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.

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