Just make it clear, this 5 books have been in my bookshelf for over a decade, they are those books that if I need to answer a basic question the answer will be there. They are didactic, technical, rich in knowledge and timeless.
5. LETTERS TO A YOUNG CHEF, The Art of mentoring, from Daniel Boulud
This book changed my life. If there was a fork in my lifeline, this book made me take the less traveled road. I bought the first edition back in 2003, it was a beautiful small hard copy, it lay in front of my bed, with back then a small collection of cooking books. I read this small but powerful book; it inspired me so much, that 18 months later I made my way to eat in his beautiful restaurant Daniel in NYC with a couple of friends. The craziness of life, I saw my husband for the first time. I saw for the first time some future friends, future sous chefs that I worked with, future Head Chefs that I had the pleasure of eating in his restaurants around the world. Yes, pure craziness!!!
Daniel Restaurant, August 2005.
4. MOLECULAR GASTRONOMY, Exploring the Science of Flavour
Written by Hervé This, one of the original founders of Molecular Gastronomy, he is more a chemist and scientist than a Chef, but he was the guy who question himself how to braise a piece of tough meat and make it fall apart in your mouth.
I quote from the preface:
-Dicionnaire de Trévoux, first edition of Chemical Manipulation (1827)
"It is not enough to know the principles, one needs to know how to manipulate"
To modern cooking and modern chefs, knowledge is power. This book fills all the gap knowledge of what before was known as "having a good hand to cook", well now we know why, what it goes inside the meat, we can use terms like breaking down the proteins, fat settling, slow cooking and actually understand what goes on. We can define and predict the results with accurate science, applying the knowledge that books like this made chefs open their eyes to chemistry, something that in school might be hated, now it has purpose. I loved chemistry, I did understand it, and funny enough to me made more sense than math.
3. THE PROFESSIONAL CHEF, The Culinary Institute of America
I have the 7th Edition, year 2002; over 1000 pages of pictures, recipes, techniques, history, even food & safety. Still to this day, there is post its with notes of things that I wanted to learn; like how to tight a chicken or make pasta from scratch.
The new versions of any book of the CIA are stunning. The information has been up dated to molecular gastronomy; like include advance math to work more in percentages (which I find fascinating and accurate).
The information is organised in sections, making easy to find what you are looking for. For any young Chef that wants to re enforce the knowledge learned in the kitchen, this book is a powerful tool of knowledge. I will say check the updated edition, I am sure is a monster of professional cooking knowledge.
Before revealing my top two, I would like to make an introduction to my Bonus Book!! this book is a classic, and I don't know Chef from my generation that didn't read this book:
Bonus book. KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, Anthony Bourdain
When I read that book, back in 2003 I felt so naive and afraid of what it was coming to me, but... and this was a big but! It made me want it more, there was bad girl in me desperate to come out and play with fire and blades. There are stories of that book that stayed with me. Experiences that he had, that I wished for me. In his writing there is this sexy danger, aggressive excitement and adrenaline charged, like when you are on busy service doing 350 covers and time is relative, you move so fast with the rest of the chefs, that the rest of the world is abstract. That is why this is my bonus book, there is so much truth and adventure in his writing that it is a MUST READ to any aspiring young chef.
What was first, the egg or the hen?
This is how I feel about this top two books, and because I can't choose the order of importance I will flip a coin and say #2 is....
2. THE LAROUSSE GASTRONOMIC, Culinary Reference Book
Yes, let's call the "MOMMY" of all Cooking books! It is an Encyclopedia of most known to mankind eatable ingredients, recipes and techniques. My favourite for sure is the definition of SUGAR, it dedicates 6 pages talking about sugar, from history, to how it gets done, to cooking technicalities. Wow, it is information that has stock in my head and I use on daily basis.
The first Edition was written in Paris in 1938, if I am not mistaken the last updated edition was in 2009; with Joël Robuchon as President of the committee, you know is serious business this book. Then reading the people who participated in the in put of the book like one of my favourite female Chefs Anne-Sophie Pic, super Pastry hero Pierre Hermé and multi Michelin Star Chef Jean-François Piège, that is just 3 names out of 16 top french Chefs.
1. LE REPERTOIRE DE LA CUISINE, Basic reference to the cuisine of Escoffier
If the Larousse Gastronomic is the mommy, then Le Répertoire is the "Bid Daddy". By all means all the french techniques that changed humans eating habits (for the good), making accesible feast like a king for most of us. 6,000 dishes compacted in a pocket size book in less than 250 pages. Where you can go to the dessert section, and look for soufflés and there will be 2 techniques how to achieve a perfect soufflé with 45 different classical flavour recipes. Or check the Hors D' œuvre, having over 100 ideas to twist, make and get inspired by.