Inspirational Cookbooks

Filed under: Tools of the Trade , Author: Caron Golden , December 10, 2013

The walls in my office are covered with ceiling-to-floor bookshelves that house a life-long collection of cookbooks. Trips to local farms and farmers markets can be inspiring. Walking through your own backyard garden or the produce section of your local market can inspire as well. But those serious, thoughtful chefs who created cookbooks from their own perspective, level of expertise, and commitment—sometimes over the course of years—have inspired many home cooks and professional chefs, me among them.


For some of us, our first foray into cooking may have been making a beloved recipe created by Grandma—even better, with her help. Perhaps our initiative earned us the gift of a cookbook—the classic Joy of Cooking or if we were really young, a Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook.

As our tastes matured and interests broadened, many of us expanded our library—but we still find ourselves returning to favorites because we love the style, techniques, and the world they create. Chef Art Smith, for instance, loves the cookbooks of Edna Lewis, Alice Waters, and Julia Child for a very fundamental reason. “They’re simple, sophisticated, clean, and fresh.” I couldn’t agree more.

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli told us that her favorites include Fannie Farmer, The Zuni Café Cookbook, The Gourmet Cooking School Cookbook, The Cake Bible, Provence 1970, and Sunday Suppers. “They’re good eats. Simple cuisine,” she says.

As the holidays draw near, we know that there’s nothing like an inspirational cookbook that chefs enjoy—to have for themselves or to give as gifts to other chefs or home cooks. So we asked you to suggest some of the cookbooks that have inspired you the most—at any point in your life—and here are some of the contributions we received.


Pete McCracken (aka Chef Pierre) of Porterville, Calif., listed a diverse group of cookbooks, many of which will be familiar to you (and perhaps had slipped off your radar). His tops are Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman, Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, Molto Italiano by Mario Batali, and the Italian home cooking bible Silver Spoon from Domus—now in a new edition published by Phaidon Press.

Jeanne Millar of Jeanne’s in the Kitchen in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a huge fan of The Best Make-Ahead Recipe from the editors of Cooks Illustrated Magazine. “It’s great for the personal chef business since the majority of what a personal chef prepares are meals made ahead of time so that all our clients have to do is heat them when they’re ready to eat them,” she raves. “This cookbook reveals some of the secrets to make-ahead dishes. They have reengineered the recipes to withstand storage and reheating so the food always tastes fresh and flavorful.”

She also highly recommends The Visual Food Encyclopedia. “It’s not a cookbook, but a practical guide to food and cooking,” she explains. “It has pictures of over 1,000 ingredients and explains how to buy, prepare, serve, store, and cook them, and nutritional information. It’s a great ‘go-to’ book for a personal chef.”

Carol Borchardt of A Thought for Food in Memphis, Tenn., reminisced about her mother’s old Betty Crocker cookbook. “I would page through it as a kid visualizing each dish, wondering what it would taste like and fascinated by the photos and all the information in it. I don’t know what happened to it. I’ve got all of her other cookbooks.

And, of course, there’s the cookbook many of us compile from our own family recipes. Carol started hers around seven years ago, and it includes four generations of two sides of her family. “I love that I can open it anytime and make one of my Aunt Evelyn’s tried-and-true cakes, cookies, or other dessert and not have to search high and low for my grandmother’s banana bread recipe. Not to mention, my mom’s recipes are all in one place. Through cooking my deceased or far-away relatives recipes I feel like I can be with them any time I choose.”

I’m a fan of Deborah Madison, including her latest, Vegetable Literacy, but The Greens Cookbook, no matter how dog eared my copy has become, holds a place of honor on the shelf. I sat on a panel with Deborah in Tucson a dozen years ago where we suggested that chefs actually begin to work directly with the farmers in the region to plan crops and menus that support the well being of both parties. It was a novel suggestion at the time!


I also love Cookwise by Shirley Corriher, who is herself an inspiration. Her book, 10 years in the writing, is a unique work dedicated to answering the question, “Why?,” when it comes to cooking. It’s a thoroughly usable and enjoyable read with legs.

Another inspiration is Yotam Ottolenghi, whose books include Jerusalem and Plenty. They’re sensible, thoughtful, gorgeous, and timeless.

And, if you want some additional inspiration, Chef Raghavan Iyer of 660 Curries and the new Indian Cooking Unfolded suggested vising NPR’s online guide for 2013 cookbooks (which, of course, includes his).

Have we missed a cookbook that inspired you? Please leave a comment and let us know. Next week we’re going to showcase homemade gifts for clients. Please check our Private Discussion Forum – General for Caron’s request for suggestions and tell us what you’ve made or plan to make and why so you can appear here. 

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Caron Golden


Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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