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"Must Read" books for chowhounds?

What do you guys think are "must read" books for those looking for insight into the restaurant industry, chefs, kitchens, etc.? One book suggested has been Kitchen Confidential - are there others worth reading we well?

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  1. kitchen confidential really is a basic. i know before i started culinary school i read michael ruhlman's making of a chef about the culinary institute of america's culinary program and then followed up with his soul of a chef, about the CMC exam. i just got his third book, the reach of a chef but haven't been able to begin reading it yet. i really love his dedication and his true curiosity into the industry. i would definitely get into reading those. if you're up for blogging on epicurious.com there was a whole little "blog series" on students who go to the cia. other than that, this really doesn't have to do much with the industry, but the book julie and julia was awesome, i literally couldn't put it down. if you have any interest in italian cooking and the workings of a big kitchen, heat was also a great book.

    4 Replies
    1. re: radioactivebetty

      I love Ruth Reichl's books, and Jeffrey Steingarten is great too. MFK Fischer is another one...

      Here is a list of recommended reading from the Le Cordon Bleu Master of Arts in Gastronomy program. I would say it's *quite* comprehensive!


      1. re: HomeCookKirsten

        I second the recommendation for M.F.K. Fischer. The Art of Eating, specifically.

        1. re: Condimentality

          M. F. K. Fisher is great, but she doesn't offer much insight into the restaurant industry. Neither does Jeffrey Steingarten.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            True! More just general love of all things food related.

            The link I gave of the reading list from LCB is probably a closer match to what someone would want if they wanted more insight into the industry.

    2. Danny Meyer's book, Setting the Table. For anyone interested in the "hospitality" industry, this book should be required reading.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Pat Hammond

        This is definately and interesting read. I worked for the Danny Meyer Restaurant Group, and I think his philosophy of hospitality is and "x" factor to success that many very talented chefs haven't considered as to what differentiates a "great" restaurant from an "extraordinary" restaurant. This book is a "must read" over any business "how to" book that culinary professionals should read.

      2. Bourdain recommends a couple of other books at the beginning of The Nasty Bits.

        1. buford's "heat" and ruhlman's book about the cia, "the making of a chef" are terrific reads.

          1. I loved Buford's "Heat". Read it twice. And I am not even in the restaurant business!

            4 Replies
            1. re: Seattle Rose

              Yeah, Heat was very good, although that one part about his stay in Italy almost seemed like a separate story and should have been abreviated or maybe made into another book...just my opinion. :)

              Otherwise, it was great in a can't-put-it-down kind of way.

              1. re: HomeCookKirsten

                I liked Heat, but you are absolutely right, it was two separate books. It was as if he didn't have enough for a full book based on his Babbo experience so he went off to Italy to make it more "meaty."

                1. re: BronxBoy

                  bb may be onto something. buford's original piece appeared in the new yorker where he was a staffer. the italian apprentice stuff expanded on the original magazine piece thus given a measure of added value to those of us who read the original story. i agree the transition was abrupt but i didn't mind. i did find the boozy batali meal at the end to be a bit goofy and, perhaps, gratuitous but so what. just a minor quibble on my part.

                  1. re: steve h.

                    I keep hoping he will make a sequel to 'Heat' where he focuses on French cuisine....

            2. I loved The Perfectionist by Rudolph Chelminski. It's an insight into the workings of the French haute cuisine industry as well as one chef's mania about retaining his Michelin stars. I hate to describe it too sparingly, but it's hard to reveal the book's complexity in a post...

              10 Replies
              1. re: merrymc

                Yes, merrymc, this was an interesting and excellent book.

                1. re: Seattle Rose

                  "The United States of Arugula" by David Kamp (Broadway) is a tremendous timeline of who's who in Food and where things come from and who we can thank. Also good is "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan (Penguin). This book changed the way I look at food sources and while I am not an exclusive eater I have cut out a lot of processed foods and now have a much greater understanding of old ways and slow food. Anything by Calvin Trillen makes me hungry.

                  1. re: EATTV

                    Excellent recommendations, all!

                    1. re: EATTV

                      I've been reading the Omnivore's Dilemma and don't think I will ever look at food the same way again. I did my weekly shopping at Whole Foods for the first time this week (usually I only drop by for specific items). It is a truly excellent book and must reading for anyone interested in good food-- though as far as I have gotten (about a third of the way) there is nothing about restaurants, except McDs...

                      I adore Calvin Trillin.

                      I didn't really like Bourdain, but obviously lots of people do. I find him annoying.

                      1. re: Anne H

                        Yes - Calvin Trillin's The Tummy Trilogy is fun and funny. Glad to see it recommended here.

                        I also loved the Soul/Making of a Chef books. Enjoyed The United States of Arugula and the Ruth Reichl books too.

                        1. re: Anne H

                          Omnivoure's Dilemma is a fascinating book.

                          I am also a fan of Kitchen Confidential, although nothing else Bourdain has doen rises quite to that level.

                          I'd add to this list Cod by Mark Kurlansy. Cod fish have had a suprisingly strong place in Western history that touches on economic, religious, and political topics. Its a short book, but really quite intriguiing. Salt by Kurlansky is also interesting, if not quite as good a read.

                          1. re: wak

                            LOVE the Kurlansky books. What a writer. What a seeker of quirky fascinating topics.

                            Can't abide anything by Pollan. I just can't stand the guy on an almost visceral level.

                          2. re: Anne H

                            I was deeply impressed -- and educated -- by Michael Pollan's book. However, I don't see it as in any way endorsing Whole Foods.
                            Rather, that seems to be a cog in the industrial food production line (as in: organic industrial and shipped across the country)

                            1. re: NYchowcook

                              I believe Michael Pollan's book does endorse the concept of 'whole foods,' not particularly that particular supermarket.

                              Whether organic or local foods is better than conventional, many will argue the point; but as a result of his books and many other books and films on this subject, one now has a choice of what to buy - rightly or wrongly.

                      2. re: merrymc

                        Thoroughly enjoyed "The Perfectionist".

                      3. Jaques Pepin's The Apprentice, My Life in the Kitchen. I'm not a great cook, but I love great food, and this book, while it deals with Pepin's life growing up in various kitchen's, captures his love of food beautifully. His joy is something I often think certain chefs could do well to remember whenever I go to a restaurant where trend seems to have overtaken taste.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: eetl

                          Second on this book. His evolution from a boy in short pants to the international treasure he now represents is amazing to read.

                          1. re: eetl

                            'The Apprentic' is a wonderful book. At first I thought it would be a sweet and simple narritive about a really nice guy and his path to success and in fact I didnt' read it for years for this reason. Once I did finally pick it up, I was suprised by how entertaining it is and the number of challenges he has overcome throughout his career. At times it was laugh-out-loud funny, and at others truley inspiring. I finished the book with a new found respect for Pepin and all he has accomplished in his life.

                          2. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation are my faves.

                            I'm in the middle of The Omnivore's Dilemma right now and am enjoying it.

                            1. I recently read a boook called "Turning the Tables: Restaurants from the Inside Out: by Steven Shaw. Not sure if it will provide you with the amount/depth of information that you are looking for.

                              1. Not really "industry" reads, and a good 40+ years old, but I've always loved Nicolas Freeling's Kichen Book and Cook Book, which are about his years working his way up in the restaurant trade, before he became a detective novelist.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Allstonian

                                  Bourdain highly recommends those books, which have been reissued in a single volume as The Kitchen and the Cook.

                                  1. Jim Harrison's "The Raw and the Cooked" is a collection of his essays over the years that focus on food. Harrison's a great fiction writer and essayist, and he writes of great meals, very game heavy, with a sardonic eye and a generous spirit.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: newhound

                                      I am currently reading this and it is hard to put down. How can I go on vacation with this guy?

                                    2. "Culinary Artistry" and "Becoming a Chef" by Dornenburg and Page are both excellent reads and offer great insight into the culinary world. They have a handful of other books that are informative and well done but don't rise to the level of these two, in my opinion. If you have to pick one, go with Culinary Artistry, one of the few food books I reread regularly.

                                      1. jeremiah tower's, "california dish" is a superb recollection: more than a few icons, including himself, get dished. alice waters cannot be happy. interesting reading.

                                        the late r. w. apple always brought something to the table. "apple's europe" works for me (never thought i'd say that about a times reporter).

                                        1. Yes (resounding) on M.F.K. Fisher, Child, Reichl, Bourdain, Ruhlman, Buford, et alia. But do read Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking." It's very enlightening on many questions. You'll be happy to have read it, or to have it in your reference library.

                                          1. "Heat" as he chronicled his experience in the Babbo kitchen, was excellent. He spoke to things that happen in a "real" kitchen: the tension, the plating, the "bumping." "Waiting" is also decent, and reveals much about the inner workings of the Restaurant business. "Kitchen Confidential" is a little coarse, but Bourdain's pretty spot-on in his revelations. Finally, "Alice's Restaurant" by Alice May Brock is simply wonderful and nostalgic and has some good recipes (from the late 60's-mid 70's era - but they were considered maverick at the time).

                                            1. Blood, Bones & Butter - The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef - Gabrielle Hamilton
                                              She is the chef/owner of New York's Prune restaurant.

                                              The Sorcerer's Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adrià's elBulli - Lisa Abend

                                              1. Some good suggestions. I would add:

                                                The Fourth Star: Dispatches from Inside Daniel Boulud's Celebrated New York Restaurant

                                                It's about the obsessive attention to detail that's required for a restaurant to earn the NY Times four star review.