In college—after cycling through ideas that I'd become a vet, a psychologist, and a children's book publisher (as one does at a liberal arts school...)—I finally landed on the goal of becoming a cookbook editor. I went so far as to attend a grad program in publishing, and nearly accepted a job with one of my still-favorite publishing houses, before realizing that typing up cover copy and sifting through unsolicited pitches wasn't the inspirational, creative role I was after. I was lucky that my love of cookbooks led me to the website, Food52, where I discovered I was more interested in reading and using cookbooks than creating them. At this point, I probably have upwards of fifty cookbooks (a perk that came from covering cookbooks was receiving free copies), but there are several I return to time and time again. Here are my eight favorite cookbooks:
Gjelina by Travis Lett: While I'm not a huge fan of the Venice restaurant this cookbook is from, I use this more often than maybe any of my other cookbooks for its vegetable side dishes. I rarely go a week without eating the vinegary roasted cauliflower, or the Brussels sprouts with bacon and balsamic. If you're interested, here's a review I wrote of it when it first came out (I was obviously dreaming about moving to California, even if I didn't know it at the time). I bought a boning knife on my trip to Paris just so I could make the deboned chicken from it.
Polpo by Russell Norman: My uncle, a chef in San Francisco, gifted me this cookbook when he came across a cookie recipe in it that my grandmother used to make in Guatemala. Turns out, it's an Italian recipe and they're called "Esse Cookies." (You can read the entire story here.) It's also probably the most beautiful cookbook I own—but still approachable. It's one of those cookbooks where you can open it to literally any recipe and say, "That's what I want to eat right now!"
Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton: Hamilton's tiny restaurant in the East Village was my favorite restaurant when I lived in New York—my boyfriend and I returned for her classic Italian-ish dishes (inspired by her ex-husband's very Italian mother) as often as we could. The cookbook is published in restaurant quantities and is designed to resemble the actual binder pages the chefs refer to for recipes, so you have to re-measure accordingly, but the extra effort is well worth it. If I had to live on food from any one cookbook, it would be this one. If you have the chance, read her memoir, Blood, Bones, and Butter which is one of my all-time favorite books. I promise you'll like it even if you don't love food (in which case, I'm surprised you made it so far in this post!).
Tacos by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman: Shortly after moving to L.A., I entered a taco-obsessive phase of my life (it's hard not to here), so I purchased this cookbook to actually teach myself how to make a perfect taco. Mine aren't anything close to those at Avenue 26 (my favorite dollar-tacos in the city), but the carnitas (which you cook in 6 cups of pork lard for about 7 hours) come pretty darn close.
My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz: It's hard to go wrong with any David Lebovitz cookbook, but especially a French one. Each recipe is inspired by a meal he ate in France and he sticks to mostly the classics and basics. It taught me how to make a perfectly soft-boiled egg (which he then suggests plating with a frisée and lardon salad), and it's a cookbook you can sit in a chair with and read like a novel—the stories about France, which are interspersed between the recipes, are that captivating and beautiful.
A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs: I own and love all of Food52's cookbooks, but this one may be my favorite. Amanda and Merrill were writing it while I still worked there, so I had the honor of recipe-testing it, then recipe "tasting" it as dishes came out of the test kitchen. I loved every single recipe I tested, but the best part of this book is its concept: Each section offers a strategy and grocery list for cooking the majority on Sunday, then turning that into easy weekday meals. Also seeing my name in the acknowledgements was one of my greatest surprises/honors.
Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi: This is the first cookbook I ever purchased for myself, and the only one I brought to college with me (mostly for the company, since I didn't bring any cooking supplies with me). Ottolenghi's Middle Eastern dishes like braised eggs with lamb (stop what you're doing and make it immediately) and Conchiglie (a pasta with yogurt) are so delicious and contain so many flavors that I'd never tasted before. I have him to thank for introducing me to one of my now-favorite herbs: sumac.
The Four and Twenty Blackbird Pie Book by Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen: I'm a terrible baker, so I have to admit that I've never personally baked from this cookbook, but I've had nearly every pie from it. My boyfriend, who—thank goodness—is an excellent baker, is gradually making his way through the entire thing. The Black Bottom Oat and Salted Honey pies are our favorites.
Honorable Mentions, because picking a favorite cookbook is like picking a favorite child: A Kitchen in France by Mimi Thorisson (who makes me want to move to Medoc and have 15 children), Genius Recipes by my friend and former boss Kristen Miglore, The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook by Chris Fischer and Catherine Young (interview here), Pasta by Hand by Jenn Louis (interview here), The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo, Martha Stewart's Vegetables by Editors of Martha Stewart Living, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten and Martha Stewart, Date Night In by Ashley Rodriguez, Tasting Rome by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill, The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, Near & Far by Heidi Swanson, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nostrat (which I keep calling "hot fat acid salt"...)
Ready to start cooking? Shop the cookbooks from this post here:
P.S. Looking for something a bit more readable? Here are my favorite memoirs with recipes.