Eating reading

Henri’s gift books for the chef and gourmand

A good book, particularly a good cookbook, is not only a gift that keeps on giving but, when given to someone close to you, also a gift that keeps on giving back. Give the chef in your life a cookbook, and the benefits of your friendship will increase by more than just desserts.

The Classics

While bookstore tables are overflowing these days with wonderful new books about food—on everything from vegan cooking to cooking with chocolate—as well as books by celebrity chefs from Rachael Ray to Gordon Ramsay, certain classics belong on every self-respecting kitchen shelf.

Some have been revised over the years. The Joy of Cooking got bigger and better when Irma Rombauer’s son and grandson teamed up to revise it in 2006, and M.F.K. Fisher’s 1949 translation of the Physiology of Taste (originally published in French in 1825) is generally regarded as the best; Fisher’s many collected essays need no updating.

Used editions of many classic cookbooks—check the Bookstore on Main Street in Chico—are often spotless. On the other hand, it’s fun to speculate about the stories behind pages stained with brown sugar or red wine.

New and Revised

1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die, Francis Case (editor), $40. With 50 international contributors, this 950-page encyclopedia features frequently humorous descriptions of foods from around the world, from kangaroo to water beetles: “Raw, live beetle larvae wriggle, and have a milky, honey taste. When fried, the larvae have a crunchy, crispy texture with a subtle flavor of honey.”

Ad Hoc at Home: Family-Style Recipes, Thomas Keller, $50. Keller, chef and owner of Yountville’s French Laundry (prix fixe lunch: $240) has assembled a collection of comfort-food recipes, including grilled-cheese sandwiches, beef Stroganoff and chocolate brownies.

Cook’s Illustrated Series. Christopher Kimball, editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine (and other publications) and producer of the PBS series America’s Test Kitchens (and other radio and television shows) is the driving force behind this wonderful series of cookbooks, featuring long, narrative descriptions of how the chefs and writers arrived at the recipes—sometimes more than two dozen versions were tested. The newest addition to the series is The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, with 650 recipes from the show’s first 10 years ($40). For a complete list of books published by Cook’s Illustrated, go to

How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman, $35. The revised and expanded 10th-anniversary edition includes 2,000 recipes focusing on natural and seasonal ingredients in easy-to-make dishes. While experienced—and even not-so-experienced—chefs will roll their eyes at some of the instructions (How to Boil Water), the book delivers what it promises, resulting in a thorough and thoroughly useful manual.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child, et al. Generally regarded as the book that introduced French cooking to America in 1961, this classic is back in the public eye thanks to the recent film Julie & Julia (with Meryl Streep as Julia Child), about a New York food writer who cooks her way through all 524 of the book’s recipes, from traditional dishes such as boeuf bourguignon and cassoulet to a wide range of vegetables, breads and desserts. Also: basic instructions on food preparation, substitutions and wine pairing ($90/two-volume set; $33-$40/individual volumes).

The New Vegetarian Epicure, Anna Thomas, $20 paperback. Originally published in 1972, The Vegetarian Epicure, organized by season and assembled by menu, immediately became the bible of counter-culture cooks around the country. The updated version adds 325 new recipes. Looking for the perfect menu for “An Informal Winter Buffet”? Try Thomas’ baked rigatoni with grilled vegetables, Tuscan white beans with chard, tri-color salad, roasted green beans with garlic and cranberry tart. Perfect for those of us who shop at Chico’s farmers’ markets and/or GRUB.

All of the above books are available at Chico’s Lyon Books, where store owner/manager Heather Lyon also recommends:

My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method, Jim Lahey, $30; Gourmet Today, Ruth Reichl, $40; Momofuku, Chang and Meehan, $40; and The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion, Herbst and Herbst, $30.