Best Cookbooks of the Year

Back in the day, I would get about 150 cookbooks sent to me each year by publishers and PR people for free.  It wasn’t long before I had 600 cookbooks in my house: Stacked up on the floor, cluttering shelves, and in boxes in the basement.  And that’s before I gave them away as presents to friends.

One day I called a program that trains high school kids to work in hospitality, and donated 250 books to them.  Staff showed up, hauled away the books, and I never heard from the program again.

I still have about 300 cookbooks.  Most go unread.  If I want to cook something, I look it up on the web.  From grilled chicken in corn tortillas to Korean marinated beef, it’s all there.  By chefs and students of cuisines.

Once I asked a very famous chef, whose name you’d know in a second if I told you where his first restaurant is, why he and so many other chefs published cookbooks.

Brand promotion is key.

There are the rare cookbooks that are incredibly useful: Anything by Marcella Hazan, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, or Mark Bittman, come to mind.

But the real essentials of cooking well aren’t there for the most part:

A chef took six months to teach his line cooks how to use salt and pepper properly.  A chef taught his sous chef how to buy the best ingredients, from chicken to beans.  A chef taught his crew how to use four ingredients well.

The great chef Gary Danko said: “If you can learn to cook ten dishes well, a total of ten, in your lifetime, you are really far ahead of the game.”

Not that I’m knocking stuff you get for free.

Top, New Food Ingredient: 2018

Wow, tough call, I was back and forth on this one.  Was it cinnamon, persiflage, yuba?  Or some other rare product sucked out of the earth in Orwellian named Democratic Republic of Congo?

Well, none of the above, and those of you who are adept at puzzles and prestidigitation know where I am going with this.

That’s right: It came down to one thing with at least two meanings.


That was the top ingredient this year.

From pizza to bread to croissants to pretzels to doughnuts to sandwiches, the big boom in 2018, which will herald investment in years to come is: Flour and water.  OK, add salt, be my guest.  Anyway, FLOUR is the big ingredient this year, 2018, and that’s because it has, next to coffee, the greatest profit margin in the food and beverage industry.

If you look at your “local” bakeries and pizza joints, you will find that the non-franchise outfits are either: Fewer in number; about to go under; and, unable to compete in marketing or pricing with international brands.

Which is the second meaning of dough.

The #1 franchise in the U.S. in terms of growth in 2018 was pizza.  That pie you buy–“artisanal, gourmet, healthy, natural”–for between $12-$28 has a food cost about 90% less per slice.

Folks, the food world is where the music world was in 1972: Undervalued, in the early-middle stages of monetization, and not so much about the taste of things, but about the sale of things.

And that’s not persiflage.



Best Food Books!

This year’s bumper crop of food books, from recipes for soup to the world’s best restaurants, is surefire.  Let’s take a gander at some of the best.

Yes, the Reichstag is burning, but why go negative?  In, “Berlin’s Beer Halls,” author Pieter Ulrich takes us down back alleys and into luxe hotel cellars showing us where brown shirts and the yet-to-join lift up big steins of frothy, fresh beer.  The famous joints are celebrated while those establishments new to the scene are given their due.

Closer to home, you can bitch about income inequality until the cows come home, but why not wine and dine at the restaurants where private equity is sinking their dough, literally.  In, “America’s Best Pizza and Bakery Franchises,” by Rose Starr, we join in the fun of “eateries” that capitalize on our hunger for fun, fun, fun!  And because wages are kept low, and profit soars on flour and water, you are guaranteed to come back for more.

Books with recipes?  Why, there are books galore!  So never mind about surfing the ‘net and discovering for yourself how to make a bowl of soup or a cheeseburger.  Pick up, “Trading Plates,” by Sally Doherty, in which the author takes us into her kitchen, sponsored by the manufacturers of the products in play, and shows us how to cook, well, everything!

Save room.  In this soon-to-be-classic, Stephanie Hammond is our guide to, “Food Is the Answer.”  Using guided meditation, she reaches back to soothing broths, jams, jellies, and stews, proving that, yes, everything is political.  “You may think,” she writes, “that cooking is a way to avoid engagement with the world, but wait until you taste my toffee pudding!”  Kudos to Hammond!