When it comes to kitchen tools, none are more important to me than the Books by Chefs that inspired me to become the home chef I am today.
There’s nothing more powerful than reading the words and stories of regular people, people like you and me who have come from all walks of life, gone through the ups and downs, and had various paths to their success.
It’s reading these experiences that help shape you as a person, that provide you hope and ambition to take the steps necessary to get you in life where you want to be. I’m a firm believer that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. And while I have many others I want to read, when it comes to culinary books by chefs, that I have read so far, I can’t think of any others I would rather spend my time with.
Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
“There are two things you should never do with your father: learn how to drive and learn how to kill a chicken.”― Gabrielle Hamilton
Blood, Bones & Butter follows the journey of Gabrielle Hamilton through the kitchens she spent time in during her life: her childhood kitchen, where she spent time with her mother, kitchens in France, Greece, and Turkey, where she was fed by strangers and her hospitable values were molded, catering kitchens that paid her bills, the kitchen of her mother-in-law, who linked her past to her present relationship, and of course the professional kitchen of her acclaimed restaurant Prune.
Although it’s written with food and cooking as a focus, this is hardly a book just for foodies. Gabrielle pulls you in through stories of her childhood, the challenges she faces and the less-than-perfect family dynamic, her troubled teenage years, and the rocky relationships she has throughout her life. You feel her struggles, you laugh with her, and are happy for her successes. This is a wonderful read from start to finish and I am so glad that Mystique gifted this book to me many Christmas’ ago.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
“I've long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Food, for me, has always been an adventure.”― Anthony Bourdain
After spending twenty-five years in professional kitchens, culinary legend, Anthony Bourdain shares his experience of ‘sex, drugs, bad behavior, and haute cuisine’. It was a family trip to France at 9 years old, where he tried to shock his family by eating a raw oyster on a fishing boat, that was the beginning of his passion and love of food. The book follows Anthony’s journey through the seedy underbelly of the kitchens he worked at in New York and Provincetown. From dealings with the Mafia, drug dealers, shady restaurant owners, and the restaurant culture in general, his tales are as shocking as they are funny.
Not only is Kitchen Confidential an amazing work of storytelling that will have you captivated from cover to cover, but there are also lessons that everyone should know about restaurants, my favorite being to never, ever, order seafood from a restaurant on Monday, especially if it's a special. You’ll have to read the book to find out why.
Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
“Maybe I needed to make like a potato, winnow myself down, be part of something that was not easy, just simple.” ― Julie Powell
Approaching her thirties and working in a soul-sucking career, Julie Powell decides to shake up her life and challenge herself to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. As she documents her experience she gets more than expected, not only a new respect for food and cooking and a renewed life full of opportunities many could only dream of.
Our first experience of Julie and Julia was through the movie starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep and this is the reason Mystique and I ended up starting Chef Sous Chef. My attachment and fondness for the movie makes this one of the only situations where the movie rivals the book, however, the book is still a must-read for any aspiring home chef.
Talking with My Mouth Full by Gail Simmons
"The less you do to beautiful food, the better it's going to taste. You don't need to mess with it all the time." ― Gail Simmons
Having graduated from college and feeling lost, as many do during this time, Gail Simmons was advised to write down what she loved and start from there as a guide to her next steps. That list contained four words: Eat, write, travel, and cook. Talking with My Mouth Full Gail’s unusual yet inspiring path to success, starting from her childhood, when her mom ran a small cooking school and her father made homemade wine, her family vacations around the world, going to culinary school and apprenticing in New York, assisting legendary Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten and eventually landing her roles at Food & Wine and Top Chef.
When I think of culinary rockstars that molded my love and passion for cooking and food, Gail Simmons is right near the top of the list. Not only is she a fellow Torontonian but she is a regular judge on Top Chef, my favorite culinary show. I’ve had the chance to meet Gail Simmons at a local book signing and she is just as cute and bubbly in real life as she portrays in the book and on tv.
Sous Chef by Michael Gibney
“Cooking is the last true meritocracy. All that matters is how well you can do the job. And with what level of finesse.” ― Michael Gibney
Sous Chef provides you with a perspective of a typical day in an upscale New York restaurant as told in a second-person narrative. It brings readers into the kitchen and provides every detail that goes into delivering an exceptional plate of food. Where the highest standards are expected any little mistake can spell disaster and Sous Chef illustrates that perfectly, providing an appreciation for the thought, focus, and care that go into creating a memorable dining experience.
When Sous Chef was first recommended to me, I was skeptical. I had no idea how Michael Gibney was and didn’t think I would get enjoyment from reading about something I already knew well, having worked in a few restaurants. I was surprised when I first dug in and couldn’t put the book down. It’s written in a way that provides you with adrenaline and excitement for what’s next. Whether you’re a food enthusiast, a regular diner, or have worked in a restaurant, Sous Chef is going to be a quick and fun read.