Food Book Fair Authors Share Their Favorite Cookbooks

Food Book Fair Authors Share Their Favorite Cookbooks

Some people are born with the cooking gene, but most aren’t, which is where a good cookbook comes in. They’re great sources of inspiration, aspiration and common sense knowledge. No one understands that more than the folks featured in this year’s Food Book Fair, most of whom are newly minted cookbook authors, experienced chefs or both. We caught up with nine now-experts and asked them to share the cookbooks that influenced their style when they were just starting out and continue to play a role in they way they approach food (and drink) today.

Bonus: They also revealed their favorite restaurants in Brooklyn!

Follow Nikita Richardson on Twitter @nikitarbk

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Tom Mylan, Executive Chef and Co-owner of The Meat Hook

Author of The Meat Hook Meat Book

Tell us about your favorite new classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking. 

Yikes! That’s a hard one. If pressed, I’d have to go with Cooking By Hand by Paul Bertolli. It was an extremely formative cookbook for me when I was trying to learn to cook well, but simply in the early 2000’s. I loved how it showed you not only how to build flavors during the process of cooking, but also how to make a menu that’s balanced, how to think about wine and food together without being a pretentious asshole and even how to cure meats. Not only was it a formative cookbook for me, it was also a highly influential cookbook among the cooks in the restaurants in New York that I was hanging out or working with. It was almost a bible of sorts: when in doubt see what Paul says about cooking that dish and go from there! Another thing that changed me as a cook and a person was how much good ingredients mattered to his recipes and the care he gave in sourcing and selecting those ingredients. That aspect definitely helped point me in the direction I’m in now. While I have sort of migrated away from that style of food in my at-home cooking, the lessons I learned from that book have really stayed with me. I think all great cookbooks are like that.

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

I guess, Modernist Cuisine at Home by Nathan Myhrvold? I’m not a foam, meat glue, and emulsifier kind of guy, I never want to eat that kind of food, but I love the science. A lot of what we do at the Meat Hook is fairly technical and now that I’m a fairly decent cook and understand enough food science to get me into trouble, I really like peering into the scientific detail and seeing what these guys are making possible. I hate following recipes and I don’t buy or read cookbooks that way anymore. I like to look at the concepts, the ideas and techniques of a recipe so I can get inspiration for my own culinary agendas. Modernist Cuisine is almost all techniques and ideas. Also it’s huge, gratuitous and expensive, which also tickles me. The fact that I spent $700 because I wanted to understand how to make American Cheese from scratch pretty sums up what I love about this book.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

Hands down, River Styx. It’s a great room with beautiful lighting, the wine list is always interesting and the food is inventive, but inventive in a fun rather than tedious way. I mean, where else can you get a beautifully cooked piece of local fish and the best nachos in Brooklyn at the same table?

Tom will be at the Food Book Fair Panel: Food Book Slam on Saturday, April 26 at 10:30 am

food book fair

Emily Elsen, Co-Owner of Four & Twenty Blackbirds

Co-Author of The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, Uncommon Recipes From the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop

Tell us about your favorite new classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters has been a great resource to me as I’ve grown as a home cook . Recipes you know will work and that are simple and approachable usually get my attention when cooking at home. As for pie books, Easy As Pie by Susan G. Purdy is an excellent resource filled with tried and true techniques and inspiration for pie makers, along with bits of historical information and simple illustrations.

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

Saltie by Caroline Fidanza is a stand out for me, personally. I really enjoy reading Caroline’s recipes, the stories behind them and how she came to her approach and grew through the community she and her team were working in. The thoughtfulness put into preparing a humble sandwich appeals to my sensibilities–they are all delicious.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

These days I almost exclusively eat in Brooklyn. The number of good restaurants here has grown exponentially since I moved here in 1999. My go-to on my side of town for a good meal, drink and excellent service is Prime Meats on Court Street. I have been a customer from the time they opened (which was not long before we opened the pie shop) and I have enjoyed seeing the restaurant grow and change while maintaining an enviable level of quality and execution.

Emily will be at the Food Book Fair panel: Food + The Midwest on Friday, April 25 at 12 p.m. 

food book fair

Warren Bobrow, Foodista Cocktail Columnist and cocktailwhisperer.com

Author of Apothecary Cocktails and the forthcoming Whiskey Cocktails

Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

My favorite classic cookbook would have to be the Clementine Paddleford’s 1949 masterpiece, How America Eats. Ms. Paddleford was writing about food decades before most of us were born! I was fortunate to have spent large blocks of time traveling with my family when I was a boy. We did what is known as total emersion traveling. A month (or more) would be spent eating, drinking and living like the “locals” in places like the Ivory Coast, Brazil, Europe and across America. Alcoholic beverages were never denied to me with either beer or wine on the dinner table every night. A firm basis of flavor.

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined by Jason Kosmas.  What this book did for me is indescribable. It had such a profound effect on my career, both as a mixologist/bartender and as a writer. AND I have the logo from Employees Only tattooed on my forearm. This in itself makes for an interesting conversation whenever I’m in a craft cocktail lounge. Someone always asks about it. Their use of freshly squeezed juices influenced my first book, Apothecary Cocktails, and forthcoming Whiskey Cocktails.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

Saraghina, because their craft cocktail program is crisp and their pizza salubrious. No pretension. NO Manhattan crowd. Just good food that is authentic with regard to ingredients and the simplicity of flavor. No garbage pail cooking, no sous vide chicken mush. JUST GOOD FOOD served with a smile.

Warren will be at the Food Book Fair Panel: Food Book Slam on Saturday, April 26 at 10:30 a.m. 

food book fair

Jeni Britton Bauer, Owner of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Author of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home and the forthcoming Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts

Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

Almost impossible. But probably my favorite book to read and to cook from is an unusual find. It is an original copy of the Pennsylvania Railroad Dining Car Department Cooking and Service Instructions published in 1947. I have read its 200 pages cover-to-cover several times over in the many years I’ve owned it. It is a souvenir from that time, and vividly illustrates that what we eat is a reflection of now as it was a reflection of the 1940‘s and the expectation and preferences of those who frequented train travel. It was a time when people dressed up for meals – especially meals in public and the dining cars were swanky! What I love about it is that it is edible American history.

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

I’m settling on Breakfast, Lunch, Tea by Rose Carrarini of the Rose Bakery in Paris. Her recipes are humble and well-made, with the tastiest ingredients and a few creative flourishes here and there. It’s proof that it’s not radical, new ideas that rock the world, but subtle tweaks, great ingredients, and perfect execution.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

I LOVE Saltie. The sardine sandwich and killer seasonal fruit galettes feel like the right thing always, but especially when it’s raining. There is something to the idea of kick-ass fast meals, over slow wine-soaked meals, that I’m really drawn to these days. That said, I recently had a killer steak and a thousand sides at St. Anselm and some orange wine that I will have to do again soon. And I had an unforgettable pasta with bottarga at Battersby. I mean, really, how can you choose one? It just depends on your mood, calendar, and the weather.

Jeni will be at the Food Book Fair panel: Food + The Midwest on  Friday, April 25 at 12 p.m.  

food book fair

Megan Paska, Beekeeper, Farmer, Blogger

Author of Rooftop Beekeeper: A Scrappy Guide to Keeping Urban Honeybees

Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking. 

The Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home by Moosewood Collective was the first cookbook that I owned that I felt approached home cooking from both a healthful perspective, but also seemed keen to make sure the readers were totally sated, stimulated and comforted by the food they were making. I was a vegetarian and an avid gardener when I bought the book and it got me really excited to get into the kitchen and put all of the veggies I was growing to delicious use.

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

I really love both Masala Farm by Suvir Saran and Whole Larder Love by Rohan Anderson. As a new farmer delving into a lot of new facets of agriculture, I found these two books to be completely inspiring. When I had an abundance of eggs, I’d make Karala Egg Curry from Masala Farm. After a rabbit harvest, Rohan’s Spanish Rabbit Leg recipe was a welcome change from the standard confit I was used to. And, of course, there’s The Roberta’s Cookbook. Goddamn, do I love that book. It’s a treasure. So simple, but those guys really know what’s good.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

It’s not fair to have to pick just one! Whenever I’m back in the neighborhood, I love getting a meatloaf sandwich and a impeccably made Old Fashioned at Rye. Or a burger and a beer at Roberta’s. Or a fried chicken sandwich and a shandy at Allswell. Always sidled up to the bar, chatting with the bartender. You can never go wrong with a good sandwich, some salty potatoes, a stiff drink and some good conversation.

Megan will be at  the Food Book Farm at Smorgasburg on Saturday, April 26 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

food book fair

Bryant Terry, Chef/Food justice activist/Author

Author of Vegan Soul Kitchen and the forthcoming Afro-Vegan

Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis had a major influence on my cooking. Her mission was to help people connect with the flavors of real food that she enjoyed growing up in the South, and I strive to do the same thing. That book also had a huge impact on my style of recipe writing. That book reads like a memoir infused with recipes, and it inspired me to draw heavily on history and memory in my own cookbook writing, which I often describe as “recipes as autobiography.”

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson was one of those cookbooks that changed the game for me. I remember seeing it on display at a bookstore and speeding across the room to grab it because the cover was so striking. In regard to Heidi’s approach to cooking, I love her focus on whole, unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods. What really brings her recipes to life, though, is the gorgeous photography and the simple, clean, and modern design of her books. Heidi has been one of my biggest cheerleaders since the publication of my second book, Vegan Soul Kitchen. Without her, there would be no Afro-Vegan.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

Forks-down, Joloff Senegalese Restaurant. I lived around the corner from the former location in Clinton Hill when I was in graduate school at NYU. I ate there several times per week. Whenever I come back to Brooklyn, it is one of the first stops that I make.

Bryan will be at the Food Book Fair panel: Food + Race on Saturday, April 26 at 1:30 p.m. 

 

food book fairLaura Silver, Writer

Author of Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food

Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

I’d have to say Crisco Recipes for the Jewish Housewife. It’s a pamphlet published by Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati in 1933, in Yiddish and English. I first encountered it years ago when I was working at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Everything about the cookbook was amusing: the notion of Crisco, the fact that it was bilingual, the word ‘housewife’, which sounded like an anomaly (in Yiddish, it’s balebosteh, which is now the name of a great restaurant on Mulberry Street in Manhattan). But to get back to the Crisco cookbook, it turned out to be a great teaching tool for kids and people of all ages, because everyone can identify with food and in New York. Most people have first-hand experience with what it means to speak another language and having to translate daily experiences –including what one eats–into a common language. This cookbook was a marketing tool–it was a way for Crisco to target an audience who needed an alternative to butter (to adhere to dietary laws) and was eager to fit in. I haven’t tried any of the recipes from the booklet, but now that I look at it, I’m really curious about the beet kugelach (a biscuit of sorts, made with eggs, beets, salt and,of course, Crisco). It really tells a serious story–or several of them.

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited  is a great and fascinating corollary to the Crisco recipe book. The book–it’s a coffee table book, really–is hefty, gorgeous and unapologetic. And even though it has the word “Yiddish” in the title, the book is entirely in English (peppered with a healthy dose of Yiddishisms). Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish food often gets a bad rap–“its bland, it’s lumpy, it’s without spice or form or shape.” Just think of all the nasty things people say about gefilte fish. Well the truth is, this food is prepared with love. It’s hearty and it’s beautiful and it’s downright delicious. Schwartz’s book was a revelation and a gift and an a homage to all the people who cooked simple, hearty dishes like tsimmes and kugel and sorrel soup (schav) and the kind of foods that weren’t considered “sexy” enough for a cookbook. Not only did Jewish Home Cooking make those recipes sexy, it reminded people like me that we have a heck of a lot to be proud of.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

One that I keep going back to–with friends, family and on my own–is Geido on Flatbush Avenue in Prospect Heights. No knishes there, obviously, but the sushi is fantastic, the okinamayaki (somewhere between a pancake and an omelette) is to die for and the staff is incredibly friendly. Plus, the neighborhood feel is undeniable, which is increasingly hard to find. What can I say? It’s one of the most heimish (homey) places I’ve found, which, in my opinion, makes everything even tastier.

food book fair
Jose with the other half of Chez Jose, Pamela Yung.

Jose Ramirez-Ruiz of Chez Jose

Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

Well, I first stumbled on Fernand Point’s Ma Gastronomie (the 1974 English version) while changing one night at Clio Restaurant in Boston. I think I was 19 at the time. A coworker had it in its backpack and I asked him what was that bright yellow book and he just lent it to me and told me, “Tell me if you like it, boy.” I took it home that weekend and obsessed over it for the next week or so and I knew then that I had to buy a copy of it. That book really gave me a window into a type of cuisine that I had heard of, but never actually seen recipes, menus and/or photos of. Recipes in that book seemed as foreign as the recipes in some of the “molecular gastronomy” books that were popular at the time. The fact that a lot of the recipes seemed really foreign to me made me have a lot of respect for classic cuisine and its fundamentals and also made me realize how much I didn’t know. I now know that understanding that at a young age was extremely important to me and my career.

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

That’s hard, but I think I could say it is Raw by Charlie Trotter and Roxanne Klein. I found that book at a bookstore in Boston on my day off and then I thought that the entire concept of serving only vegetables–RAW VEGETABLES for that matter–and creating a whole book around it seemed so crazy to me that I had to buy the book. I mean, I think that even by today’s standards it’s still a revolutionary book and when I flip through its pages it’s still a great form of inspiration. Who would have thought then that ten years later I would be serving guests a vegetable-forward menu, right? I guess life is funny like that, you know.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

Without a doubt, Franny’s! I think John Adler is a great chef, technician, and friend. I have a lot of respect for restaurants that provide consistent food in larger volumes and also restaurants that try to do as much as they can in-house. I can seriously say that I have never had a bad meal there and that alone is amazing.

Jose will be at the Umami Talk + Tasting on Sunday, April 27 at 5 p.m. 

food book fair

Amy Thielen, Host of The Food Network’s The Heartland Table

Author of The New Midwestern Table

Tell us about your favorite classic cookbook or food-related book and how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

The first book that really hooked me was The Making of a Cook by Madeleine Kamman. She was a French chef cooking in the U.S., and even though she was a professional, her food had a homey, rustic edge, calling to mind an old French farmhouse. To my knowledge, she’s one of the first American cookbook authors to regularly delve into food science in a book meant for home cooks and the rare writer who could seamlessly weave this information with personal stories and cooking anecdotes. For example, she goes right from a discussion of pH levels in fruit jam to a story about her French great-grandmother Jeanne’s love for double-thick crème fraîche and then tells you how to approximate it using easy-to-find American ingredients. Check out the grilling chapter, where her writing loosens up and reflects her wit and dry sense of humor. Like a lot of those super-experienced cookbook authors (Marcella Hazan comes to mind, too), she attempts to check her bossiness at the door as she writes, but I actually love the places where it kind of seeps through. But then again, I love that kind of authoritative voice in the kitchen–probably because it reminds me of the women in my family!

Tell us about your favorite modern cookbook and like above, how it transformed your relationship with food or informed your style of cooking.

I may regret saying this, but I feel like my style has been set for some time now though I’m always on the lookout for new ideas to stretch my repertoire. But there are a couple of books that have changed the way I communicate and write about food. One would be Nigel Slater’s Tender. I love how his recipes always feel like private meals, even though everything he makes could just as well be a family dinner. Each dish feels like it is perfectly matched to fill a momentary craving: a vivid chocolate beet cake for a sunny winter day, a baked dish of sliced parsnips and cheese for a soggy fall one, etc. Like I do, he cooks out of the garden, which can be a challenge for a recipe developer because you don’t have the freedom to make absolutely whatever you want. You have to deal with real lacks and overwhelming surpluses. So, when I read his books, I see a way out.

Favorite Brooklyn-based restaurant and why.

I try to venture out and try new places whenever I’m in Brooklyn, which is a few times a year, but somehow I always find myself at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, chewing pretzels and not sharing my side of incredible house-made bacon. I especially like that place for brunch.

Amy will be at the Food Book Fair panel: Food + The Midwest on Friday, April 25 at 12 p.m. 

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