The book that made me a chef

We asked top cooks and chefs which cookery books have had the biggest impact on their career and the way they think about food. There's a French flavour to many of their choices - how many have you read?

The book that made me a chef

James Martin

The book: Larousse Gastronomique (1938)

A French encyclopaedia of ingredients, cooking styles, regional produce maps, wines of the world and appliances. The 1,350-page edition was published in 2001. James, restaurateur and presenter of BBC One's Saturday Kitchen, says ‘Larousse Gastronomique was a bible for me 20 years ago, and even today, it is still such a source of inspiration.’ Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge says ‘I still refer to this book for its perfect flavour combinations. I also use the French terminology to help me with my menus.’

Raymond Blanc

The book: French Cooking in Ten Minutes by Edouard de Pomiane (1939) 

Pomiane’s book features simple, nutritious meals and a typically French reverence for food. ‘Modern life spoils so much that is pleasant,’ Pomiane says. ‘Let us see that it does not make us spoil our steak or our omelette. Ten minutes are sufficient – one minute more and all would be lost.’ Raymond, chef patron, Le Manoir aux Quat‘Saisons in Oxfordshire, says ‘Pomiane is my hero. He was not a chef but a renowned scientist at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, an expert in nutrition and the medical values of food. A man of real knowledge.’

Ping Coombes

The book: The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon (1976)

With 13 chapters, which include dishes from Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Japan and Korea, this is a
wide ranging guide not only to techniques, ingredients and equipment, but also recipes. Ping, 2014 BBC MasterChef winner, says ‘This is my all-time favourite cookbook, it‘s an extensive collection of recipes from all over south-east Asia, which is where I do a lot of my research. It provides a fantastic starting point for so many of my recipes.’

Barney Desmazery

The book: Nose To Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson (1999)

A comprehensive guide to cooking at home with offal, off-cuts, game and garden vegetables – this book led a move away from fussy restaurant dishes in favour of hearty food and neglected cuts. Barney, senior food editor at BBC Good Food, says ‘One of the most thumbed books in my large collection. I return to it again and again for its brilliantly basic recipes for things like brine, aïoli and horseradish sauce. The foolproof ratios and simple recipes are the building blocks of Henderson’s restaurant St John.’

Tom Kitchin

The book: Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse’s Culinary Encyclopaedia by Alain Ducasse (2001)

Featuring 700 recipes listed alphabetically, including 44 different recipes for lobster. There have been several editions since 2001, including volumes on Patisserie and Mediterranean cooking. Tom, chef and owner of Kitchin in Edinburgh, says ‘This is a chef’s bible – Alain Ducasse is a culinary legend and one of my greatest mentors. I always revisit his book.’

Thomasina Miers

The book: The Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark (2001)

Sam and Sam’s first book features the cooking from a region most British cooks were unfamiliar with 15 years ago. It paved the way for the success of Ottolenghi with authentic recipes, and is a true taste of their restaurant, Moro. Thomasina, BBC 2005 MasterChef winner and founder of the Wahaca chain of restaurants, says, ‘I go back time and again to this cookbook – it was the first Spanish and Middle Eastern book of its time and made it possible for so many others to follow in its footsteps. The recipes are clearly written, the prose is lovely and the ingredients are thoughtfully explained, without being at all dumbed-down.’

Eric Lanlard

The book: Quay: Food Inspired by Nature by Peter Gilmore (2010)

Australian chef and restaurateur Peter Gilmore shares signature recipes from his Sydney kitchen, and outlines his philosophy for natural ingredients and organic presentation. Eric, pâtissier and author, says, ‘I love this book. For me, it’s not just about the cooking and the food, it’s the whole lifestyle. It’s an aspirational feast and I never tire of revisiting this book.’

Skye Gyngell

The book: French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David (1951)

Written when food rationing was still in force (it ended in 1954), David’s second book includes classics such as hare in a cream & chestnut purée. Often credited with rejuvenating post-war British food, David went on to write many more cookery books. Skye, founder of Spring, Somerset House in London, says ‘A groundbreaking book. Elizabeth David was a pioneer in the total transformation of British cooking habits.’

 

Antonio Carluccio

The book: La Scienza In Cucina E l’Arte Di Mangiar Bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) by Pellegrino Artusi (1891)

Artusi completed and self-published his manual of Italian food, aged 71, at the end of the 19th century. It is a collection of 790 recipes inspired by home kitchens across Italy. Antonio Carluccio, chef, author and founder of the Carluccio restaurant chain, says ‘This is my favourite food book of all time; it is the only cookery book that truly encapsulates the real spirit of regional Italian food.’

Orlando Murrin

The book: Goose Fat & Garlic by Jeanne Strang (1991)

Having bought an abandoned French farmhouse in 1961, Strang gathered recipes and regional dishes to create this celebration of food between Languedoc and Limousin. Orlando, Executive consultant editor for BBC Good Food, says ‘If ever a cookbook changed someone’s life – this was it for me! Jeanne Strang’s description of south west France and its rich culinary heritage is so captivating that, in 2004, I left the rat race to move there and open a gastronomic B&B. An inspirational book packed with impeccable research and authentic recipes.’

Nathan Outlaw

The book: English Seafood Cookery by Rick Stein (1988)

Rick Stein’s first book, published before he became famous, won the prestigious Glenfiddich award. Nathan, founder of Outlaw‘s in Cornwall and London, says, ‘There are no photos, so the text is very detailed, but there are beautiful illustrations. With lots
of commentary, it reads like a reference book rather than a cookery book. The recipes include original dishes, old favourites and
traditional French-inspired food.’

Richard Bertinet

The book: Guide de l’Amateur de Pain by Lionel Poilâne (1981)

This account of working life in a bakery by Parisian baker Lionel Poilâne includes chapters on how to choose your bread, the art of sandwiches, and the all-important question of whether bread can be kept in the fridge! Richard, baker, author and owner of The Bertinet Kitchen cookery school in Bath, says, ‘Poilâne’s descriptions of the history and work in his bakery has always reminded me of how I felt when I started baking, and provided me with inspiration along the way. I was lucky enough to meet him before he died and he will always be one of my heroes.’

Florence Knight

The book: Food in England by Dorothy Hartley (1954)

With chapters on kitchen fireplaces, game, medieval feasts, and salting, preserving and drying, Hartley’s book is a compendium
of mid-century cooking. Florence Knight, head chef of Polpetto in London, says ‘This book is beautifully written and very visual. It outlines so many recipes that we’ve lost, as well as the wonderful food traditions of Britain. I have a signed copy of a second edition and I love it.’

Rosemary Shrager

The book: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (1961) 

American TV chef of the 1960s, Child wrote this book to adapt French cuisine for American home cooks. It includes 524 classic recipes such as bouillabaisse and cassoulet. Rosemary, author and owner of The Cookery School in Kent, says, ‘This book is so dear to me – it was the beginning of my culinary education. It has no pictures, just text, and it was my bible. I studied the text over and over again and I did “master” the art! I ended up buying two copies because my one was so well-thumbed. I treasure it – my desert island cookbook.’

How many of the above have you read and which books inspire you? Let us know in the comments below...

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