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The 21 Essential Cookbooks and Food Books of 2012

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<em>Texas Eats</em> by Robb Walsh.
Texas Eats by Robb Walsh.

[Photos: Paula Forbes / Eater]

As 2012 draws to a close, it is time to sort through the mountains (and mountains) of cookbooks published over the course of the year. Here now, the first ever Eater Essential Cookbooks list. Of the books that fall within Eater's purview — that is, books that are about, written by, or could be useful to chefs/restaurants — these are the ones that are required reading. Hundreds and hundreds of cookbooks are published every year; the books below separate themselves by offering something original, useful, beautiful, and/or interesting to the culinary conversation.

Criteria For Selection

Home cooking books were mostly left off this list unless they were written by a professional chef. The exception is when the book goes in depth into a particular cuisine or technique in a way that could be useful to professional chefs, as was the case with Asian Tofu and Burma. There were many excellent books written for/by/about home cooking this year, but they didn't make the cut. Exception made for Sam Sifton, because he seems to have gone pro at Thanksgiving dinner.

All the books on this list offer something new to the conversation, whether it's a new way of looking at a cuisine (Texas Eats) or simply a new, unique voice (Zak Pelaccio's book). Many of them are included because they are an excellent record of a restaurant at a moment in time (Faviken, Mugaritz).

Here now in no particular order, Eater's Required and Recommended Reading Lists. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom, where there's a preview of what's to come in 2013 (which has potential to be the Best Cookbook Year Ever).

A Look Inside the Cookbooks of 2012

[Photos: Paula Forbes]

Eater's Essential Cookbooks and Food Books of 2012

preservation-kitchen.jpgThe Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant and Kate Leahy
Chicago chef Paul Virant's guide to canning, pickling, fermenting and otherwise preserving throws open the strict confines of working with seasonal produce. As Virant told Eater, "If you're interested in supporting the local food movement, however you define that, this is one of the avenues you have to take." Particularly when you live somewhere that has a severely limited growing season, like, say, Chicago. The book is split into two sections: the first has the preservation recipes, and the second shows you how to use them in dishes. Check out the preserved Thanksgiving dinner menu.
[Buy on Amazon]

faviken.jpgFaviken by Magnus Nilsson
Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson wrote this portrait of his restaurant in rural (read: middle of nowhere) Sweden with no intention that his audience try to recreate the dishes in it. As he told Eater, "I don't want people buying it so that they can reproduce the recipes. I want people buying it because they want to understand what we do, why we do it, and whom we do it with. Maybe that can inspire them." His descriptions of the tiny restaurant and its unusual dishes are a welcome peek into a dining experience half way around the world, a place most people will only be able to visit via this text.
[Buy on Amazon]

v-h-c.jpgVietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan
San Francisco chef Charles Phan wrote this guide to the food of his childhood that serves as an excellent primer on preparing Vietnamese cuisine. And, thankfully, the recipes are neither dumbed down or Americanized beyond necessity. (Phan does note when substitutions must be made due to American availability of ingredients.) No excuses, no shortcuts: just a straightforward introduction to Vietnamese food.
[Buy on Amazon]

thanksgiving.jpgThanksgiving by Sam Sifton
The only home cooking exception on this list, ex-New York Times restaurant critic/Thanksgivingologist Sam Sifton's ode to Thanksgiving makes the Required Reading List for being everything most Thanksgiving food writing is not. The book is simple, clear, to the point, and contains nothing more than it needs to. It's just solid advice for the holiday without the usual media fuss.
[Buy on Amazon]

burma.jpgBurma by Naomi Duguid
Cookbook author Naomi Duguid examines the often-overlooked cuisine of Burma. Duguid digs deep, exploring regional differences between dishes as well as the culture surrounding the cuisine. Bonus points for stunning photography.
[Buy on Amazon]

texas-eats.jpgTexas Eats by Robb Walsh
Houston food writer and fearless defender of Velveeta Robb Walsh here turns his attention to the many and varied foods of Texas. Looking for a reference on the types of food actual people are actually cooking in Texas today? This is your book, with everything from often-misunderstood Tex-Mex dishes, to the recipe for Franklin Barbecue brisket, to the beautiful hodgepodge that makes up Houston's food landscape (Texas pho and flour tortilla samosas, anyone?). See photos of the book.
[Buy on Amazon]

dirt-candy.jpgDirt Candy by Amanda Cohen
This is Amanda Cohen's first cookbook out of her vegetarian New York City restaurant, Dirt Candy, and the most interesting thing about it is not the fact that, yes, it's a comic book cookbook. (Although that is pretty sweet.) No, Cohen's intelligent, level-headed take on vegetarian cuisine and her honest look at what chefs' lives are really lie make the book both refreshing and humorous. Check out a trailer as well as photos from the book.
[Buy on Amazon]

bouchon-bakery.jpgBouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel
Every few years, Thomas Keller releases a cookbook for one of his restaurants, and generally they are both beautiful and useful. Bouchon Bakery is no exception. As Keller told Eater, "For the diners, [the book is] a souvenir: they were there and take it home with them...We also hope it teaches people something. Even if you learn one or two things, that's a lot." See also a preview of the book, as well as an interview with pastry chef/co-author Sebastien Rouxel.
[Buy on Amazon]

best-chefs.jpgSecrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts
The concept is simple: Amateur Gourmet blogger Adam Roberts traveled the country getting chefs to teach him how to cook. What resulted is not just a great selection of recipes from some of this country's best culinary minds, but also a in depth look at what is going on in American food today. Check out Eater's interview with Roberts from earlier this year.
[Buy on Amazon]

restaurant-man.jpgRestaurant Man by Joe Bastianich
While this isn't a cookbook, it is something of a how-to (and at times how-not-to) guide to opening restaurants. New York restaurateur Joe Bastianich's bold style is both hilarious and remarkably honest. He did get a bit of criticism from Esquire's restaurant man John Mariani over a story Mariani says "completely warped the truth." But what's a memoir without some salacious insider rumormongering? Page turner, start to finish.
[Buy on Amazon]

mugaritz.jpgMugaritz by Andoni Luis Aduriz
Another portrait-of-a-restaurant type book, Mugaritz begins with an ending: "Mugaritz burnt in 2010." Aduriz's book tells the story of a restaurant bouncing back from total disaster (and becoming number three on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list in the process). The inner workings of the rural Spanish restaurant, as well as Aduriz's complex techniques, are showcased here with beautiful photography and illustrative charts. Check out photos from the book and Eater's two part interview with Aduriz: Part One, Part Two.
[Buy on Amazon]

salumi.jpgSalumi by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
A follow-up to Ruhlman and Polcyn's 2005 classic Charcuterie, Salumi explores the world of Italian dry-cured meats. A must have for any chef considering dabbling in in the salumi-arts, and not a bad guide for the at-home novice, either.
[Buy on Amazon]

pastries.jpgPastries by Pierre Hermé
Simply put: Pastries is the most gorgeous book of 2012. Oversized, lush, glossy photos of intricate pastries and confections, the book is comprised of 50 classic recipes and Pierre Hermé's personal riff on them. Stunning enough it's almost intimidating, the recipes are probably best attempted by professionals. Check out some photos.
[Buy on Amazon]

hmphry-slocombe.jpgHumphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book by Jake Godby, Sean Vahey and Paolo Lucchesi
Ice cream books generally are not the most exciting cookbooks: you have a few base recipes, a few flavor variations, maybe some sundaes, and you're done. But Humphry Slocombe is a lot more than just an ice cream book: it tells the story of the shop, its owners Godby and Vahey, and their neighbors in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood with the same humorous style that went into naming ice cream flavors like Secret Breakfast (bourbon and cornflakes). Check out Eater's interview with Godby and Vahey.
[Buy on Amazon]

eat.jpgEat With Your Hands by Zak Pelaccio
New York chef Zak Pelaccio's first cookbook covers a wide range of topics, from whole hog recipes that require not one but two bottles of cult-worshipped/hard-to-find Pappy Van Winkle bourbon (for the chef, not for the hog) to intricate Malaysian recipes to food from his Italian roots. The book makes this list for its unique voice — he recommends beverages to drink while cooking each dish, as well as music to listen to — and honestly the sheer quantity of information it contains. Pelaccio did not half ass this thing.
[Buy on Amazon]

asian-tofu.jpgAsian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen
Tofu is, frankly, an often overlooked ingredient, relegated to hippie vegetarian backwaters. Here, Nguyen explores its many varieties — explaining how to make everything from tofu skin to fermented tofu — and then shows you what to do with them. Looking to learn more about tofu? This is your book. Check out a preview.
[Buy on Amazon]

wine-grapes.jpgWine Grapes by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and José Vouillamoz
Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours is a six-and-a-half-pound guide to the geneaology and etymology of wine grape varieties that, according to Eater Wine editor Talia Baoicchi, "organizes all of this information into what is, despite its density, a page-turner."
[Buy on Amazon]

ludo.jpgLudoBites by Ludo Lefebvre
LudoBites tells the story of the pop-up restaurant, a temporary restaurant model Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre arguably began and less-arguably is the master of. The warts-and-all retelling of the first seven LudoBites (Lefebvre is now on his tenth) is full of photos taken during the original dinners as well as the scoop on what went on behind the scenes. The recipes are complex, but you're going to read this one cover-to-cover for the stories. Check out Lefebvre's interview with Eater.
[Buy on Amazon]

edible-selby.jpgEdible Selby by Todd Selby
Photographer Todd Selby traveled the world for two years, taking photographs of chefs and their creative spaces. Selby photographed spaces of chefs he tells Eater are "very DIY, the do-it-yourself movement. Whether it's making their actual space and the furniture, or the food is very hands on and there's a lot of kind of primitive method." The book also contains hand drawn recipes and questionnaires from the chefs. Bonus: the only book to come out this year that contains refrigerator magnets.
[Buy on Amazon]

zimmern.jpgAndrew's Zimmern's Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild and Wonderful Foods
Technically a kids book, Zimmern's Field Guide is also a fascinating look at unfamiliar foods as well as familiar foods that, upon further examination, are actually pretty odd. (What's a circus peanut, exactly?) Zimmern tells Eater, "I don't think that people will run out and start eating wildebeest. It would be almost impossible. But if we can be more curious about it, maybe we'll eat more little fish with the heads on, goat once a week, we'll go vegetarian once a week, and we can start to actually start to make a difference in our world one plate at a time."
[Buy on Amazon]

jerusalem1.jpgJerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi are London restaurateurs who grew up in Jerusalem, and this book is their ode to the diverse foods of their homeland. Featuring recipes from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions, Jerusalem is an in depth look at the modern foods of this ancient city.
[Buy on Amazon]

Looking Ahead to 2013

Next year, expect books from (deep breath) Hot Doug's, Daniel Patterson, Paul Liebrandt, Daniel Boulud, Pizzeria Bianco, David Kinch, Alex Atala, Traci des Jardins, Richard Blais, Yigit Pura, Gramercy Tavern, Sean Brock, Cook it Raw, Edward Lee, Eddie Huang, Michael White, Rene Redzepi, Tim Byres, Roy Choi, John Gorham, and probably a whole lot more.

· All Cookbook Coverage on Eater [-E-]