elcome to the end of 2015, otherwise known as the perfect time to snap up the year's best cookbooks for you and yours. Two major trends emerged in the cookbook world this year: a focus on vegetable cooking, and a deepening of the personal, biographical elements of home cooking and restaurant books alike. The latter seems especially ascendant: there's nary a vegetable to be found in Franklin Barbecue, an obsessive, definitive, engaging guide to smokey meats that was the year's biggest hit. Overall, the state of cookbook publishing is strong, and Eater's editors have picked out their 17 favorites for killer weeknight recipes, gorgeous showstopper design, and great bedtime reads.
Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay
Eater's cookbook of the year captures not just the essence of Texas barbecue, but what it means to pursue perfection in the realm of food. From features editor Helen Rosner's April review: "Much in the same way that a barbecue spot isn't exactly a restaurant, and a pitmaster isn't exactly a chef, Franklin Barbecue isn't exactly a cookbook. There are only eleven recipes: the brisket, of course, plus instructions for making pork ribs, beef ribs, a turkey breast, four sauces, beans, potato salad, and a remarkably good cole slaw. That's okay, though. Much like a book of Ono explaining nigiri, or Starita explaining a margherita pie, Franklin's recipes are meaningless without the man behind them. And so the bulk of his book is devoted to him explaining himself, in the good way: it's a book that unpacks his obsessions, his thought processes, his extraordinary focus on detail and technique."
The cookbook for the Los Angeles restaurant share the secrets to their carefree, vegetable-forward, Cali-Med cuisine. From associate features editor Meghan McCarron's November review: "The cookbook is at its most charming when Lett steps away from philosophy, when he speaks lovingly of the pizza of his New Jersey childhood, which was certainly not locally sourced. Perhaps what it means to cook 'from Venice, California' is captured best in the headnote from the recipe for pizza with spinach, feta, and garlic confit: 'Watching through the oven door as the pile of spinach on top of the pizza cooks down and the dough slowly becomes covered with salty feta and creamy mozzarella is, simply, rad.'"
Danny Bowien and Chris Ying
Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, November 2015
The first cookbook from bi-coastal phenom Danny Bowien is as much a chronicle of his unconventional career as a guide to the restaurant's iconic dishes. From cities editor Carolyn Alburger's capsule review: "From his personal struggles with his mother's untimely death to deflating run-ins with the Department of Health, perhaps the biggest reveal of all is the fact that — despite the lightning-fast success rocket Bowien seems to be riding — it's never been easy, and there are still daily hurdles to jump along the way. To that end, his candid writing serves as inspiration for peers and a true page-turner for his many fans, completing the portrait of a massively popular, hyper-idiosyncratic restaurant group. Ultimately, it shines a light on the Herculean feat that is survival as a creative in the restaurant industry."
Michael Solomonov, Steven Cook
Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Come for the iconic hummus recipe, stay for the extended meditation on what it means to cook modern Israeli cuisine at Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook's Philadelphia restaurant. From Helen Rosner's October review: "In Zahav, the recipes don't end when the food is done cooking — there are instructions for bringing things to the table, for how to serve, for how to eat, for how to share, for how to finish. 'Almost unconsciously,' Solomonov writes, 'the experiences of growing up Israeli—the very experiences I had dismissed as irrelevant to a career as a serious chef—were somehow creeping into my cooking.' The result is cooking that feels right for both a world-class restaurant and a home kitchen, food that's both an education and a pleasure."
The Broad Fork
Hugh Acheson not only re-situates high-quality, seasonal vegetables on the Southern table, but invites diners to return to this type of cooking outside of special meals. From managing editor Sonia Chopra's May review: "When we're in a hurry, we shy away from cooking real food, good food — when we've just gotten back from work and it's already 9 p.m. or when we're running late for soccer practice or an early meeting or drinks with friends — because it's intimidating. It takes too long, compared to the convenience of the takeout or frozen meals. Except that it doesn't: 'Feeding yourself and your family should not be as difficult as we are made to believe,' Acheson says."
Rice Noodle Fish
Harper Wave, October 2015
Amongst non-cookbook food books, Matt Goulding's genre-busting travel book on the food and culture of Japan was a favorite amongst many Eater editors. Here is a recent IM conversation between senior reports editor Hillary Dixler and news editor Daniela Galarza on the book's merits:
Daniela Galarza: I need to talk to someone about rice noodle fish in person
Hillary Dixler: like interview the author?
Daniela Galarza: no like someone who also read it lol
Daniela Galarza: like i've never been obsessed with japan and now i suddenly AM obsessed with japan
Hillary Dixler: welcome to being obsessed with Japan. rice noodle fish is awesome, and it will make you even more obsessed with japan, and we all should be obsessed with japan
Daniela Galarza: i mean it's so good i hate it a little bit
Hillary Dixler: i am incredibly jealous of the book. i know if i went to japan i would not leave with a book like that lol
Daniela Galarza: like he's a white guy and he did japan right
Daniela Galarza: i was trying to hate on it a little bit from that perspective. could not.
Hillary Dixler: nope
Hillary Dixler: he owns his status as an outsider
Hillary Dixler: which ends up being a really great entry point for all non-native Japanese readers
Daniela Galarza: totally and 100% agree
Hillary Dixler: best non-cookbook of the year. no question.
Deborah Holtz and Juan Carlos Mena
In a year obsessed with tacos, multiple Eater staffers were utterly charmed by the translation of Mexico's obsessive, comprehensive, and playful taco bible. Meghan McCarron writes, "Do you want to learn the deep history of the tortilla in Mexican culture and the top ten places to find carnitas? Tacopedia is an energetic, madcap, yet immensely informative guide to the taco and all its kin. With delightful illustrations reminiscent of 6th grade history textbooks and a slew of traditional recipes, this is the book to memorize before heading to Mexico — or to your neighborhood taco truck."
Elias Cairo & Meredith Erickson
For those looking for more project-based cooking ideas, Eater Portland editor Mattie Bamman recommends the new book from Olympia Provisions: "This year, one of the leading producers of American charcuterie, threw down not only a cookbook but a challenge: Learn how to make charcuterie at home—a tradition maintained in many parts of the world. For those who already make things like homemade jerky and sausage, the cookbook helps you up your game with mortadella and Italian sausage with lacinato kale. For others, the cookbook will come as a surprise opportunity to make things you may have never dreamed you could make at home, like rillette, bacon, and maybe salami. And for all of the homecooks who will never even come close to attempting any of these labor-intensive recipes, the cookbook is full of wit, inspiration, travel tales, and European know-how."
This is Camino
Russell Moore & Allison Hopelain
Live fire cooking is a burgeoning chef obsession, and few restaurants are more dedicated to fire than Oakland's Camino. Few restaurants have more dedicated high-profile admirers too: the cookbook's blurbs are a murder's row of chefs and influencers like April Bloomfield, Yotam Ottolenghi, The Selby, Suzanne Goin and many more. Meghan McCarron writes, "Camino is a big-hearted restaurant book, with recipes happily credited to other sources and successes and failures discussed with equal humor and frankness. It's also knowing and plain-spoken, (a sample recipe note: "If you're reading the Larder section, you're probably a hippie") and so refreshing in its enthusiasm you will be itching to go out back to cobble together a fire in your driveway, just like the book's 'Fire' section encourages you to do."
Lake Isle Press, September 2015
Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam is based in Brooklyn, and for his second book he makes the case for the food of his homeland as an essential global cuisine — one that has deeply influenced the cooking of the American South. From Helen Rosner's capsule review: "The book stands strong as a purely anthropological document, a record of how people cook and eat both classically and innovatively in Dakar today, but it's also wonderful as a true cookbook. The recipes are written for the home cook (Senegal's food culture is largely home-based), and for readers with access to all the specialty ingredients required, they're a wonderfully approachable collection of flavors and techniques."
101 Easy Asian
Peter Meehan and the Editors of Lucky Peach
Clarkson Potter, October 2015
Cultishly loved themed food quarterly Lucky Peach has unleashed the nostalgic-yet-forward-looking home cooking book of our dreams. Ideal pairing: a Saturday night spent watching Master of None. From Sonia Chopra's capsule review: "'What is authenticity? Who knows!' one footnote reads — in this book, whether a dish is Korean or Japanese or Thai or Chinese doesn't matter. But should it? Maybe, but in true tongue-in-cheek fashion, Lucky Peach sidesteps all such discussion, focusing instead on the quality of the dishes and the true ease in preparation."
The Food Lab
J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Serious Eats's managing culinary director J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's new cookbook is the definitive guide for those seeking scientific kitchen perfection. From Helen Rosner's capsule review: "His takes on staples like French fries, eggs, and steak are canon, at this point, and immortalizing them in ink on paper feels almost like a symbolic act, a formal gesture acknowledging their impact and quality. You don't need this book, if you've got a fast internet connection. But when the power goes out or the wi-fi goes down, the people who own this book will be the ones you want inviting you over for dinner. "
The Chili Cookbook
Ten Speed, September 2015
Chili is one of American cuisine's most defining dishes, and winter is the best time to whip up a pot or ten, guided by Texas foodways' greatest chronicler, Robb Walsh. From Meghan McCarron's capsule review: "What is truly exciting about this book is the way it makes the case for chili as an essential American creation, one that should not be allowed to fall by the wayside. Walsh's book captures not just the history and breadth, but all of the exciting possibilities cooks can explore with a stew composed in part of hot, spicy peppers. There's plenty to keep you busy — and warm"
My Kitchen Year
Random House, September 2015
Food writing royalty Ruth Reichl releases her long-awaited second cookbook, and it's everything her legion of devoted fans could want. From Sonia Chopra's capsule review: "The voice is pure Reichl: achingly sentimental in a way that makes the reader yearn for a house in the country, a pantry full of staples like canned anchovies, cream sherries, and a 'few sorts' of salt. Who doesn't wish she had a collection of salts to call on at any moment; who doesn't wish he had a home upstate to retreat to in times of trouble? Reichl walks through the hard year that followed the end of her ten-year run as editor in chief and brings her readers with her, and as she finds solace through cooking, we find comfort too."
Mindy Segal and Kate Leahy
No baked good satisfies an itch for variety, speed, and obsession the way cookies do, and Eater San Francisco editor Ellen Fort recommends Mindy Segal's book highly. "Mindy Segal's cookie-focused book, Cookie Love, isn't just about perfecting the art of the chocolate chip cookie (though there is a great classic version)— it's a full-on love letter to cookies of all shapes and sizes. The book runs the gamut from drop cookies to bars to rugelach and more exotic fare, including fleur de sel shortbread with vanilla halvah and smoked chocolate sablé; there's also a meaty section covering basics like hot fudge, marshmallows and butterscotch. And like a good cookbook should, the recipes start out simple, building in complexity until cookie nirvana has been achieved."
The former Chez Panisse pastry chef combines a Californian approach to seasonality with homey baked goods for all times of the day. Meghan McCarron writes, "Claire Ptak's London bakery is described as a 'jewel box' space on the jacket of her new cookbook, and lush and lovely jewel-like fruit desserts dominate the gorgeous photographs within. A food stylist as well as a baker, Ptak's creations are beautiful to behold while somehow never seeming out of reach. It's the type of lovely, inviting book that sparks a desire to start baking immediately — and to track down a few antique madeleine pans on Ebay along the way."
Zachary Golper and Peter Kaminsky
Regan Arts, November 2015
Beneath the beautifully photographed exterior, this essential Brooklyn bakery's cookbook is the year's baking master class. From Daniela Galarza's capsule review: "Baker Zachary Golper (who runs Bien Cuit with his wife and business partner, Kate Wheatcroft) and writer Peter Kaminsky have delivered a luscious guide to the craftsmanship of European bread baking. Golper takes a scholarly approach, and it's clear by page 10 that this is the most serious book written about bread this year. The first recipe will take a baker about three days to complete, inexperienced or professional, but for anyone serious about their craft, this book is a faithful manual."
Header photo: Pinkyone
Editor: Meghan McCarron