Page_TheFlavorBibleKaren Page and Andrew Dornenburg have been publishing innovative books about cooking and the chef world for longer than I have. Their popular Becoming a Chef was published the summer I was harrassing the Culinary Institute of America to let me in to write about, well, becoming a chef.  I was mortified they’d beat me to it. It proved to be not just a different book from what I was attempting, but a valuable research tool for me then and throughout the years (its history of American restaurants and chefs with opening dates or significant restaurants is something I’ve  returned to throughout the years).  It remains a valuable book especially for people considering entering the profession.

Their most recent book, The Flavor Bible, published last year was one I kept hearing about.  Finally I got around to having a look myself.  What I’ve liked about their work is that they have consistently brought the unique perspective of the chef to their work, making it accessible to all without over glorifying or over-simplifying it. As I’ve said before, in many ways I’m anti-cookbook in my views. There are too many of them, and only a handful each years have anything new to offer.  The Flavor Bible is completely unique.  After opening chapters on how to build flavors in your meals, it is a glossary of ingredients and cuisines and all the flavors that go with them or are associated with them.  Look up kale and you have a quick breakdown of seasonality, cooking technique and flavors that go well, one of which is cheddar cheese, something I’d never thought of, but hell, why not?  Look up rhubarb or mint or basmati rice for pairings. When I need to come up with new dishes—what’s something new can I do with this lamb, for instance—this is a book I’ll be opening for ideas.  A great gift for the cook who likes to improvise and experiment.

Another book I came across this year is Robert Danhi’s Southeast Asian Flavors, a book about one of the most dynamic cuisines in the world.  Danhi was an instructor at the CIA (teaching  Cusines of Asia beside Pardus, who called my attention to the book), and has traveled for years throughout Asia, exploring, photographing, and writing.  He self-published this large format hardcover cookbook, and it went on to earn a Beard Foundation nomination last year.  Two things in particular I like about the book. First, this is authentic cuisine, how it’s really done in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore. Scond, throughout the book he has consistent sidebars to the recipes called “How and Why,” which explain the reasoning behind the technique. Highly recommended for students of Asian cuisines.51Q-sffiYeL-1._SS500_

Two books I blurbed this year.  For the literary food obsessed, there’s Novella Carpenter’s Farm City, an exuberant whacky story of raising food and livestock in a burned out section of Oakland—Novella is irrisistable.  And for bloggers who want to write books, I’m sure you’re aware of Jaden Hair‘s first book, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook—if you’re not, you ought to be.  It’s a fine first work, a perfect expression of the dynamo herself, and I trust it’s not the last we’ll hear from Jaden.

The oddest and most interesting magazine I’ve seen lately is Meatpaper, an odd mix of art and food writing devoted to meat.  I’ve found something compelling and intriguing in the three issues I’ve recieved since subscribing.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ratio, though surely most people who come here are well aware of it, and the iPhone application has just been released.  If you’re sick of me talking about it, stop reading here! What no one knows though is that I’ve gotten from readers the most gratifying thanks I’ve received for anything I’ve ever written, primarily regarding Ratio‘s taking the fear out of cooking.  Herewith some comments; I’m truly grateful, thank you. (Update, just today Amazon eds picked it as the #1 Food lit book of the year! Wow! More sweet suggestions on their top ten page.)

It’s the only book I have that describes all things dough and baking in a way that actually makes sense to me. Somehow, it’s getting through my fear, and I’m actually making the stuff! Interesting + good info + actual cooking = good teaching cookbook!


Love the new book – I’ve already used it to tweak my pancake recipe (not enough egg before), make just the right amount of pizza dough, and whip up some fantastic mayonnaise.

—Edwin K

I think you’ve nailed it here, an approach so important that most cooks never seem to grasp. I’ve been trying to teach much of that method for years—glad to know I’ve got your book to refer students to from now on—thanks!

—Stephen Durfee, pastry instructor, CIA Greystone

GREAT book. I baked bread for the first time today. I always just wrote baking off as being outside of my zone.

—Brian B

The simple codes inside of this book will change the way you approach cooking forever.

—Ryan, [intensely moody photo in current post, love it.]

Family believes I have taken my cooking to a higher level and love you for it. We made onion rings last night with your tempura batter ratio. Wife said they were the best onion rings she ever had.

—Todd B

Made a chocolate linguini with a vanilla creme anglaise using the pasta ratio. Everyone loved it.

—David O

… For the first time I feel like I am empowered to cook without being enslaved by recipes.  I have always been terrified that if I didn’t do EXACTLY as the recipe said, not only would the food be horrible, but every one would know what a fake I am.  Thank you for that as well.

—Channon G. Coats

My best friend today stood in my kitchen absolutely speechless and declared my ciabatta bread more beautiful than ones she buys at Great Harvest or Panera.  Then she gobbled down three slices!  It was the first loaf of bread I’ve ever done from scratch and I was terrified as I’ve never even successfully done it using a mix and a bread machine. …My husband hid the wild blueberry citrus cookies so he wouldn’t have to share when we had company today. [What I love here is that there IS no recipe for wild blueberry citrus cookies in the book!]

—Virginia D.

We adore Charcuterie and everything you write, but it’s Ratio that has changed my life.

—Shuana, aka

Again, thank you, everyone who has taken time to write to me over the past 9 months.


19 Wonderful responses to “More Cool Books For Cooks”

  • Bob

    Will definitely check out ‘The Flavor Bible,’ as that seems to be a perfect companion to Ratio.

    I’ve always been a bit gunshy with spices, mostly because a journalism professor had an end-of-semester party and made two pots of chili – one mild, one spicy … and some classmates decided that the spicy wasn’t spicy enough, and began adding stuff so that it tasted more like what they expected.

    Shortly after dinner, there was a long line for the bathrooms in the house.

  • Carol Blymire

    I think The Flavor Bible is one of the most important books any cook should have on their shelf or in their kitchen. It’s made me appreciate and understand the nuances of how foods can work together. Kind of the equivalent of a writer reading “Bird By Bird” or “On Writing” every now and again to be reminded why we love to do what we do, The Flavor Bible is one religion I can get behind wholeheartedly.

  • Shadia Miller

    Wow, to publish those comments about your own book is so humble of you.

  • ruhlman

    Come on Shadia, I’m proud of the book and its impact. And I want as many people to know about it as possible. Also, I still have to SELL the thing. Did you know that Ad Hoc has already sold twice in six weeks what Ratio has sold in 9 months? I’m seriously lagging!

    Hope you’ll forgive my blowing my own horn along with those of some others. These comments really have been the most powerful and gratifying of any I’ve received from a single book.

  • Rob

    Please develop an Android version of the Ratio app! I love the book, but the app would make it so much easier. And some of us can’t use an iPhone, because AT&T is pretty much not an option.

  • Peter

    I just bought the iPhone app, which looks great. Normally, I’m not inclined to spend five bucks on a phone application, even a good-looking one, but I did so in this case in part because I’ve gotten so much great free cooking knowledge from the blog in the time I’ve been reading it.

  • S. Woody

    Flavor Bible has replaced Page and Dornenburg’s earlier Culinary Artistry as my reference when I’m trying to figure out what a recipe I’m working on needs something to lift it out of the doldrums. Like Ratio, it is about ideas, something too many kitchens lack. (Culinary Artistry has made it’s handy way to my bookshelf at work.)

  • Natalie Sztern

    i happen to have a copy of Jaden’s book and have made a few recipes from it and they are truly easy and deiiciously tasty. But Ratios, Michael, will always have a place in my heart: it is the only cookbook my husband has ever read purely based on its ratios. He is a numbers man and has already memorized a lot of the ratios

  • Natalie Sztern

    BTW Mazel tov on the Iphone app. I hear Kindle has come to Canada and is soon to be an app on the Blackberry from which I can then download the ….uhhh ok I am all confused now…if ratio is an app on the iphone it can be downloaded from itunes…but I guess it has to be an app for the blackberry not thru Kindle……achh I have to call my kids now!!! :))

  • PaulR

    These two books, The Flavor Bible and Ratio, have done more to free me from the tyranny of recipes than all my other cooking book put together.

  • Peggy

    I’ve never cooked anything without a written recipe. The Flavor Bible has freed me from that once and for all. Not all my creations are masterpieces, but I finally have the freedom to trust my senses. It’s at the top of my Christmas list.

  • Amy

    I was disappointed in your first cookbook list not to see SE Asian Flavors – and now here it is! The only thing I’ve noticed in this book is that there are several spelling/grammar errors (which I can overlook) and omissions of listed ingredients in instructions. For example, I was making the Vietnamese crepes and at some point realized that one ingredient wasn’t listed in the directions. It took me a few minutes to figure out when to add the ingredient. Not a big deal, but a little annoying.

    I, too, love the “how & why” sections. AND that he has notes indicating that you can find more information about the topic/ingredient/etc on the website. Despite the little things mentioned above, this is the SE Asian cookbook I’ve been seeking for years.

  • Carol Peterman

    I bought The Flavor Bible a little over a year ago and have never bothered to find a home on a bookshelf for it. It lives on my kitchen counter and is constantly referenced.

  • Victoria

    The lemon curd I made using Ratio was magnificent. Just saying the texture was smooth does not adequately describe it, and it was beautiful – amost translucent and jewel-like.

    I’m thinking about using it for the Scott Peacock and Edna Lewis cake recipe the NY Times published this week in which you slather layers with lemon curd and then ice the cake with it.

  • Jessica

    The comments are what I reference before I buy almost anything these days, so actually posting them here has made me pull the trigger and add Ratio to my Amazon cart. I wish I could get a signed copy for my brother-in-law in Boston who is a great home cook. Do you have any Cleveland area signings coming up? As a mother of a 3 year old and 4 mo old twins I’m totally out of the loop on local goings on. Congrats on what seems to have been a rewarding 2009 for you.

  • Emily

    Just wanted to compliment you on the Ratio iphone app. It’s a well designed and good looking app.
    I purchased Ratio earlier this year. I meant to email you as I felt the lack of metric measurements limited the book to the US market.
    Now don’t even need to calculate the grams, the app does it all for me.
    Just some more suggestions –
    1. the ‘settings’ don’t save when you exit the app, meaning you have to set them each time you open the app.
    2. how about a ratio for buttercream?
    3. I found pie dough to lack flavour. Perhaps an alternative to include egg yolks for richness (my adapted ratio is 300g flour, 150g butter, 75g egg (1 whole, 1 yolk) )
    3. I’ve found your choux pastry to be too runny. It’s doesn’t hold it’s shape like my normal recipe.

  • michael

    Thanks for the comments emily! I have a description for turning sauce anglaise into pastry cream and then what to add for buttercream.

    You should be able to type in and record that adapted pie dough in your saved recipes. can you?

    Setting should now save, that’s been fixed.

    the choux dough is a solid recipe, see the video a few posts below this. are you weighing the flour?

  • Emily

    Thank you Michael.

    I’m not sure how the My Recipes is meant to work? The only function it performs is to let me save with a new name and my preferred quantities. It doesn’t allow you to change the ratios (the other ingredients recalculate) nor does it allow you to add your own extra ingredients.

    Re the choux; I did weight the flour (I’m in Australia where scales are the norm) but I will give it one more try. I reviewed the ratios of other choux recipes, the majority maintain two parts water and eggs however with butter a little less than one part and the flour more than one part. I’ve been making choux pastry since I was 12 yo I’m pretty confident in my method.