Great Books for Cooks
The favorite books from some of Santa Fe's top cooks
I recently finished one of the best books I've ever read by a chef—“Blood, Bones and Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton, the acclaimed chef/owner of Prune in New York's East Village. Its hardscrabble, heart-aching story grabs you from the opening page as you follow a savvy girl—whose idyllic New Jersey childhood is disrupted by divorce—from her first jobs in local restaurants to running one of the most popular spots in New York City. Along the way, food takes front and center, from the annual lamb roasts her family held to the famous pairing of Triscuits and canned sardines on her restaurant's first menu.
When I finished Hamilton's powerful story, I ran right out and bought her cookbook and I've been using it a lot. This got me wondering what other books written by chefs—whether memoirs or cookbooks—have inspired some of our favorite chefs in Santa Fe. And so, I decided to find out, asking some of the city's top cooks to weigh in with their favorite books. In their answers below, you'll find some familiar titles as well asa few to add to your “To Read” list.
For James Beard award-winning cookbook author Cheryl Jamison, who hosts KVSF's “Heating It Up!” show, the late chef Barbara Tropp’s “The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking” topped a list of many options. “The book was published in 1982,” Jamison said. “At the time, it cost $24.95, a fortune for me to spend on a book in that era! I wasn’t yet working in the culinary field, but I loved to cook and was on a mission to teach myself everything that I could absorb from books on cuisines that interested me. The writing struck me as so passionate, and so detailed—that dough texture should feel like your earlobe, for instance—that it took every bit of fear out of cooking a fairly challenging cuisine.
“I was absolutely smitten with the book, and read all of its more than 600 pages,” Jamison continued. Also, I probably have made more recipes out of it than of any of the thousand-plus cookbooks I own today. I had no inkling when I was first poring over it that I was going to go on to become a cookbook author myself. Tropp heavily influenced the style of books that I have written, which generally dive deep into history and culture, go into a lot of detail about technique, and often are recognized for my passionate take on each book’s topic. It might sound crazy, but I think it changed my life.”
Bouche Bistro's Charles Dale narrowed it down to two, starting with Jacques Pepin’s “La Technique,” which, he says, “guides the reader through time-tested recipes for classic French dishes such as Liver Pate and Roast Chicken, with step-by-step photographs. It's very handy for the beginner—which I was, way back in 1982…before YouTube!” He also chose Daniel Boulud’s “Letter to a Young Chef,” which has personal meaning for him: “Daniel is my chief mentor—we met in 1983, and I worked for him until 1988—and this short book contains useful and perceptive advice for anyone wanting to go into the cooking profession.”
Susan Curtis, founder of the Santa Fe School of Cooking, chose a book by one of the contemporary food world's most vaunted chefs. “The chef and cookbook that has influenced me the most is 'Art of Simple Cooking' by Alice Waters,” Curtis said. “Her philosophy of straightforward, good-ingredient and not contrived recipes fits my lifestyle and I believe the lifestyles of many other people.”
315 Restaurant & Wine Bar's Louis Moskow, chose a title he had just finished reading, “Life On the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death and Refining the Way We Eat” by Grant Achatz. “He was battling lung cancer and the thing that kept him alive and gave him the ability to persevere was working at the French Laundry,” Moskow said. He also cited Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin's 1825 treatise “The Physiology of Taste.” “That was a big one for me back in the day,” Moskow said. “He was such a gourmand. Jim Harrison writes like him, waxing on and on about the way things should be, like a recipe that you have to start with 40 doves that are roasted and thrown in a sauce. It's all this crazy old French rules required in cooking. Also there are these really cool aphorisms; like 'A dinner that ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye' or “Man can learn how to cook but he must be born to know how to roast.' “
Joseph Wrede of Joseph's of Santa Fe selected James Peterson's “Sauces.” “This book is one that Ive relied on for many years,” Wrede said. “Also, Richard Olney's 'Simple French Food,' which talks about how simplicity is the password to good cooking. You have to keep it simple and ingredient-driven and that's really how you make good food. But the book that blew me away originally was Marco Pierre White's 'White Heat.' I read that and I was like, 'That guy's cool, I want to be like that'. He had the idea that you could be wild and sexy and not have to be totally uptight and formulaic and strict in the kitchen. You can still hold high standards...he was just a wild man.”
For Loyal Hound's Renée Fox, the choice seemed easy. “I didn't got to culinary school until I was 26 —before that I was doing a lot of cooking and parties.,” she said “But the book, which I still have and it's falling apart, is 'Le Cordon Bleu at Home.' If I had to pick one book, that influenced me, that was it. And, as much as I hate to admit, I read a lot of Martha Stewart cookbooks a hundred years ago. They were put together with beautiful photos and I think that's inspirational, when you want to make something as good as it looks in the cookbook.”
Rocky Durham, executive chef at Sunrise Springs Spa Resort's Blue Heron, said he's been most inspired by a book written by a local chef, “Modern Southwest Cuisine” by Eloisa's John Rivera Sedlar. “My dad gave it to me in 1989 or '90,” Durham said. “I was living in L.A., working at Shane, I had lied about my experience because I needed to get the job. That book—and especially the photographs—gave me ideas that I turned into my specials. I worked there for well over a year. My first sojourn into fine dining.”