If you know a cook, he or she probably has a collection of cookbooks on the shelf. If you are a partner to that cook, you probably wonder the need to have so many. Let me stand in defense.

Customers ask me all the time where I come up with so many ideas for our menu. As a professional cook, I suffer less from how to do something than I do in deciding what to make. To me, cookbooks are a good source of ideas, not so much for the detail of a particular recipe on how to make a particular dish, but more by way of personal thoughts penned by the author, the relationship of certain ingredients and how they work together, and especially at times, photos showing a finished product. I learn as much when I can visually see a plate than in reading the recipe about it.

I consider cookbooks a type of indirect one-way conversation with another chef or writer. I don’t have the chance to have a dialogue or ask a question, but I can at least hear what the author wants to say about his or her interest in a specific region, style of cuisine or time period. Below are a few that are on my counter in my professional kitchen upon which I turn on a regular basis for inspiration. I set them out front so you can peruse them if you like

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

Easily considered the Meat Bible, authoritative yet easy to digest. Ruhlman is described as a “translator of the craft” and it is a more than accurate depiction of his role as an author. Charcuterie is my latest obsession in the kitchen, and I’ve learned more about it from this book than any other source. Much like when I was teaching myself to bake bread five years ago, the discoveries I am making are in direct relation to this book.

The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser

A hundred years of recipes, stories and histories of food as they were chronicled in the pages of The New York Times. It’s a fascinating study of how our food habits have changed over the years, and through it we can glean from classic ideas that might still work in our kitchen today.

Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery by Jane Grigson

I like older books like these, first published in 1969, because often they reveal long standing techniques. Grigson speaks of French housewives who regularly made confits, sauccisons, and salt cured meats as a normal part daily cooking. Juxtapose this picture with our home kitchens today where normal cooking means tossing a frozen burrito in the microwave. Grigson reveals a lost art and practice that inspires a revisit.

Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making by James Peterson

I am fascinated by the regimen that classic French cooking required, and within that structure there was a singular role for one person, the saucier, whose only job was to make sauces, day in and day out. Vincent Robinson, saucier at the legendary Le Bernardin in New York, says his primary tools are ”a paring knife, chef knife, a steel, whisk, chinois and my spoons, that’s pretty much all I use.” A good sauce can make the difference between an average meal and a memorable one. I am putting more attention to sauce making and this tome is a gift toward that end.

Current Inspirations