbo in Louisiana and Rhode Island’s chicken dinners? It is luscious. I’ve hated every recipe of theirs I’ve ever tried, but I read this book over and over.

Robert Nadeau’s Guide to Boston Restaurants – The Real Paper and Phoenix’s restaurant reviewer since the 70’s, this book captures a time when two Indian restaurants were all Boston could boast and the seven Mexican restaurants were divided by which three used fresh cilantro. His descriptions of meals, his offhand comments (“The food comes from cans, but they are the right cans.”), and his vocabulary (the “reading” of a dish) coupled with his references to the Taste of America and Fritz Fanon make it a reread favorite. My copy has exploded and is held together with a large rubber band, but I still dip into it for the Italian and Fish restaurants section. Sustainable fish in 1978.

And one of the books I wish I still had:

The Underground Gourmet – Una Jones (I think). The Liberation News Service’s food writer in the 60’s, this is her collected columns. My friend Richie and I each had copies. A combination of student-style cooking and radical politics, that one is lost to time.


Food Books I Don’t Want to Live Without — 2 Comments

  1. Don, thank you for the kind words about my 1978 restaurant book. I can send you a new copy, although none of them are made well enough for a lot of reading. I later wrote two anthologies, one of American ethnic recipes, and one of American historical recipes, that you might also enjoy. I continue to write a weekly restaurant column in Boston, and as the weeklies have become smaller and feistier again, I think it is enjoying a revival, but that would be for others to judge. — Mark Zanger, “Robert Nadeau’s Body Double.”

  2. Love this list, Don. The only one I’ve read is Ruhlman’s, and that was before he was, you know, MICHAEL RUHLMAN. It was a great book, though.

    I look forward to adding the others to my list, as well as compiling a list of my own.

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