Favorite Books of 2013: the chef edition

As I wrote last week, we three all love our cookbooks. We shared our daughter’s favorite cookbooks last week. I have my favorites to share tomorrow, and our favorite gluten-free cookbooks on Monday. But today, it’s Danny’s turn.

Danny’s a chef. (You know that. He’s the reason this website is called Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, of course.) And chefs look at cookbooks differently than the rest of us do.

I can tell when Danny loves a cookbook. He brings it into the bed with us. Even when I have read too many pages of my novel, and I finally have to turn off the lamp with a sigh because I’m so tired, he’s still sitting in bed, turning pages and softly groaning with anticipation. He studies. He opens his mouth and turns his head to the side and says, “Holy sh-t! How did they do that?” And he starts taking notes on the side, coming up with his own ideas inspired by flavor combinations and ingredients he has been seeing. Then he turns the page.

What Danny doesn’t do is prop open a cookbook on the kitchen counter and begin following a recipe exactly. I’ve never seen him follow a recipe exactly. The one time I asked him to do this —— use the same ingredients as the ones on the page, follow the instructions as written —— I walked into the kitchen after putting baby Lu to sleep and found him tearing at his hair. He looked at me and said, “Can I please just make this stew the way I’d make it?” He just can’t do it.

The chefs I know don’t follow recipes, for the most part. They grow jazzed at the idea of fermented cucumbers or an unfamiliar cut of beef or smoked duck fat with maple syrup drippings or the idea of playing with quail again. One chef reading another chef’s cookbook is like they’re standing in a kitchen together, talking shop and chopping ingredients for the next dishes.

Many times, I’ll see people complaining in reviews in a cookbook created by a chef. “This book is too complicated. Too many unfamiliar ingredients. It’s just too…cheffy.” Yep. Those are the only books that interest Danny, really.

Here are his favorite cookbooks of 2013.

Chef books- Scarpetta

Danny spent a long time looking at The Scarpetta Cookbook. Every once in awhile, I’d hear, “How the hell did he do that?” Scott Conant has five Scarpetta restaurants across the country. “Clearly, he knows what he’s doing,” as Danny said. “This food, it’s really thoughtful. Man, I just couldn’t stop looking at this book.”

The recipes he read to me, the ones we’re making in the next two weeks? Crispy fried artichokes with lemon yogurt and basil. Beef carpaccio on parmesan crackers. Sausage-stuffed fried olives.

“I think his food is really innovative and the ingredients were pretty much spot-on perfect.”

Chef books- Roberta's

Roberta’s Cookbook doesn’t look like any other cookbook. This pizza-and-more place in Bushwick, Brooklyn is grubby and hip, filled with young guys tattooed on both arms pushing pizzas into wood-fired ovens. It’s irreverent in look and dead serious about its food.

“It’s deliciousness,” Danny said. “It’s a pizza cookbook, just good food.” The book is filled with all the varieties of wood-fired-oven pizzas they make at Roberta’s. Danny especially liked the Cheesus Christ  (mozzarella, taleggio, black pepper).

Listen, this whole book is filled with gluten. But we’ve been working with their pizza dough made with sourdough starter recipe as a starting point for our latest pizza dough, and it’s great. Plus, there’s a fabulous recipe for fresh mozzarella we’ll be trying soon.

Chef books- Pok Pok

One of the better meals we have ever shared was over a table filled with dishes at Pok Pok in Portland. Even Lucy nibbled and kept reaching for more. (She was just over one year old. We were so excited by the flavors and textures that we hadn’t realized until it was over: she had just eaten peanuts and she didn’t have an allergic reaction. She wasn’t allergic to peanuts!) We have been talking about that meal for four years. So we were both beyond excited when Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Thailand arrived at our door.

When I asked to Danny to describe this book, he looked at me longingly and made groany noises. “If you can’t make it to Portland, you can make it at home. It’s worth it.” While the restaurant Pok Pok meal we ate was sort of pan-Asian, the book is all Thai dishes. We’re going to be making Som Tom Thai, Thai cucumber salad, and steamed whole fish with soy sauce, ginger, and vegetables as soon as Christmas is done.

Meanwhile, Danny is still flipping through the pages on this one.

Chef books- Maximum Flavor

“We love to play with food. In fact, we love it so much that we’ve made careers out of it. When we cooked professionally, we started experimenting in our free time, teaching ourselves new approaches and embracing innovation to make food taste better. We eventually made the jump to opening our own business and now consult with restaurants and companies big and small to help them solve kitchen conundrums and think more creatively about cooking.

Danny and I are both pretty big fans of Aki Kamozowa and Alexander Talbot, authors of Maximum Flavor: Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook. These are truly chef’s chefs. They’re not interested in creating recipes that take less than 20 minutes and feed a family of four for less than $10. They truly want to play with their food, testing and re-testing the best way to make roasted nuts until they are ridiculously full of flavor. “I seriously want to hang out with these two,” Danny said after looking through this book. I want to make their sourdough coffee cake, gluten-free. They also play with gluten-free flours and include two very good gluten-free flour mixes in the book. You have to love chefs that take gluten-free flours seriously in their play.

Chef books- Family Meal

There’s really no saying how much Danny and I both respect Danny Meyer, the owner of Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park, Blue Smoke, Maialino, and several other restaurants in New York City. He is the master of service and hospitality and every single time we have eaten in one of his restaurants, we have left astonished. (May I tell you that the folks at these restaurants have always, always fed me safely, as well as deliciously.?)

If you can’t eat at one of Danny Meyer’s restaurants, but you’d like to cook some of the food his chefs eat, try Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home.

As Danny tells me, staff meals vary. “Sometimes, staff meals can be one of the biggest pains in the ass for a cook. Depending on the night and how much prep they have to do, or what’s available for them, sometimes they have to cobble something together. But sometimes it’s a great chance to play. Especially if you are the new guy. You’re nervous. You know it’s the staff judging you for how you cook. You want to do a damned good job.” Every one of the meals in Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home looks as though the cook was having an especially good night cooking staff meal.

Who wouldn’t want chilled carrot soup with frizzled ginger, lentil salad with summer squash and dried cherries, mashed sweet potatoes with vanilla and marscapone, brisket with red-eye gravy?

Of all the cheffy books Danny loves, this one is probably the most approachable for the home cook.

chef books- butcher

We were lucky enough to meet Jessica Applestone, one of the authors of The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More, at the Hudson Valley potluck we held in September. She brought lamb meatballs with a spicy harissa yogurt sauce. Lucy is still talking about those meatballs. Jessica and her husband started Fleishers, an incredible old-style butcher’s shop with grass-fed and organic meats. We only wish we could shop there on a regular basis.

As Danny said, “This is a great book. It walks you through all the cuts and what you can use them for, clearly. It’s just a fabulous book for anyone who wants to know how to buy, cook, and eat good meat.”

chef books- Duck Duck Goose

Oh, Hank Shaw. You made my husband drool with Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild almost more than any other one we’ve had in the house. He looked up at me one day, marking the page he had been reading with his finger, leered at me, and said, “Smoked duck fat drippings with maple syrup.” Danny knows how to talk to me.

It’s a book full of duck, goose, duck fat, and goose fat. You might not think there are enough recipes for duck and goose to fill an entire cookbook but Hank did it. And did it well. What more is there to say?”

Hank knows what he’s doing.

We’re having duck for Christmas.

Chef books- Le Pigeon

“Oh, I love this book. Any book that has a recipe for duck nuggets is amazing.”

Le Pigeon: Cooking at the Dirty Bird is a cookbook from the restaurant of the same name in Portland. It’s unrepentantly cheffy, unafraid of any and every meat. (Lamb belly BLT, anyone? Rabbit and eel terrine? Elk tongue stroganoff?) This book keeps drawing Danny back in. It’s just so much itself.

All you really need to know is how the book is structured. There’s a chapter on lettuces and such, tongue, fat liver (that’s foie gras), little birds, rabbits, little fish, large fish, pork, horns and antlers, lamb, veg, and choc, tart, and profit. For the lady who once wrote a negative review of our cookbook because we had so many meat dishes besides chicken and beef in our book, you really don’t want to buy Le Pigeon. But if you’re not afraid of real food, this is the book for you.

As British chef Fergus Henderson wrote in his blurb for the book, “Not many books have got my juices going as much as Le Pigeon’s. It’s a proper joy.” Danny says he couldn’t put it any better.

Chef books- charcuterie

This book, In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods, has taken up a prominent position on our cookbook shelf. Danny still loves Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book, published many years ago. That book is so dog-eared and stained that it’s almost falling apart. But quietly, he has moved that to a bottom shelf. This charcuterie book from the good folks at the Fatted Calf is Danny’s new bible.

Chef books- Gramercy Tavern

“Oof. What do I say? That book is execution at its finest, just like that restaurant. Michael Anthony’s food is clean, approachable, yet very sophisticated. The photographs make me want to cook everything. How are they doing that?”

The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook is truly one of the most beautiful cookbooks I have ever seen.

The book is organized by season, which is how chefs think. New produce at the farmers’ market excites Danny more than almost anything I’ve seen. So we’re cooking out of the winter section of this cookbook lately: ruby red shrimp with white beans and kale salsa verde, squash and endive salad with maple vinaigrette, country terrine, and the chocolate-covered toffee with pumpkin seeds and sea salt.

Danny cooked briefly at Gramercy Tavern when he lived in New York. He loved that place, as a cook there and now as a diner. I love eating in that restaurant. It has been around forever, and it could easily rest on its laurels and draw on the customers based on its history. But chef Michael Anthony in particular keeps the menu seasonal and unbelievably exciting. He is truly a master.

Chef books- Manresa

Finally, I don’t think Danny can even put words into how he feels about Manresa: An Edible Reflection.

“This book is revolutionary. That book takes books like The French Laundry, Jean-George’s books, and Charlie Trotter’s food and takes it all to the next level. It is phenomenal. Just phenomenal.”

Of all the cheffy books on the list, this one is the most cheffy. And watching Danny read it, be astonished by it, and be inspired it, I can safely say it will be inspiring Danny for years, if not decades to come.

There’s not much more you can ask from a book.

These cookbooks have truly changed our cooking life this year.

(And Danny would like me to remind you that our book, Gluten-Free Girl Every Daywas written by a chef and a home cook, together.)


We’d like to give away a copy of Hank Shaw’s book, Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild. Leave a comment about the chef cookbook that has most inspired your cooking. 


28 comments on “Favorite Books of 2013: the chef edition

  1. Meagan

    This is awesome! I have a really hard time following a recipe 100%. There’s always something that needs changing. I’ve never heard of many of these cookbooks, thanks for sharing! I think the cookbook that has most influenced my cooking isn’t really a cookbook, but is 100% about food… called Real Food by Nina Planck.


    I love Duck, Duck, Goose more than I can say. I just made the duck liver pate (well, I sort of followed his recipe) and can’t wait to make it again. And as soon as I post this comment, I’m ordering The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat: How to Buy, Cut, and Cook Great Beef, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, and More.


  3. Jennifer Pruitt

    Oh wow. These are great. I wish I could actually cook. I can follow about any recipes and have great results, but don’t have the knack of putting flavors together on my own. Duck, Duck, Goose sounds really interesting. I live duck and goose, but only make them once every few years.

  4. Michelle

    Your site has helped so much with my transition to gluten free cooking, thank you and keep up the fantastic work!

  5. Jenn Sutherland

    Oh, cookbook recommendation lists might be my very favorite kind of holiday gift post…I always go out the day after Christmas and pick up 1-2 cookbooks to curl up with over the holiday break so that I can play with new ideas and dishes in the kitchen. David Waltuck’s Staff Meals cookbook has long been a favorite – that one is stained, wrinkled and I’ve made some of the dishes so many times I no longer think of them as coming from that book until I glance back at it and see where the ideas came from. I’ll definitely add the Gramercy book to my list for this year’s cookbook binge, and PokPok is already at the top of the list.

  6. Laura Cunningham

    I raise Muscovy, Runner and Welsh Harlequin ducks for meat and eggs. I love duck and love cooking – I put “Duck, Duck, Goose” on my wishlist at Amazon. I’m having a great time cooking GF, and even got my stick-in-the-mud Brother-in-law to use GF flour in the gravy at Thanksgiving so I could have some (it’s almost my favorite part of the meal). Love your blog – this was a great one – so much inspiration!

  7. Mallory

    One of my go to cook books is Jamie Oliver’s Cook. It was the first cook book I ever got and rather than following his receipes (I agree I can’t follow a recipe line by line) there is a great section on veg in the back that gives awesome veggie and spice/herb pairings! Also also want to say thanks. I recently found this website when I made the transition to gluten free and it has been a huge help. You guys are great!

  8. Beth Eakin

    It may sound cliche’ but Gluten Free Girl and the Chef is my bible. That is the book I take to bed. And on every trip I go on, to read, to learn and to be inspired! I went to culinary school in Portland this year and that book practically walks you through the basics. Miss en place, cooking potatoes properly, the importance of cutting everything the same size, roulades, cooking seasonally,braising, making a good stock and the importance of salt! The gluten free crackers were a game changer for me. That page is wrinkled and covered in GF flour, I have made them so many times! During charcuterie week, I made these and everyone loved them! I made the pumpkin soup for a dinner party appetizer with the addition of a dollop of creme fraiche. The Umbrian lentils inspired me to make a composed salad. I cooked the lentils in duck stock, and layered them on top of frisée tossed in an orange gastrique, Topped the lentils with duck confit, carmelized pears and toasted hazelnuts. The bacon wrapped pork belly is heavenly and a hit at every party! The seared scallops were fantastic adjusted with pancetta, green onions and shallots, during a plating presentation my last term. My newly GF mother loved the apple rosemary muffins that I topped with a lavender compound butter. I could go on and on! Clearly… But in all
    seriousness, this is my favorite cookbook of all time. And not only did this book travel through my lifelong goal of graduating from culinary school, it also took me through my own love story, very
    similar to yours! I graduated in October and got engaged last week!

    1. shauna

      Beth, I read this comment to Danny and we were both speechless. I saw him wipe away some tears. You made our year. Thank you! (And everything you made sounds fantastic. Danny wants to try that duck confit and lentil salad!)

      1. Beth Eakin

        I literally have tears in my eyes and got goosebumps when I read your response! I discovered I have a MAJOR garlic allergy (worst allergy ever…) and a serious gluten sensitivity, about three years ago. I bought your first book on a trip through Port Angeles a couple years ago, I was hooked. I has recently discovered the cause of some very serious and embarrassing issues and you said your own
        issues out loud! I have hidden for so many years and here was a woman around my age who was talking about her problems for everyone to see! And then when I bought your love story, I fell in love too, with food and cooking and this man that I never would have considered before. Probably because I was so insecure… One of our first dates was a night in Seattle when I thought of you, as I told him I was gluten free and told him about my severe health issues. He then decided to go GF as well because he knew he had some issues. I used your book as a reference for him and since then his mother and my mother have both gone gluten free and have both bought your books. Right now, after freaking out that you responded to me, my fiancé and my 14 year old daughter are also freaking out because they know that you are a celebrity to me. You and Danny and Lucy have changed my life, and theirs.

  9. Ryan

    Nigella Lawson’s Feast, more than any other cookbook, got to to experiment and explore cooking – especially baking – more than I ever had before. To this day, my go-to dessert recipe is her Chocolate Guinness Cake, slightly adapted to the way I like it (more sour cream, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout instead of Guinness). Before that book, I never would have tackled any baking more complicated than chocolate chip cookies from a tube.

    Although, if I’m being honest, it has a competitor in her Chocolate Olive Oil Cake (from Nigellissima), which is delicious and especially forgiving. It’s also gluten- and dairy-free!

  10. marie wallis

    the one single book that inspired me most in the kitchen wasn’t a cookbook, it was the book Extra Virginity. From then on I’ve sought out only quality olive oil which as let me to seek out other quality foods as well.

  11. Monique Houle

    I love cookbooks. I’m sure I must have bought at least 250 cookbooks over the past years 20 years (and that’s including two of yours). I just bought The Gramercy Tavern a few weeks ago and it is indeed a beautiful and inspiring cookbook. Now I’m thinking about buying Pok Pok. As a chef, Yotam Ottolenghi (Plenty) has inspired me and still does.

  12. Anna

    I really love Alice Waters, and Chez Panisse Vegetables is one of the more beautiful cookbooks I own. It is a great book to thumb through for ideas, especially in the summer.

  13. Ana Luisa de Montenegro

    I really like to experiment at kitchen. Two of my children and I have problem with gluten so I always look for new recepies and cookbooks. I enjoy your article.

  14. Kelly LeBlanc

    A few years ago I finally splurged and bought “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing”. Upon getting home with the new book I picked out a recipe to make and tried to find all the necessary ingredients. We, my husband and I, lived in a very small community in Northern Maine and we were skeptical that we would find what we needed. We truly felt like we hit the jackpot when we found fresh pork belly at a local IGA. And at the end of the day the only ingredient we could not buy was pink salt.

    Not being the type to give up I posted on FB that we were looking for pink salt and one of our friends responded, “How much?”. We belonged to a small group of foodies and we were constantly ordering unique and special ingredients online and sharing. JACKPOT!

    A few days later we had some pancetta aging in the wine cooler, beside a keg of home brewed double IPA. Hey, they both needed to age at approximately the same temperature so it all worked out beautifully.

    The IPA was delicious and the pancetta was just amazing. We cut it into 8 ounce squares, vacuum sealed it and gifted it to our friends for Christmas.

    Reading this list reminded me of how much I enjoyed making pancetta. I think we are due to try some more recipes from “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing”. Though sadly we now live miles away from out foodie friends, I am sure we will be able to find friends to share our new creations with.

    Happy holidays!

  15. Marisa Miller

    One of the “benefits” of being brokety-broke the past several years is that cookbook shopping has been limited to special purchases,(like LudoBites b/c I worked for a few iterations of it). I allow myself one purchase a week at Goodwill and the selection is pretty fantastic. Lately there have been all the 80’s/90’s Workman titles and I am as re-smitten with The China Moon Cookbook as I was in1993. It’s so easy to follow and although there is nothing glossy or fancy about it, nothing in it is less than spectacular. Our finances are about to get a small boost and Pok Pok is first on the list. I was lucky to do a walk with Hank Shaw when Hunt, Gather, Cook came out and am hoping he’s not such a big shot now that he’ll keep doing them since I’m lucky enough to live in his hood and they are such a great complement to his work. It makes me want to WANT to hunt but I’m not quite there yet!

  16. Kathy M

    My current favorite book of inspiration is Gabriel Ruckers’s Le Pigeon, I love that he really pushes outside of the mainstream in the new cookbook, with the combination of ingredients in the recipes being rich with complimentary flavors. We are learning how to hunt pheasants and ducks with our dogs and my only condition with hunting is that we eat what we kill. Le Pigeon has a couple of pheasant recipes that turned out beautifully the first try. Score!!! Looking forward to trying some of the duck recipes in the near future.

    I also love Alice Water’s new cookbook The Art of Simple Food II: Recipes, Flavor, and Inspiration from the New Kitchen Garden. Wonderful!

  17. vegtablej

    The Galloping Gourmet was a TV show back when I was a teen and my Mom got a gift of the book one Christmas. Other than the Church Ladies’ Auxilliary compilations that was the first cookbook in our house. Celebrity chefs and cookbooks were thin on the ground back in those days, so that book with its cheffy approach to food was a real eye-opener to me. Though I made very few of the recipes then, or since, I read the book in a new way — for inspiration and I began to see that food could be fun and creative. Today I cook most everything without recipes and the same joie de vivre I absorbed from Graham Kerr.

  18. lisa z

    My best inspirations come from “The River Cottage Meat Cookbook” by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison, and “The Flavor Bible” recommended to me by you! I am so happy to see “Manresa” on here – I’ve been wanting it and am trying so hard to not buy too much lately (I am on an anti-consumer run lately – after the holidays I seem to do this…)so it’s good to see it’s not all fluff (and therefore worthy of my hard earned money!). GFG everyday is on my nightstand though and I am being inspired while not following the directions exactly as per usual.

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