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The Observer's 50 best cookbooks EVER.

Some I wouldnt be without. Some I've thrown out as never using. Some I've never heard of. Some I rank much higher than they do (or lower).

Here's the top ten:

1 - French Men Cookbook (Richard Olney)
2 - French Provincial Cooking (Elizabeth David)
3 - Book of Jewish Food (Claudia Roden)
4 - Kitchen Diaries (Nigel Slater)
5 - Roast Chicken & Other Stories (Simon Hopkinson)
6 - English Food (Jane Grigson)
7 - Thai Food (David Thompson
8 - Classic Italian Cookbook (Marcella Hazan)
9 - Sichuan Cookery (Fuchsia Dunlop)
10 - Great Dishes of the World (Robert Carrier)

And you can read the rest online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyl...

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  1. We've been discussing this on the home cooking board (though buried deep in the nominations thread). I've certainly heard of, and even own several of the top 9, but I've never heard of #10! Must. Investigate.

    As for the remainder, again, I own about a half dozen or so, and have several others on my wish list. I was a little surprised to see Plenty, instead of Ottolenghi, on the list, but I assume that's because of his status as a columnist for the Guardian. I was surprised to see Deborah Madison's Greens, only because the book of hers that seems to get all of the high praise in the US is VCFE, which, I think is only great in its comprehensiveness. I'm glad to see Greens getting the attention. Tanis' Platter of Figs is a book I own and have cooked from a couple of times, but haven't found that engaging. I think I'll have to have another look at it.

    Several of the books have been former COTMs, Hopkinson, Hazan, Kennedy, David, Child, Dunlop...




    2 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      I urge you not to just investigate Robert Carrier, but get his book! I cannot vouch first hand for his "Great Dishes of the World," now reissued as the "New Great Dishes of the World," but I do have his 1965 "Connoisseur's Cookbook," and it is excellent. He is an extremely talented and knowledgeable chef, in addition to being a great writer and raconteur. Some of his recipes are elegant, some simple, all are absolutely delicious. Though space didn't allow mentioning him on my profile page, he is absolutely one of my "go to" cookbook authors! If you like good food, you'll love his cook books.

      1. re: Caroline1

        It is a very interesting book I have it in my collection.

    2. Hopefully needless to say, a typo crept into my post (as often it does).

      The #1 book is not one for French men, nor is it a guide to cooking them.

      Should of course read "French Menu Cookbook".

      15 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        The Olney book by any other name would be as precious and annoying. Do NOT like it. The list strikes me overall as being a stab at the subject rather than the definitive word.

        1. re: buttertart

          imho, Simple French Food is much more important than the French Menu Cookbook, in the Olney pantheon of cookbooks.

          and I want to know, "according to whom" are these the 50 most important cookbooks? Certainly not by me!

          1. re: ChefJune

            A panel of food writers from the Observer Food Monthly. They're named at the top of the link provided in the OP.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              I expected the list to be anglocentric, so I'm kind of surprised that Marco Pierre White's White Heat book wasn't on the list. But, looking at the list again, I see that the cookbooks selected were more for home cooks than books for chefs. Otherwise, you'd probably have seen books from Ferran Adrian and Heston Blumethal.

              And, the list is surprisingly devoid of any books for desserts like something from Dorie Greenspan or Pierre Hermes. (Even though Claudia Fleming has been an incredibly influential pastry chef, I don't know how influential she would have been overseas).

              I've always thought that Diane Kennedy vs. Rick Bayless was something of a toss-up, so I guess the tie goes to the English lady on her home court.

              I think the same home court advantage favored Jamie Oliver's Italian cookbook over other Italin cookbooks. But, with Buford helping to pick that list, I'm surprised we didn't see something Italian-American from somebody like Batali or Andrew Carmellini on the list as well.

              For the definitive rice book, I always thought Naomi Dugiud and Jeffery Alford's claimed that title so I'm curious about their selection for Owen's Rice book on that list.

              I've only skimmed through Tanis' book, but it seems awfully high on the list. I guess I'll have to give it one more chance. But, for a cookbook to represent the californian cooking movement, I found Susan Goin's and Judy Roger's book to be far superior to Tanis's book.

              1. re: hobbess

                And, I've got to shake my head @ #11 where they're giving all the credit to Alice Waters, who was never the chef at Chez Panisse. You never saw Danny Meyer push aside Claudia Flemming to take all the credit for the Gramcery Tavern desserts cookbook or any of the various cookbooks from the restaurants he owned and operated.

                The last few Waters' book, where there's no doubt she's the one who wrote it, have been average at best.

                1. re: hobbess

                  I've always wondered that about Alice Waters. Are you saying she's never cooked at C.P.? The cooking's not hers, just the concept?


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I've heard that as well, though I don't have anything to back it up, so to speak.

                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      I'm not 100% sure but she may have cooked at the very beginning. I first ate there in Sept 1974 and the food was plain but good. Later in the '70s when Jeremiah Tower was chef the food really took off (I have fond memories of brunches there with him in evidence, what a handsome beast he was).

                      1. re: buttertart

                        Its kind of sad to see how little credit Tower is given these days for Chez Panisse, and I don't know how many people even remember him these days. In his autobiography, among the laundry list of slights he was more than happy to air, he complained about the lack of credit for the CP Menu Cookbook.

                        Maybe, back then, you didn't credit the person who actually wrote the cookbook like we do today with French Laundry with Michael Ruhlman and Momofuku with Peter Meehan.

                        But, how do you write a restaurant cookbook about the dishes served at that restaurant and not credit the chef for that cookbook?

                        1. re: hobbess

                          I didn't know of Tower until his Stars days. It seems so laughably 80's now. Whatever became of him?


                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Apparently out of the game - putting his architecture degree to use...
                            I started reading his autobiography (post CP he had a very good place in Berkeley pre-Stars called the Santa Fe Bar and Grill we liked, never went to Stars, too SF "scene") and found it annoying - you think Bourdain has a high opinion of himself, you should read JT. The man is a genius in the kitchen nonetheless. He isn't nearly as well-known as he should be. CP would never have gotten where it did without him.

                            1. re: buttertart

                              I say this even though I never finished the book but I have to guilty admit I liked Tower's autobiography. I read parts of it in the bookstore, but I've never seen it since for sale.

                              I thought it was a trashy, fun book to read. much more entertaining than the painfully earnest and dull book biography about Alice Waters and CP.

                              1. re: hobbess

                                It was amusing - he's had quite a life - but it kind of palled after 50 or so pages. I tried to read the Waters book and found it beyond dull.

                      2. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Waters has not cooked at Chez Panisse in 20 years, and she never was THE chef, but she often was in the kitchen, cooking at least part of the meal. There was always another Chef de Cuisine.

                    2. re: hobbess

                      " think the same home court advantage favored Jamie Oliver's Italian cookbook over other Italin cookbooks"

                      One of the more surprising inclusions - even bearing in mind we Brits are not particularly big on Italian cuisine. The Oliver book is OK - but not a patch on other UK based writers - Gray/Rogers, Carluccio, Contaldo, Locatelli for example. I sense a bit of popularism.

            2. To place "Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook" ahead of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is ridiclulous. "Mastering" should be in the top ten, anyway -- certainly ahead of anything by the precious Mr. Olney.

              I have and cook from the David and Grigson books. Great stuff.

              3 Replies
              1. re: jmckee

                Absolutely, Olney and Waters are nothing compared to Child, Grigson, David.

                1. re: jmckee

                  I agree. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" should definitely be in the top ten. I was shocked to see it at #21. And the blurb really downplays the importance of the book.

                  1. re: jmckee

                    IMO you're a little hard on Olney. In my own post to the Observer blog I listed Simple French Food as an influence on me when young ... it was very helpful to find lucid descriptions of Provencal dishes (the primary focus of the book) in English at a time when there wasn't much to be had beyond Elizabeth David and (another one of my choices) Escudier & Fuller. He was also an early advocate of what we now call seasonal cooking, rare in the Anglophone world at the time.

                  2. Is Sichuan Cookery and Land of Plenty the same book?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: dave_c

                      Yes. LOP is the US version; the other is the UK version.


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                        Thanks for the info!

                        Same book... That's too bad. I checked out LOP and really liking the the book. I was hoping Sichuan Cookery was a different book so I could try more Sichuanese recipes.


                        1. re: dave_c

                          You can always go east to Hunan with her "Revolutionary Cooking", if you haven't already. I like that one even better.

                          1. re: buttertart

                            That's next on my list when it's returned to the library.

                            In fact, it was you and TDQ that clued me in on Fuchsia Dunlop in my "5 cookbook" question... I so thank you two for the recs.

                            Cheers :-)

                            1. re: dave_c

                              I thought as much - glad you like them!

                    2. Not sure about anglocentrism vs US-centrism, but I'm surprised by a few omissions: anything by Duguid and Alford (I'd have chosed flatbreads and flavors, both as a cookbook and adventure guide), Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Splendid Table (one of my all-time favourites, and still one of the best regional Italian cookbooks I've seen), Judy Rogers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook, maybe an all-American standby like Joy of Cooking, and possibly Bittersweet by Alice Medrich as a chocolate-focused dessert cookbook. I'm also a big fan of Shirley Corriher's Cookwise, which is a great examination of the method of cooking, with lots of lessons on how to fix/alter recipes to produce better results.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: kelewis

                        Maybe the Chowhounders could vote on their own top 50 best cookbooks ever. Now, there would be an interesting list!

                        1. re: roxlet

                          Start a thread! Start a thread!!! ;-)

                          1. re: roxlet

                            I think this is a great idea! Personally, though, 50 is a bit overwhelming for me. Maybe we can break it down? Top 20 for non-dessert cookbooks, and maybe top 20 for dessert cookbooks? And, maybe this should be on HC since it's our opinion?

                        2. David Thompson's Thai Cooking is the bible of Thai cookery. I absolutely adore this book, and it is by far my favourite cookbook of all time. Glad to see it get its due recognition.

                          1. Clearly the list is subjective as is always the case. I also understand the fact that this is a list devised for the UK However I do take serious issue that Mastering the Art of French cooking isn't at least ing the top ten. Arguably one would be hard pressed to find a book that revolutionized cooking as much as this nearly 50 year old book has and continues to.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Withnail42

                              But did it revolutionize cooking in the U.K.? I suspect that Elizabeth David had a similar effect there as Julia Child did in the U.S.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                True and I conceded that point in my post. I would suspect the Julia child is better known in the UK as opposed to some of the top ten author are in North America.

                                They're talking 'all time' great cook books (and they are) MTAFC is one of the all time great. It quite literally changed the way the US,and most likely Canada, cooked. It spawned a TV show. Which was one of the first real success of food media . (Will they be making movies about any of the other books in forty years time?

                                Certainly where would Alice Waters be without such the book? She placed much higher.

                                1. re: Withnail42

                                  You're right about Canada, at least my part of it, in the very late '60s-early '70s - you could get Julia on PBS (cable) and since I loved the show so much my mom got me the books as a birthday present. My girlfriend's older sister was a "gourmet" cook and was much taken w Julia as well.

                                2. re: MMRuth

                                  Of course, French cooking has always impacted on cuisine in the UK. It comes from the countries only being 22 miles apart.

                                  And, almost as always when one talks of such things as "impacting", it's about the cooking and cuisine of the middle and upper classes. So, in those terms, the impact of David's French Provincial Cooking rightly gets a high spot. It is *the* book that did that. That said, I think it's easy to over-emphasise the impact she had on our real cooking. It's why I was also gob-smacked that the Observer list was not headed by Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course - of course, once I realised the contributors to the list were industry professionals, rather than real cooks, It became clear. Sichuan Cookery - is that Chinese, then?