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Eater's 21 Essential Cookbooks of 2013

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Photos: Paula Forbes / Eater

As 2013 draws to a close, it is time to sort through the mountains (and mountains) of cookbooks published over the course of the year and decide which ones should earn a spot on your bookshelf. Here now, the second annual Eater Essential Cookbooks list. (See 2012's picks here.) Of the books that fall within Eater's purview — that is, books that are for, by, or about chefs and 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.




The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook

By Michael Anthony and Dorothy Kalins

After twenty years, Danny Meyer's beloved New York restaurant Gramercy Tavern finally got a cookbook, and it was worth the wait. Chef Michael Anthony wrote a slightly upscale version of an all-purpose cookbook, this is your go-to for dressed up chicken soup, carrot cake, braised pork, seafood chowder, homemade pasta and more.

Check out: a sneak peek, a trailer, Eater's First Look, and chef Michael Anthony's Google Talk.
[Buy on Amazon]


The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop

By Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen

Four & Twenty Blackbirds is a Brooklyn pie shop that serves up both classics (buttermilk, sour cream raisin) and new twists (their famous salted honey pie). Sisters Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen take their inspiration from both their homeland of South Dakota as well as their surroundings in the artisanal playground that is Brooklyn, New York.

So, does the world need another pie book? Maybe, maybe not. But here's the bottom line: I couldn't make pie dough to save my life before I got my hands on this book, and now I can, and it both tastes and looks good. The other books on this list would be lucky to achieve half as much. Check out: Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]


Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo's Most Unlikely Noodle Joint

By Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying

Before Ivan Orkin started opening ramen shops in New York City, he tackled the Tokyo ramen scene. This book — more of a narrative than others on this list — tells the story of how a New Yorker ended up in Japan in the first place, fell for ramen, and proceeded to open a noodle shop that consistently has lines out the door.

The book also contains a 43-page long recipe for Orkin's ramen (and its various accoutrements) that reads like a testament to doing things the right way. Not every book can get away with a recipe that detailed; then again, not every book needs to. Orkin gave his ramen its due. Add to all this possibly the best cookbook foreword ever written, courtesy David Chang's letter to Orkin about opening a ramen shop in New York City. Check out: Eater's interview, Eater's First Look.*
[Buy on Amazon]


Daniel: My French Cuisine

By Daniel Boulud, Sylvie Bigar and Bill Buford

Daniel: My French Cuisine is a capstone text for New York chef Daniel Boulud. Published to celebrate twenty years of his three Michelin-starred restaurant Daniel, the book is comprised of three sections. First, a length exploration of the restaurant's food, written with Sylvie Bigar. Second, a section by Bill Buford in which Boulud explores the classics (and technically astounding) dishes of his native Lyon. Third, a short section with home recipes.

The book is grand, it's gorgeous, it's glossy, it's everything you could ask for from a book celebrating the career of a chef like Boulud. Check out: a making-of video, Boulud's chat with Charlie Rose, Eater's Boulud interview, a trailer for the book, Eater's First Look.*
[Buy on Amazon]




The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen

By Matt Lee and Ted Lee

For their third cookbook, the brothers Matt Lee and Ted Lee go deep into the history of their hometown of Charleston, exploring the historic flavors and dishes that put the Southern town on the culinary map.

Of particular interest is the chapter on Drinks, which has recipes for Loquat Manhattans, Summer Peach Coolers, and Kumquat-Chile Bloody Marys. Just the thing to pre-game eating your body weight in oysters or she-crab soup. Check out: Eater's interview with the Lee Brothers, Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]


Pickles, Pigs & Whiskey: Recipes from My Three Favorite Food Groups and Then Some

By John Currence

Oxford, Mississippi chef John Currence delivered his first cookbook this year, and while there were those who were shocked by its whiskey-fueled antics, the true draw of the book is Currence's deeply personal take on Southern food.

There are recipes in here to satisfy everyone from the beginner home cook to the restaurant professional, and there are also projects galore from canning to cured meats. Check out: Eater's interview with Currence and Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]


Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen

By Ed Lee

The first cookbook from Louisville chef Ed Lee instructs on his style of cooking: some Southern influence, some Korean influence, a whole lot of remoulade and bourbon. The narrative is a compelling read and there are both weeknight friendly recipes as well as more complicated projects.

The rice bowl variations and the seasonal kimchi are worth the price of the book alone. Check out: Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]




The A.O.C. Cookbook

By Suzanne Goin

Making no apologies for complex dishes — "in the era of thirty-minute meals, my recipes do take longer" — Los Angeles chef Suzanne Goin's second cookbook is a standout volume full of wood-fired, California-inspired dishes from her wine and cheese bar.

The book is filled with a tremendous amount of information, some of it culinary and some of it about Goin and the history of the restaurant. There's also a 56-page guide to cheese and plenty of wine notes. Check out: Eater's First Look, an interview with Goin.
[Buy on Amazon]


Tartine Book No. 3: Modern Ancient Classic Whole

By Chad Robertson

Go search whole grain bread books on Amazon. Of the few that come up, almost all of them focus on nutrition and dieting. That is, except for Chad Robertson's book.

After the success of the Tartine Bakery breadmeister's last cookbook, Robertson turned his attentions to whole grains. Not for health, but for flavor. For the challenge of it. Because that was the next frontier in baking. Bread nerdery doesn't even begin to describe it. Check out: Eater's First Look, a trailer for the book.*
[Buy on Amazon]


Manresa: An Edible Reflection

By David Kinch and Christine Muhlke

The dreamy Manresa: An Edible Reflection by California chef David Kinch is perhaps the polar opposite of Daniel: My French Cuisine, but is equally a stellar example of a big shiny chef's cookbook. At one point, Kinch writes, "I should write BALANCE in capital letters throughout the book, because that's what cooking is really all about: it's about understanding the power of moderation."

The same can be said for cookbooks themselves: a little restaurant history, a few recipes, nice big photos, profiles of purveyors, a smattering of art from the restaurant, essays on the philosophy of cooking, and more. It's a nicely rounded portrait of the restaurant. Check out: a talk between Eric Ripert and David Kinch, David Kinch's Google Talk, Eater's David Kinch interview, and Eater's First Look.*
[Buy on Amazon]


L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food

By Roy Choi, Tien Nguyen, and Natasha Phan

Los Angeles chef Roy Choi's combination memoir and cookbook doesn't cover the period of his life he is most known for: the creation and subsequent domination of his Kogi BBQ Taco Truck and the restaurants it spawned. Rather, L.A. Son covers the struggles of his youth and young adulthood, and his love for the city of L.A. Very few cookbooks are as personal as this one; many try, most fail. Choi's not showing off here, he's nurturing. These are mostly recipes for home cooking, for comfort food.

Do keep in mind the book is mostly narrative with recipes added for emphasis. Check out: Eater's interview with Choi, Eater's First Look, Choi in conversation with his publisher Anthony Bourdain.
[Buy on Amazon]




Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull.

By John Gorham and Liz Crain

The first thing you'll notice about Toro Bravo — besides its bright yellow cover — is that the recipes don't start for a good 90 pages. What you have first is pages and pages of back story, both of chef John Gorham and his Portland tapas restaurant Toro Bravo, as well as food philosophizing and general cooking intel.

In addition to that first section and the recipes for tapas large and small, the layout and art direction here is a major draw. When was the last time a cookbook looked so modern and refreshing? The influence of former-Lucky Peach publisher McSweeney's is strongly felt on these pages and I hope cookbooks in general veer toward more color, more photos, and more user-friendliness. Perhaps a follow-up Tasty n Sons book is in order? Check out: a sneak peek of the book.
[Buy on Amazon]


Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand

By Andy Ricker and J.J. Goode

Here's the thing about the Pok Pok cookbook: say whatever you want about the recipes being complicated (they are) or the ingredients being hard to source (more on that in a second). The fact of the matter is that if you make them how chef Andy Ricker and his co-author J.J. Goode explain, the food will taste exactly like it does in the restaurant. That is no small feat. Add to that the fact that the stack of books in the Southeast Asian category is embarrassingly short (compared to say the tower of Italian cookbooks that come out each year), and the only word you can use to describe this year's Eater Award winner for best cookbook is "essential."

Now, about those ingredients. There has been some griping that it's hard to source all of the ingredients required for these dishes, and perhaps in some areas of the US that is true. However: a trip to a decently-sized Asian supermarket will yield a tidy pantry's-worth of good quality fish sauce, dried shrimp, and other necessities for a small amount of cash. Barring that, there's actually an online grocery store that will ship you ingredient kits for various recipes. Check out: a talk with Andy Ricker about the book, Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]


Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird

By Gabriel Rucker and Meredith Erickson

Portland chef Gabriel Rucker's Le Pigeon cookbook is full of character: Rucker's, the restaurant's, Portland's. It's such a stellar example of a portrait of a restaurant: as good a read as it is potential dinner party inspiration. (This is almost certainly not weeknight family dinner fodder.) The stories are engaging and the photography is well done but not fussy.

As a bonus, GM Andy Fortgang's wine notes are not an afterthought (as in many books) but could almost be separated out into their own volume. Check out: Eater's interview with Rucker, Eater's First Look.*
[Buy on Amazon]




The New Midwestern Table: 200 Heartland Recipes

By Amy Thielen

As the Southern-cookbook craze of the past several years appears to be cooling off a little, it seems it might be time for other US regions to step forward. First in line is Amy Thielen's refreshing take on the foods of her native Minnesota and the surrounding region. Think lightly smoked fresh water fish, foods with German and Scandinavian influences, and obviously a riff on the ubiquitous northwoods hot dish.

The book is a tie-in with Thielen's TV show, part of a deal between Random House and the Food Network to produce new projects together. The show was recently renewed for a second season. Check out: Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]



By Tim Byres

Smoke: New Firewood Cooking, the book from Dallas chef Tim Byres, is full of all sorts of useful information. If there were scouting badges for adults, Smoke would be the guide for the Smoked Foods, Infused Liquors, and Building Backyard Cooking Apparati badges.

While the book does feature dishes from Byres' acclaimed restaurant (including, yes, their Double-Barrel Bloody Mary), the majority of the book focuses on four feasts: Gulf Coast Seafood Boil, Tejano Barbacoa, Pig Roast, and a Campfire Breakfast. These are huge operations — several of which involve welding — but there's no reason individual recipes can't be lifted out. Check out: Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]




Sugar Shack Au Pied de Cochon

By Martin Picard

Warning, NSFW: Martin Picard's chronicle of his rural-Quebec maple syrup outpost the Sugar Shack (Cabane à Sucre) contains photos of a bunch of naked women and enough food porn to make any hedonist blush. By the numbers: four photos of totally naked women, four photos of mostly naked women, five illustrations of mostly naked women, one photo of a mostly naked man, one recipe for pancakes, one recipe for something called "Squirrel Sushi," eight recipes that include foie gras, three recipes that call for lobster, and recipes that call for calf's brain, bone marrow, truffles, caviar, oysters, veal, hare's kidneys, beaver tail, and Canadian Club. Oh, and dozens of recipes that call for gallons upon gallons of maple syrup.

It is, in other words, exactly what you might expect from a bunch of Quebecois stuck in the woods standing over a boiling pot of tree sap for weeks on end, and it is insane and wonderful. Check out: Eater's First Look.*
[Buy on Amazon]


D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients

By Alex Atala

You're probably not going to cook much from chef Alex Atala's upcoming cookbook, D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients, and it's not because its recipes call for things like immersion circulators and centrifuges. (Although they do, occasionally.) By and large, the Brazilian ingredients mentioned in the title — everything from ants to zebus — aren't going to be available at Whole Foods.

But the point of this book isn't really to enable you to recreate the experience of Atala's São Paulo restaurant at home. Instead, the book aims to educate readers about Brazilian ingredients and give them context for understanding what Atala is doing with them. It's an introduction to the sixth best restaurant in the world. Check out: Atala on Brazilian ingredients, Chang and Atala on Creativity, Eater's First Look.*
[Buy on Amazon]


Historic Heston

By Heston Blumenthal

This year's biggest, shiniest, glossiest, heaviest, and most expensive book ($125) is British chef Heston Blumenthal's Historic Heston, by a rather old fashioned English mile. The book is his first proper followup to the massive Big Fat Duck Cookbook; as that book focused on his Bray restaurant the Fat Duck, this one takes cues from his London restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. (Although not exclusively, it does contain recipes from his other restaurants.)

The book includes recipes from "medieval to late-Victorian." Each chapter centers on one historic recipe, followed by Blumenthal's exploration of both its historical context and his modern application of it. In sum: if Willy Wonka ran Hogwarts, Historic Heston would be the history textbook. Check out: Eater's First Look, Blumenthal discusses the book, a video preview.*
[Buy on Amazon]


Japanese Soul Cooking

By Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat

Japanese Soul Cooking is a look at the street food, home cooked comfort food, and bar snacks that make up Japanese cuisine. Pointedly skipping over sushi — the jacket copy literally begins "Move over, sushi" — Japanese Soul Cooking instead instructs on the art of gyoza, tempura, curries, kara-age, okonomiyaki, and more.

The book is both an education in the every day eats of Japan as well as a guide to trying them out yourself at home. Check out: Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]


The Cocktail Lab

By Tony Conigliaro

British master of the modern cocktail Tony Conigliaro's The Cocktail Lab: Unraveling the Mysteries of Flavor and Aroma in Drink, with Recipes happens to be the only booze book on this list. Included are recipes from the simple (a Kir Royale) to the incredibly complex (Conigliaro's famous riff on the Prairie Oyster, which includes an elBulli-style tomato "yolk" served on an oyster shell). Each is tagged with the year it originally appeared in Congiliaro's unnamed London booze atelier, an explanation of its development, and a quick how-to.

It may also be the most beautiful book on this list. From the old-school cover to the still-life photography by Addie Chinn that evokes 70s Gourmet (in a good way) to the pastel sketches of cocktail structure to the hefty, glossy paper, The Cocktail Lab is a book that will age gracefully on the shelf next to cocktail stunners of the past. Check out: Eater's First Look.
[Buy on Amazon]

*Eater operatives have tested recipes from all of these books except for those marked with a star. The untested cookbooks are recommended as good reads, beautiful objects, or both. Special thanks to Amy McKeever and Raphael Brion for their assistance.

Looking Ahead to 2014

Are you sad that 2013's epic slog of cookbooks has come to an end? Never fear, 2014 has lots of good stuff in store, including books from Per-Anders Jorgensen (Fool magazine), Mario Batali, Ruth Reichl, Homaro Cantu, Jeremy Nolen, Dominique Ansel, Yotam Ottolenghi, Christian Puglisi, Danny Bowien, Harold Dieterle, Hugh Acheson, Donald Link, Gabrielle Hamilton, Sean Brock, Pat LaFrieda, Ferran Adrià, Cathal Armstrong, Dana Cowin, Notes From a Kitchen, Talia Baiocchi, and many more.

· All Cookbook Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Year in Eater 2013 Coverage [-E-]