A must read for you in Publisher’s Weekly this week [thanks Tom Turner]. 

Serious question to home cooks out there: what kind of cookbooks DO you want?  And if I were to take on another cookbook project, what would you like it to be.  Please respond if you have time, I’d love to know. 


136 Wonderful responses to “Cookbook Writers and Wannabes”

  • ben

    I like books about cooking that explain why certain meals have evolved in various cultures. Are you familiar with john thorne? In one of his books he takes the premise that almost every culture has a chicken/rice dish and that social conditions affect the cooking methods and ingredients.(poor countries get poor quality chickens and learn how to produce flavor with technique, etc.)
    A book that can induce thought about how to combine food and preparation, and show the fundamentals of technique and why different techniques affect final taste, that is a book that I would find useful.

  • brilynn

    All bacon, all the time.

    Or a game book, I like venison, partridge, etc, but don’t see very many recipes for them.

  • SheilaFromProvidence

    “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was such an influential book for me – I really wish that someone would take that format and use it for other cuisines – Italian, Asian, Spanish/Latin…

  • Schlake

    I used the URL field to link to my cookbook collection. When I think of new cookbooks lately I think of what I’m missing. I don’t have any cookbooks covering the nation of Bhutan. I’m sure they have some fabulous food there. Although I have quite a few on Africa, I’m sure I don’t have enough. The same goes for Central Asia. There are still nomadic people there, and I’m sure they eat something. I want to know how to cook it!

    What I want most out of a cookbook is background and authenticity. I don’t want to read about how they changed the recipes to suit American tastes. I want the actual recipe. A tablespoon of vegetable oil and a pork tenderloin is not a substitute for pork belly. If the recipe calls for letting the food sit unrefrigerated for a week until yellow-brown bubbles start coming out of then, then that sounds great to me. Don’t change it.

    I’ve found that anthropologists write fabulous cookbooks. They get so involved in documenting the entire process that they produce very authoritative recipes. The Joy Of Cooking might tell me how to gut a squirrel in general, but a technical paper on the dietary input of an isolated village in Oaxaca will be quite specific about everything.

  • theisenm85

    I think a book in the tradition of Charcuterie would be great. The suggestion of working something out with Chris Cosentino sounds intriguing. Maybe a book on old American food. (Not the 40s-80s). Finding primary sources for that might be difficult. Maybe something in Spain, the Basque, delving into the world of tapas. I also liked the suggestion someone else made of doing a book with Alice Waters. It’d be a great way to unite the hippies and the hardcore badass cooks.

    For those of you asking for a fundamentals book: Please wait for Ruhlman’s new book, “Elements of Cooking”. He can’t write the same book every time.

  • theisenm85

    I think a book in the tradition of Charcuterie would be great. The suggestion of working something out with Chris Cosentino sounds intriguing. Maybe a book on old American food. (Not the 40s-80s). Finding primary sources for that might be difficult. Maybe something in Spain, the Basque, delving into the world of tapas. I also liked the suggestion someone else made of doing a book with Alice Waters. It’d be a great way to unite the hippies and the hardcore badass cooks.

    For those of you asking for a fundamentals book: Please wait for Ruhlman’s new book, “Elements of Cooking”. He can’t write the same book every time.

  • Tags

    Move the charcuterie principles more into other foods than meat, like the lemon confit and marinated olives (but don’t leave meat out).

    Divide the recipes by the ones that take days, the ones that take weeks, and the ones that take months to complete.

  • Abulafia

    Hrmm. Thats a big question.

    Thinking back over the books I have most enjoyed, and the books I most use….

    Not always the same thing. I’ve been home cooking for 15 years, and I still find myself at a loos, occasionally, re the basics.

    So, somehting like the Larousse, but that is actually readable, covering tyhe basics that you have to master, and providing practical recipes to allow you to practice and then extend those basics.

    The basics being cooking techniques, but also prep. Everything from how to chop an onion, to how to keep pork cool while mincing for sausages, to the best way to rehydrate dried porcini.

    Theres a Carluccio book I use quite often. Its arranged by type of food, the intro section is as long as the recipe section. Each ingredient to be treated is listed alphabetically, with a paragraph or three given over to selection – at the shop, preparation, and guidelines about how to use it, and what it works with. The later recipes give practice, and provide some ideas for extending, once you’ve mastered the basics.

    Heston Blumenthal does something interesting in In search of perfection. He picks twelve recipes, and takes them apart minutely, explaining each one minutely as he picks it apart beneath the microscope of his gastronomic intelligence. The what how and precise why of each thing. And then he improves them. He dissects his failed experiments, so he reader can learn from his mistakes. He gets it nearly right, and then explains why nearly is not enough. And then he gets it right.

    Yeah. Thats it. Its easy to write down a recipe for someone to follow. It’s a different thing to teach someone to cook with intelligence.

    I want a book that teaches me to cook, and then, and only then, teaches me to cok with intelligemnce.

  • Rory

    I second all of the above recommendations for a solid offal cookbook. Henderson’s book is nice, but is very light. More than once I’ve come home with a piece of offal not covered in it only to have to go searching on the internet for recipes of varying quality. I’d love it if you wrote a book organized by animal (cow, veal, pig, lamb, chicken are essential; fish, duck, goat, rabbit and other game would be nice for added color). Start with the animal, then think of every part of that animal that you can, then find at least one recipe for each. Cover everything from “common” offal like liver, to esoteric things like chicken knees, to the truly scary/reviling (penis, brains, etc.).

    Even more important than the individual recipes, would be a thorough discussion of each piece of offal, covering key things that the home cook probably doesn’t know, such as:
    -how to tell if it has gone bad (since much offal is very perishable, yet can also smell bad when it’s perfectly good)
    -proper texture (before and after cooking)
    -approximate size/weight (people might not realize a recipe calling for “one beef heart” will feed more people than a recipe for 8 lamb kidneys)
    -what it is supposed to taste like
    -how to tell when it’s done
    -why you cook it a certain way (e.g. to break down tough tissue, render out fat, cook out impurities, etc.) and what other ways might work.
    -how to adapt into other recipes
    -common flavor pairings
    -If you like this, you might also like…

  • EHLindner

    Mr. Ruhlman,

    Let me add my vote to a technique book. I have thought recently that while any good home cooking tastes great, what makes it seem ‘special’ (above and beyond the fact that it was made at home with love and respect) is presentation and technique. It makes food “go to eleven”.

    What I think I’d like to see is a culinary school basics education pared down for home use. And for a twist, there would be follow-ups for what to do with scraps and leftovers from your ‘training’. For example: I am currently fascinated with turning potatoes. I can imagine that at a culinary academy, there would be piles of ‘taters around to turn and something to do with them after I did it. At home, I don’t really have that luxury. So after the book’s lesson on making my tubers ‘anglaise’, there would be a recipe for the turned potatoes themselves AND a recipe for the trimmings.

    I would also like to see a reference guide to butchering. Showing the basics of where the cuts are on the animal, what they are best used for, how best cooked, what to ask for at the butcher’s, what else to ask them for if they don’t recognize the name of the cut you first asked for, etc. (Something to sell as a sister book to Charcuterie, perhaps)

  • Rory

    Ooh, great idea on the butchery book, EHLindner. I’d buy that in a second. You can pick up bits and pieces from a number of cookbooks (the Niman Ranch cookbook and the River Cottage Meat book come to mind), but I’d love a home guide to butchering, even if I’d probably never break down a half a cow or something, I’d like to see how it’s done and where the cuts come from. With REAL pictures please, not just the butcher cartoon map showing the primal cuts.

    In the meantime, EH, you may look for an old book called “Cutting Up In the Kitchen” which basically teaches you how to buy large primal/sub-primal cuts (say, Beef Shoulder Clod, bone-in whole pork loin, or a whole chicken) and break them down into the individual cuts. The emphasis is mostly on frugality (get a whole chicken for the cost of the boneless skinless breasts, cut cheaper roasts into steaks, etc.), but the author also tells you how to cook the various cuts too.

  • MelissaMcCart

    An ingredients to menu cookbook. For example, you bought cilantro, rosemary, radishes, pea greens, bone-in pork spare ribs, ground beef, figs, heirloom tomatoes, squash blossoms, feta, and shallots at the farmers market. Here are three entree/sides possibilities for your meal: for when you have alot of time/for friends over/for a wednesday when there’s under an hour to cook and eat etc.

  • Bob delGrosso

    I want a cookbook that teaches me how to keep one or both of my kids from copping an attitude at dinner.
    It should also include information that will tell me how to prevent my wife from taking sides and yelling at me as I’m trying to eat. Finally, it should also have fool proof recipes for getting everyone to help with cleaning up or failing that, preventing my son from practicing his trumpet while I clean up.

  • eriq

    An observation about cookbooks in my kitchen: some of the old basics (Fannie Farmer, Joy of Cooking) became a lot more valuable as my own skills improved. No recipe for scones, say, will get you want you want if they can’t also convey what it feels like to mix the dough just so. Once you learn it, all the recipes for scones work better.

    I really enjoy the cookbooks that have anecdotes from the authors (on top of good recipes). Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Bo Friberg’s Professional Pastry Chef was really entertaining (lots of interesting history and particularly funny anecdotes of a European cook riffing on American recipes). The French Laundry and Bouchon cookbooks. David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. Think Like a Chef from Tom Colicchio was an interesting read (though I read the library’s copy and didn’t keep it long enough to do any recipes) — it was more an approach to the kitchen than an approach to a list of recipes.

    Cookbooks with good anecdote and bad recipes, though (where “bad” can mean anything from “not to my taste” to “too damn complicated — I’m in a hurry” to “too narrow topically”), means the cookbook doesn’t last long.

    (“Too narrow topically” of course does not apply to The Perfect Scoop, since good ice cream trumps all other concerns.)

  • NTSC

    Bob delGrosso

    You don’t need a cookbook for that, but a big cleaver works wonders I’ve found.

    As for the trumpet, remove the valves, they unscrew at the bottom for cleaning.

  • NTSC

    Bob delGrosso

    You don’t need a cookbook for that, but a big cleaver works wonders I’ve found.

    As for the trumpet, remove the valves, they unscrew at the bottom for cleaning.

  • Gina Edwards

    Two cookbooks that I find myself reaching for time and again are The Cook’s Companion 2 by Stephanie Alexander and The Silver Spoon (translated) by Phaidon Press. They’re huge, but primarily organized alphabetically by ingredient. The Alexander book (Austrailian) is great as there are a few anecdotes and she always starts off with info about each ingredient and a list of what flavors (she feels or are classic combos) with said ingredient. Probably the best $60 I’ve spent on a cookbook and I have close to 500 of them.

  • szg

    One of my favorite conceptual cook books is from Ming Tsai. Each chapter starts with a master recipe, and then he shows you how to use it in multiple ways.

    Because I am often only cooking for two (my wife and I), and recipes are usually for 4, I either have to reduce everything or prepare too much food. With the master recipe approach I don’t mind making “too much” because I know I will use it for more than one meal.

    The other element I look for is pictures, pictures, pictures. And I want the picture to match the actual recipe, not some food porn version. When you made Kung Pao Chicken on this website you had good pictures at almost every step. That was perfect. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing a picture of the recipe I am making and notice details that are not in the recipe.

    Obviously pictures add to the cost of the book, especially by adding pages. If that does create a barrier to using them, why not create a website companion with the pictures?

  • djs

    I think it might be interesting to see variations on mediocre American recipes. Like what you did with the Chicken Caeser Salad. Introduce each recipe how it is prepared the traditional, boring way. Then offer ways to improve it.

  • Claudia

    Bob, you’re a paesano – use the Big Italian Wooden Spoon. If that fails, come back up to your ancestral turf, Brooklyn. I’ll feed you (!)

  • Tags

    Bob, if you do remove the valves, don’t forget to hide them.

    I just started reading a book called Fish Forever, by Paul Johnson (owner of Monterey Fish Market and fish supplier to Alice Waters and Thomas Keller, to name a couple.) It tells what type of fish are safe to eat, what fishing and farming locations are safe to buy fish from, and a lot of useful info about fish in general.

    Michael, write a book like this for land based foods like livestock and vegetables.

    Click one of MR’s Amazon book links on the left and search for “fish forever” so MR gets a cookie credit referral for it.

  • Charlotte

    I learned technique from James Beard’s Theory and Practice book — and the cookbook I use most for everyday stuff is Patricia Wells Bistro Cooking — ever recipe is easy, it works, and tastes great. I have a whole bookshelf of others that I love — some to read, some for specific recipes — but if the house burned down, it’d be PW I’d buy a new copy of first (although it would be terrible to lose all those recipes I’ve cut out and stuck in the PW).

  • Claudia


    Or you need Skawtie there – one-armed or not, he should get everyone shushed into nervous submission (!)

  • Claudia


    Or you need Skawtie there – one-armed or not, he should get everyone shushed into nervous submission (!)

  • Tracey

    Ideas for a cookbook…..easy. “How to cook and impress” Do different menus and recipes for different types of guests. One set shopping list and detailed recipe (w\idiot proof pictures) for “the inlaws are coming over”, “my husband just invited 10 guys over to watch the game”….or my favorite, “Having a dinner party, and one friend is a Vegan”.

    Make it humorous and I will be the first to buy it…or send me a signed copy.

    It would make some money and answer alot of peoples questions and insecurities.

    All my best,

    Tracey Kent Andreis

  • JoP in Omaha

    Flavor combinations. That’s what I need most help with. Lack of knowledge about flavors is one of the reasons I can’t cook without a book. If I have a piece of meat or a fish or anything, how do I figure out what herbs / spices / other ingredients will complement it?

    How flavors work together — I think that’s what I need to know in order to learn the rest. I’m not finding discussion of this topic in the resources I have. Does it exist somewhere?

  • cybercita

    on thinking over your question, i realized that my favorite books to cook from are not even cookbooks. i couldn’t live without my copies of home cooking and more home cooking by laurie colwin or cooking for mr. latte by amanda hesser.

  • Melly

    I agree with Tracey..flavor combinations. I have over 300 cookbooks..I love my cookbooks. I consider myself to be a decent home cook. I do wonder sometimes if this flavor will enhance that flavor..or screw it all up. I try it..sometimes it works.

    I like the idea of a book of side dishes too..I don’t want a complicated side dish..just a really good one.

  • Rory

    JoP and Melly: I’d highly recommend “Culinary Artistry”. It has pages and pages of tables of flavor combinations for composing a dish and composing a menu. Very dry, no recipes, but exactly what you are looking for and incredibly handy. There’s another part to the book too, something about stories of chefs or meditations on the craft. i don’t know, I haven’t read it, I just bought it for the flavor tables and have usually been very happy with the results.

  • ella

    I’d love to see a cookbook in which each recipe teaches or reinforces a technique, with the recipes grouped by technique. This could be a good learning tool.

  • Rob

    I’d like to see/buy a cookbook that takes a whole-meal view, not just a list of side recipes that go with a protein. I have a huge hole in my knowledge about preparing whole meals, specifically the following:

    1) Conceptually, which side dishes (pre-dinner drinks/appetisers/veggies/starches/salads) work best with the main dish
    2) Timing of multiple, especially for enteraining. Which menu choices can be held (and how) to get hot, perfectly done food to guests on time.
    3) Prep – what techniques can be used at home for early preparation, holding food, which foods hold well, and heating up.

    I haven’t seen this, but would love to. Thanks.

  • Marta Lane

    I would love to see a cook book that consisted of whole foods (nothing processed; no cheese, bacon, etc) with healthy (as in good for you not portion size) calorie counts. I’m always hearing and reading that I should have a diet of whole grains, fruits, vegatables, beans, and nuts. It would be fantastic to have a cookbook that had these types of recipes that are tasty and easy(ish)! I’d like to give a shout out to Heidi from 101cookbooks.com for leading me to this site!

  • christina

    Two things I haven’t seen mentioned:
    Found: Julia Child’s Amazing “The Way to Cook” did teach me how to cook: it shows you, for example, how to sautée a chicken, then three or four variations. it’s what allowed me to make the jump out of recipes.
    Seeking: a good vegetable book that will allow me to go to the farmer’s market, buy what ever looks & tastes good, then cook it. I’ve bought several vegetable books and they are all too short and incomplete. I need the flavor profile and technique approach here… I love meat, but they have been better served in cookbooks than veggies.