The best restaurant cookbooks are like time capsules, preserving a moment, a feeling. That’s what this year’s stack of restaurant-focused books achieves — with variable levels of success. Don’t miss chef Wylie Dufresne’s look back at wd~50 or the new two-volume set from NYC’s highly lauded experiential dining room Eleven Madison Park. Casual restaurants, from the Publican in Chicago to Juhu Beach Club in Oakland, also got the book treatment this year. Each collection stands alone as a testament to the hard work of a team pushing for one pristine goal.
Paul Kahan, Cosmo Goss, Rachel Holtzman
Lorena Jones Books, September 19
Starting with the first time I ate at there, shortly after its opening in 2008, the Publican has been my favorite restaurant. It was an instantaneous love — the room, the food, a swirling feeling of commensality and broad-shouldered abundance. So for me, the promise of this book, Cheers to the Publican, a heavyweight, beautifully typeset volume by chef-restaurateur Paul Kahan, his executive chef, Cosmo Goss, and writer Rachel Holtzman, is great, and the stakes are awfully high: Can I get the magic of my favorite restaurant in all the world without the hassle of a weekend with my parents? (Love you, mom and dad.)
The answer is no, no, of course I can’t. My apartment isn’t soaringly airy and intimately warm all at once, it’s not filled with wood-clad booths and beer hall trestle tables, the air doesn’t shout and clang with groups of friends scrambling over one another for oysters or pounding a fist on the table and saying “Jesus! You’ve got to try this hay-roasted ham chop!” through a mouthful of hay-roasted ham chop. I can’t get the magic of the place itself in my house, but with this book, full of charmingly rambling headnotes and exquisitely, effortlessly styled dishes (I see you, Cubs-logo plate next to the shrimp ceviche on page 80), I can — gloriously — get the food.
The book, like the restaurant, is all over the culinary map: a bounty of vegetable dishes that could be sides or entrees depending on how much you make; a wild array of meats, including plenty of off-cuts, prepared in ways that show off their flavor instead of burying it under spices and sauces; seafood of all sorts prepared without preciousness; a deep bench of charcuterie and breads.
The first full recipe in the book, grilled carrots with a sweet-smoky barbecue rub, chopped pecans, and an anchovy-funky ranch dressing, sets the stage perfectly: It’s a restaurant eye-roll at this point, the plate of spiced root vegetables dressed with nuts and a creamy sauce, a formula that often collapses into the formulaic. Here, miraculously, it’s magnificent; it explodes the cliche. Of all the recipes in this book, ones like this are the best: the dishes that look familiar on the plate, or sound old-hat on the page. Kahan and Goss are at their height when showing off small ways to transform the familiar into the extraordinary. Add green coriander seeds to the vinaigrette of a tomato-watermelon salad, a percussive bass line against the cilantro garnish; drop a few brassica leaves into a skillet of shelling beans braising in chicken broth, to adjust the pH and get a creamier result; use beef blood instead of egg in your homemade pappardelle for a vivid purple hue and a springy coagulated firmness. (Reader, I love this one, but I did not have three ounces of blood in my pantry, so I did not make it at home.)
“I’m not in the least bit concerned that all our food is essentially big piles of brown stuff,” Kahan writes in a little blurb titled “The Anti-Tweezer Manifesto.” This would be a praiseworthy nonchalance, if it had any basis in truth. The Publican’s food is rarely anything of the sort; the plates bear decidedly un-brown rainbows of meats, vegetables, fruits, cheese, herbs, nuts, sauces, and broths. Any page of the book reveals this food to be anything but simple and humble, no matter how many times Kahan and Goss assert that it is: The recipes are layered and multidimensional, they often ask the home cook to give half a dozen pans (or half a dozen days) to dinner.
What this food has, instead of simplicity, is clarity: of flavor, philosophy, and intention, catapulted beyond the twee and precious by something that feels like recklessness but is actually just extraordinary skill. Whenever I’m at the Publican, I marvel to whomever I’m eating with that this is how I want to eat all the time. It turns out that’s possible, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. Maybe that’s the magic of it all. —Helen Rosner
Meredith Erickson, Martyn Nail
Mitchell Beazley, November 7
One word comes to mind when describing Claridge’s: The Cookbook: rich. It’s a book that’s rich in language and in color. The recipes themselves are of course largely rich, but this makes sense: Claridge’s, the iconic London hotel, more than for the masses, is for the rich. (A fascinating page counting “Claridge’s by the Numbers” tells us that each year the hotel uses 52 books of gold leaf, 24.6 kg of sustainable caviar, and 13.2kg of fresh truffles. Oh, and almost 44,000 bottles of champagne are opened, too.) But that’s not to say either the hotel or its book — essentially a window into the experience for those who cannot afford to go — aren’t good.
At over 250 pages, the book broadly chronicles a day at Claridge’s, illustrating a luxurious, traditional, occasionally arcane and romanticized version of English (and second-hand French) hospitality. There are chapters on breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, cocktails, and dinner. A passage is devoted to dessert (not pudding?), to game, to Christmas, and there’s “A word on eggs.” For those who’ve ever wondered, two pages are given to “How to host dinner for 100 (or more).”
The recipes, if less remarkable, can be delicious. Authored by chef Martyn Nail and Meredith Erickson, they are eloquent and clear. Naturally, the volume is full of classics — omelette Arnold Bennett, vichyssoise with smoked eel, Sunday lunch, chicken pie, and lemon drizzle cake — but the recipes, though no doubt adapted, are taken from a professional kitchen. That means two things: They’re thorough, but they’re also complex. Welsh rarebit is a brilliant recipe that elicits fine results, but it’s a posh cheese on toast that takes the best part of three hours to make.
It’s important to remember that this book is merchandise first and a cookery book second: a nice item to own, from which one can cook to impress, but which is not a bookshelf essential. Claridge’s, in the words of chef René Redzepi, who, incongruously, writes the foreword, is “luxury in its fullest.” And so is the book. —Adam Coghlan
Wesley Avila, Richard Parks III
Ten Speed Press, October 10
Those unfamiliar with Los Angeles taco slingers Guerrilla Tacos can take note: Chef-owner Wes Avila’s first book (written with Richard Parks III), also named Guerrilla Tacos, is not a Mexican cookbook. Not is it Cali-Mex, Tex-Mex, or Southwestern in any way. It’s a unique collection of recipes that distills the essence of Avila’s growing taco operation: Since 2012, he has dished up creative tacos, first from a cart, now a truck, and in the future, from a restaurant, going well beyond the standard carnitas, barbacoa, or other fillings (think sweet potato with almond salsa, or a Thai peanut shrimp taco).
The book takes the same approach: It’s Avila’s rendering of the taco as a blank slate (a taco is nothing but stuff in a tortilla, he notes early on). He then loads up that taco with a host of ingredients sourced locally from the farmers’ markets and fishmongers of LA, as well as from Asian grocers, butcher shops, and corner stores.
Part geographical, part autobiographical, the book traces the meals Avila encountered or created as far back as childhood, from his mom’s home cooking in the suburb of Pico Rivera to the hearty meals served to his teamster buddies to experiences in fine dining, and finally to the truck’s recipes. It’s not a forced narrative, either — perhaps due to Avila’s down-to-earth tone, the recipes feel genuinely evocative of particular phases in his life.
It’s tempting to say that Guerrilla Tacos elevates its titular foodstuff into an art form, although that may be lofty (Avila hints that he doesn’t buy into the whole “food as art” trope). In any case, he demonstrates remarkable creativity with flavors not typically considered conducive to tacos, without falling into overwrought fusion of Cuisine A and Cuisine B.
The recipes themselves are predominantly tacos (oxtail, octopus-and-chorizo, and signatures like the sweet potato taco), arranged not by ingredient but by the phases of Avila’s life. Alongside tacos are some tostadas and a handful of soups and stews, and more daring dishes. There’s a slight tendency for recipes to have either lengthy ingredient lists (see: pig head taco), or long prep times.
This isn’t to say that Avila makes things over-complicated, though. He has a knack for straightforward explanations (albeit sometimes with a slight bro-tone), and a less-skilled home cook could feasibly wrangle unfamiliar ingredients and knock out duck heart tacos or a sea urchin tostada. In any case, specialty ingredients aren’t at the heart of every recipe here — for example, the chicken adobo recipe I attempted was packed with a harmonious set of divergent flavors and difficult to screw up (although perhaps slightly heavy on the heat). That and other recipes make Guerilla Tacos a solid all-rounder — at least for anyone willing to stock up on tortillas and a myriad of chiles. —Tim Forster
Michael Solomonov, Steven Cook, Tom Henneman, Bob Logue, Felicia D’Ambrosio
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 26
Meet Federal Donuts, the Philadelphia-based doughnut, fried chicken, and coffee mini-chain that James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov and his business partner Steven Cook (Zahav) opened with Tom Henneman, Bob Logue, and Felicia D’Ambrosio in 2011. Just a few months ago the team opened a sixth location in Miami, and this fall they celebrate their hard-earned success with a book.
Like Big Gay Ice Cream in 2015 and this year’s Shake Shack cookbook, Federal Donuts is set up like a yearbook, with colorful photography and playful illustrations that tell the rough-and-tumble story of how the comfort food concept came to be. About 25 recipes promise to teach readers how to recreate the menu at home.
It’s a cute, inoffensive book. I made the master doughnut recipe late one night and ate a golden brown ring of pastry tossed in vanilla sugar while standing over my sink. Not unlike almost all hot, freshly fried dough dipped in sugar, it was lovely; the hit of baharat spice in the batter is mysteriously addictive. I ate two more before my sugar high turned into a belly ache.
But I wish the authors hadn’t sold the doughnut recipe in the book as the real deal: “We’ve never believed that recipes should be closely guarded…” they write on page 44, “this is as close as we’ve come to a true trade secret… and we are pleased to share it with you.” But it will be clear to anyone who has been to FedNuts — or done a careful reading of the book — that this recipe has been adapted for the home cook. At the restaurants, Solomonov, Cook, and company use an automated fryer to drop liquid batter into hot oil; the recipe in the book instructs cooks to fold enough flour into the batter such that it can be rolled out and cut. This makes for a denser finished product than the fritters made by the doughnut robot. It’s not a bad cake doughnut recipe by any means, but it’s not the one the shop serves. (The instructions given for FedNuts’ fried chicken recipe, on the other hand, look and taste like the original.)
Most of the recipes in the book are for simple doughnut glazes and toppings. There’s a master recipe for doughnut dough, one for fried chicken, and several recipes for fried chicken spice rubs and glazes. (There’s no recipe for coffee, the third item on FedNuts’ straightforward menu.) If you’re a super fan of the Federal Donuts concept, by all means buy this book, make a pilgrimage to Philadelphia to get it signed, and display it proudly on your coffee table. If you’re a casual fan of both delicious foodstuffs as separate items, consider looking elsewhere for ways to perfect each dish. —Daniela Galarza
Preeti Mistry, Sarah Henry
Running Press, October 31
Chef Preeti Mistry isn’t one to keep quiet, and that’s made very clear in her first cookbook from her first restaurant, Juhu Beach Club, the California-based Indian restaurant with Oakland inflection. Fusion isn’t the word here — in fact, she hates it. Instead, the food is “an expression of all my experiences,” Mistry writes, showcasing Indian fare through the lens of northern California, with pops of influence from her London culinary training, Midwest upbringing, and elsewhere.
The book approaches Mistry’s cooking in a three-fold way: the food itself, what it means to her personally, and what it means in the larger context of the world. Each recipe has purpose: There are building blocks from ghee to chutneys to assorted masalas (she urges cooks to make their own spice mixtures), and more involved dishes, like a deep-fried Manchurian cauliflower. In between recipes, Mistry zigzags through important life moments, family anecdotes, history lessons, and political commentary to provide context for her specific approach to cooking. She isn’t afraid to tackle everything from racism to same-sex marriages to mental health issues in the restaurant industry. It’s her podium and she’ll use it how she wants to, all while sharing what she knows best.
Yes, the outspoken chef is all over the place — the book can ramble at times — but Mistry’s heart and passion is loud and clear. Accessible and friendly, she eases people into her world by thoughtfully explaining potentially unfamiliar words at each turn. She includes visual descriptors of measurements, like the way ice cream scoops of mashed potatoes should look, and suggests what to do if a batter, dough, or mixture is not quite there yet.
Mistry has always been unapologetically who she is, and it shows in her food: flavorful, layered, and rich with intention and meaning. —Nadia Chaudhury
Daniel Humm, Will Guidara
Ten Speed Press, October 3
Unlike every other book coming out this fall, the new cookbook from the team behind New York City’s (currently under construction; set to reopen this fall) Eleven Madison Park — which was recently rated the best restaurant in the world by the World’s 50 Best organization — was not available to review at the time of this fall preview’s publication.
Here’s what we know:
1. It is two volumes
2. It’s a review of the past 11 years at the restaurant
3. A limited run of 11,000 copies will be printed
4. Each edition is numbered
5. Each copy has been signed by Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm
6. The first volume is illustrated in watercolor by Janice Barnes
7. The second volume features photographs by Francesco Tonelli
8. There are 100 recipes between the two volumes, including one for black bass with broccoli and lemon and another for duck with apricot and fennel
9. According to the publisher, for the first time chef Daniel Humm shares stories of “his unparalleled culinary journey and inspiration”
10. The two-book set is available for pre-order now and will be released on October 3
11. The list price is $250, but it can be purchased on Amazon for $225
Whatever the next chapter in the life span of EMP might be, one thing’s for sure: Humm and Guidara know how to play it close to the vest. —Daniela Galarza
Wylie Dufresne, Peter Meehan
Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, October 17
“Our science-driven approach to cooking became somewhat of a heated topic in the food world,” Wylie Dufresne writes in wd~50, an edifying ode to and defense of his erstwhile restaurant on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “Before we were making edible egg shells and fried mayonnaise, Frenchmen labored over elaborate galantines and ballotines.”
Dufresne, in other words, was doing what the best chefs have always done: invent.
The wd~50 cookbook will let the dedicated recreate those elegant fried mayo cubes and gain a degree of fluency in an avant-garde larder — at less than a quarter of the price of (the admittedly more comprehensive) Modernist Cuisine, the encyclopedic and scientific approach to cooking that was published by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet in 2011.
Some of this material isn’t quite mouthwatering; Dufresne describes his trompe l’oeil sunny-side up egg — gelled coconut milk with a carrot juice yolk — as a “showcase for gums: locust bean gum, guar gum, and xanthan gum, plus carrageenan.” And a recipe for fat-washed peanut butter vodka looked easy enough, though my best efforts at straining resulted in a vodka with the texture of, alas, peanut butter.
But if the recipes are intended for fellow chefs, the justifications of his modernist approach to cooking are meant for a wider audience. “Why are there so many shapes of pasta,” Dufresne asks, then answers, “because bending food to your will and your whims reflects how you see the world — and because sometimes you end up with a better tasting product.” This book achieves its raison d’etre through its ideas.
Not a single American chef has done more for keeping foie gras relevant than Wylie Dufresne. Accordingly, he dedicates an entire chapter to recipes documenting how he transformed duck liver into liquid nitrogen brittles, gum-laced cylinders tied into knots, and de facto angel food cakes thanks to vacuum chamber aeration.
You can’t really find those preparations around New York City anymore; that reality is what makes the wd~50 cookbook a vital read to anyone who cares about the staid state of ambitious Big Apple gastronomy. Nearly three years after wd~50’s closure, experimental cuisine — cooking that seeks to bring new techniques, flavor combinations, and ideas to the larger culinary world — has rarely been in such scarcity in New York, a city more obsessed with reliving its own historical glories than forging ahead with new ones. wd~50, in that sense, is not so much a memoriam of the restaurant’s past as it is a subtweet of what’s missing in one of the culinary capitals of the world right now. —Ryan Sutton
Kris Yenbamroong, Garrett Snyder
Clarkson Potter, October 3
LA chef Kris Yenbamroong’s first cookbook serves as an enticing gateway drug into the world of Thai cookery, and readers need not have patronized his restaurant by the same name to be thoroughly dazzled by the recipes contained within.
Night + Market is a straight-up fun read, particularly the chapter on Thai shopping mall cuisine and a recipe for “strip club fried rice” that involves artfully sliced hot dogs and lunchmeat. The photography is enticing, too, with Yenbamroong shining the spotlight on some of the players who keep his restaurant running on a daily basis, from dishwashers to servers.
Some recipes, such as one for luu suk (pork blood soup), are admittedly intimidating, but there are also plenty of relatively low-lift dishes that nonetheless deliver a serious face-punch in the flavor department. A good place to begin is the stir-fry sauce, which literally comes together in seconds; stash a jar in your fridge and take your fried rice, noodles, or vegetables next-level — my 70-year-old stepfather declared the stir-fried garlic green beans the best he’s ever tasted — with so little effort, you’ll be annoyed you didn’t discover it sooner.
Proselytizing on the popular Thai dish larb, for which he offers nine different recipes of varying difficulty, from duck to tofu, Yenbamroong writes, “My goal is that someday larb goes mainstream — that it becomes its own thing, like pad Thai, rather than something food nerds debate over. If we don’t turn it into a pop sensation, who will? … I have this dream that five years from now, it won’t be considered exotic. It will be normalized.” With Night + Market, Yenbamroong may just be that much closer to seeing his larb dreams realized. —Whitney Filloon
Bonnie Frumkin Morales, Deena Prichep
Flatiron Books, November 14
After opening the critically acclaimed Russian restaurant Kachka in Portland, Oregon, in 2014, co-owner and chef Bonnie Morales brings her family’s traditional recipes to the rest of the world with her first cookbook, Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking. There are many that think Russian food is just borscht, pickles, and vodka, and while readers will find those recipes herein, it’s the dishes in between that make Kachka a book not only for those obsessed with the former Soviet Union, but those interested in hospitality and comfort.
With over 400 pages, Kachka is a thorough telling of traditions, but doesn’t come off as staid — the recipes may take some time to create, but they seem right at home today’s kitchen. The instructions turn humble ingredients into impressive feasts. Morales even tells readers how to set their tables with a massive spread full of dishes teetering on every edge, vodka bottles nestled between plates, and very little tablecloth showing (if you’re good at Tetris, you’ll be good at setting a Russian table).
From the vibrant family tales to Morales’s father insisting she print his phone number for Americans to invite him over for pyanka (a traditional drinking party), this cookbook immediately eases readers in with a feeling of calming familiarity, even though the cuisine is foreign to many.
I made the dacha salad, which is the most summery, no-fuss recipe in the book. It’s fresh tomatoes and cucumbers mixed with a smetana (European sour cream) dill and herb dressing. It’s a perfect accompaniment to any grilled meat, and could easily become a replacement for other creamy barbecue sides. Many recipes require advanced planning or roasting, so this is an easy one that even the most novice of cooks could make. I’m looking forward to tackling the dumpling recipes this fall.
Is it risky to put out recipes from the former Soviet Union when every other headline points to Vladimir Putin meddling in United States politics? For those who have been charmed by the welcoming dinner party atmosphere of Morales’s restaurant, that question seems laughable. Her book mirrors the same light-hearted, welcoming sensation of that Portland dining room, and the book is a way to bring a bit of that charm home. —Erin Perkins
Baco: Vivid Recipes from the Heart of Los Angeles
Josef Centeno, Betty Hallock
Chronicle Books, September 5
Chef Josef Centeno has quietly become a force in LA’s restaurant scene — he owns six restaurants in the city’s downtown area — but Baco was his first big splash. Named for Centeno’s flatbread-meets-taco creation, the book features 130 recipes for savory and sweet meals written with Centeno’s partner in life and business Betty Hallock. This is also where Centeno opens up about how his background, youth, and formal culinary training propelled such a diverse array of flavors onto one plate. Photographs by Dylan James Ho and Jeni Afuso light up each page. —DG
Amy Emberling, Frank Carollo
Chronicle Books, October 3
One of the Midwest’s treasures, Zingerman’s Bakehouse has been churning out sweet treats and soft loaves for 25 years. For its first book, an accessible entrée into artisan baking, co-owners and bakers Amy Emberling and Frank Carollo share their recipes for chewy brownies, seeded Jewish rye, sour cream coffee cake, swirled babka, fist-sized cinnamon rolls, and pogacsa, a cheese-laden biscuit. Those who grew up around Ann Arbor are going to want to put this on their shelf so that a taste of home is never more than a recipe away. —DG
State Bird Provisions: A Cookbook
Stuart Brioza, Nicole Krasinski, JJ Goode
Ten Speed Press, October 24
Chefs and owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski have been serving their inventive take on California cuisine on dim sum-style carts and trays since 2011. Last year, their restaurant State Bird Provisions earned a Michelin star. One of San Francisco’s most lauded restaurants, State Bird still draws a line of hopeful, hungry diners each night — it’s no wonder the restaurant is getting the book treatment. All of Brioza and Krasinski’s standards are here, including the black butter-balsamic figs with fondue, savory pancakes, and the signature fried quail. Versatile recipes can be multiplied to serve dinner for two or a cocktail party. —DG
Moto: The Cookbook
Little, Brown and Company, November 7
From 2004 to 2014, trailblazing Chicago chef Homaro Cantu presided over fine-dining destination Moto, earning a Michelin star and countless accolades for his high-tech, science-y cooking — think edible menus, carbonated fruit, liquid nitrogen, and lasers. The culinary world was stunned by Cantu’s suicide in April 2015, but his contributions to the restaurant world are commemorated in this hefty cookbook — written prior to his death — that features 10 dishes for each year he cooked at Moto. —WF
The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook
Jim Lahey, Maya Joseph
W. W. Norton & Company, November 7
Now that seemingly every home cook has made no-knead bread, is there a reason for a cookbook all about the bakery that started it all for James Beard Award-winning baker Jim Lahey? Super fans and bread heads will nod “yes.” For nearly 25 years, New York City’s Sullivan Street Bakery has been tempting locals with crusty loaves and flavorful flatbreads. Here now is a book that contains the whole menu, from pizzas and sweet breads to quiches and yes, artisan baguettes. Over 100 recipes and 150 illustrations guide readers through one of America’s greatest bakeries. —DG
Other notable titles:
The Ivy Now: The Restaurant and its Recipes by Fernando Peire, Brian Grimwood, and Jenny Zarins. Quadrille Publishing, September 5
Myers+Chang at Home: Recipes from the Beloved Boston Eatery by Joanne Chang and Karen Akunowicz. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 12
The Moosewood Restaurant Table: 250 Brand-New Recipes from the Natural Foods Restaurant That Revolutionized Eating in America by the Moosewood Collective. St. Martin’s Griffin, September 26
Rasika: Flavors of India by Ashok Bajaj, Vikram Sunderam, and David Hagedorn. Ecco, October 10
Elizabeth Street Cafe by Tom Moorman and Larry McGuire with Julia Turshen. Phaidon Press, October 23
Borago: Coming from the South by Rodolfo Guzman. Phaidon Press, November 6