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Aug 26, 2006 03:43 AM

Star Chef Cookbooks

OK-I'm considering adding a few "star chef" cookbooks to my collection, e.g. Bouchon is high on my list, so is Flavor by Rocco Dispirito. However, some cookbook reviews complain about non-tested recipes. I have encountered this as well in non-star chef cookbooks.

Would anyone care to recommend favorite "star chef" cookbooks that have proven home-kitchen-tested recipes that work when carefully followed? Also, which cookbooks are notorious for not having tested workable recipes (just curious). I notice Thomas Keller's french Laundry cookbook claims to have homes tested recipes--I rarely see this claim.

I look forward to your recommendations. Thanks.

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  1. Does Keller claim this for the FL cookbook? I can't imagine making some of that stuff at home.

    2 Replies
    1. re: mhoffman

      He does on the Keller website store, which sells FL cookbook for full price.

      1. re: Ora

        You need to remember his home is right behind The French Laundry.

        I've made about 5 things out of the French Laundry cookbook in as many years. Most things take more than a day for me to make at home. But yes, I've made them in my home. With what I spent in time and ingredients I probably should have gone to the Laundry instead!

        I much prefer the Bouchon cookbook. It's less involved for the home cook.

    2. I have a few Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. It's pretty straight forward, she provides some pictures. And she stresses to adjust to your taste, so you can play with the recipes. Most of her recipes on her show on the FN are in her cookbooks. They look easy enough to follow on TV. I'm just a homecook who doesn't neccesarily have a lot a technical talent. It works fine for me.

      7 Replies
      1. re: rumgum

        I have all the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and I love them. I haven't encountered a bad recipe yet and I'm pretty positive they go through numerous testings (especially on her show) before being printed. And the best part is that almost every recipe uses ingredients I already have on hand and the steps are pretty simple but create fantastic results.

        1. re: SarahEats

          I agree. Ina's recipes are very simple and they tend to work.

          Also, Tyler Florence's last cookbook was very easy to follow and the recipes I've tried came out wonderfully.


          1. re: TexasToast

            Is that book based on his new show, Tyler's Ultimate, by any chance? I never liked his shows before, but I caught an episode of TU recently and I'm hooked. Everything he's made on that show looks amazing and I'm running out of printer paper printing the recipes off

            1. re: SarahEats

              It's called Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen and it's got the basics in there, as well as a few more adventurous dishes.


              1. re: TexasToast

                I think that's actually his first one. The most recent one is Tyler's Ultimate, and I believe it is based on the show -- at least I recognize some of the recipes. I have this and Real Kitchen. I've made a bunch of stuff from Real Kitchen and while not all of them were spectacular, I'd make them all again. A couple recipes from that book are deceptively simple given the final product. I've never made one of his recipes that caused me to say, "Yikes. There's something wrong with that recipe."

                Still haven't made anything from Tyler's Ultimate, but got the cookbook very recently.

          2. re: SarahEats

            I have all of them too, though I feel the fourth one falls flat. To me at least it's just not as interesting or tasty as the first three.

          3. re: rumgum

            I love Ina's cookbooks but I have to say, some of her recipes are overly rich. They are extremely easy to follow, however. One of my main fears was that I wouldn't be able to find some ingredients at my local grocery store but her books use a little less of the extravagances that she uses on her show.

          4. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (don't know if that's star enough for you) come immediately to mind. I've never cooked something out of either book that wasn't fantastic. The instructions are well thought out. The recipes sometimes look long, but that's not because they're necessarily impossibly hard for the home cook. Rather, they're detailed so a home cook has plenty of guidelines and doesn't encounter surprises along the way.

            Sunday Suppers at Lucques is gorgeous and fun to cook from, but not as step by step or easy to use. Goin herself admits that writing her own cookbook was tough because she herself never measures. So it's a great book for someone who cooks a lot, but maybe not as diligently tested for the home cook as the others.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Pei

              I already own Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Its straightforward and simple. I find Indian vegetarian dishes far more flavorful though.

            2. Pepin's books are really good.

              Rick Bayless' cookbooks rock.

              Marcella Hazen

              1. Depends what you are looking for. The two books you name -- Bouchon by Keller and Flavor by DiSpirito -- are more coffee table books full of large color photos (food porn) and difficult recipes not really adjusted for a moderate level home cook. Books in this vein include other oversize, photo heavy tomes like A Return to Cooking by Ripert, French Laundry also by Keller, Aquavit by Samuelsson, etc. I tend to avoid these types of books, because although they are very pretty to look at, I rarely attempt any of recipes as they are full of obscure ingredients, require multiple time-consuming and difficult steps, and my finished product never turns out the way it looks in the pictures.

                I tend to like books that have been heavily intervened by a collaborative food writer, one who gets that home cooks don't just have 5 quarts of homemade veal stock on hand. Among these I like Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four Star Chef and the simple StaffMeals by Waltuck. I also favor compilations that are done well. My most recent favorite is Chef, Interrupted by Melissa Clark. It's terrific with recipes from many of my favorite chefs, and it's the kind of book where I want to try the majority of recipes.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Pupster

                  Agreed!! Cooking with a 5 star chef is outstanding (the red-wine/carrot reduction with steak is wonderful). Simple to Spectacular is also good.
                  Zuni Cafe: Everyone raves about it. I like the chicken recipe,a s well as the pickles.
                  Charlie Trotter:C ooks at home is actually very approachable and a lot of fun. Try the cardamon beef stew some time. Very nice. His ohter two Jazz-inspitred cookbooks are a little more daunting.
                  Jamie Oliver: Never had anything from hjis books that was less than great.
                  Susanna Foo: Her most recent book is excellent.
                  I also like Staffmeals. Very eclectic and well-thought out.

                  1. re: Pupster

                    Agree on Cooking At Home With A 4-Star Chef by Jean-Georges and Mark Bittman. I've always figured that Bittman's contribution was to make the 4-star recipes doable in a home kitchen. Whatever...anything I've tried has been easily accomplished in my tiny apartment kitchen and wonderful to boot. Recommend.

                    1. re: Pupster

                      I have to disagree about Rocco's book. Its too bad that his career went down in flames because the Flavor book was surprisingly good. Even if you don't use the recipes, there's a lot of good stuff in that book.

                      When I read French Laundry, I knew I was never going to attempt those dishes. But, I was surprised about how approachable Rocco's was for the home cook. You look at it, both the list of ingredients and visual pictures of ingredients, and it totally seems doable. Each recipe also has a neat sidebar about the difficulty and how long it takes to cook, including the active cooking time. And, even the more difficult recipes didn't seem to have anymore ingredients than other recipes from other sources.

                      Maybe, its because I have access to asian supermarkets, but I never thought the ingredients were that obscure. To me, complaining about that would be like getting a Thai book and then complaining about how obscure the ingredients are. It was kind of a given that he would use asian ingredients in those recipes.