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Jan 22, 2014 06:19 AM

Cookbooks to replicate culinary school

I am a fairly good cook in my opinion. My mom has been a cook her whole life, (think catering and delis not a chef in a restaurant,) and she taught me the basics. I don't follow recipes per say, i just use them as a guide and wing it. I cook everyday, and I do it all from homemade pizza, and cheeseburgers, to Chateaubriand on Christmas and turkeys on thanksgiving. I have a good career in the electrical industry, and not trying to become a professional chef. That being said i would like to have the skill and knowledge of a professional chef.

I feel like i can keep coming up with ideas day by day, and just making up my own meals, but i would like to learn some "classic" dishes. I figure if i buy a french cookbook, an Italian cookbook, a Spanish cookbook, etc and just go through them recipe by recipe, i can pretty much teach myself anything there is to know. I might come across a dish i would never think to make, or a dish i didn't know i would like, but end up loving. I want to be able to invite someone over for dinner, and ask them what they want, and know how to make it no problem. Not have to suggest chicken Francaise over Marsala because i never made one or the other.

So now the question, what ESSENTIAL cookbooks do you recommend? I don't want just recipes so much as, an education on the type of cuisine. I saw "Essentials of classic italian cooking" by Marcella Hazan, and i think thats what i'm looking for, (for the italian part,) but i know nothing about cookbooks. Thanks for reading my long post.

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  1. The Joy of Cooking is a great all-around cookbook. I'd definitely put that as an essential addition to your library. You'd definitely want a Julia Child cookbook in there too (French cooking)!!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sra. Swanky

      As a counterpoint I think Joy of Cooking is a great all-around cookbook for someone who's completely new to cooking. I think it would be less useful to someone like zakappel who has cooked for a while and wants to go deeper. On a general level I'd recommend "Culinary Artistry" by Dornenburg and Page, since it spends a lot of time delving into how chefs think, compose menus, compose dishes, etc.

      That's said, although I haven't attended culinary school or been a professional chef, I think it's probably unrealistic to expect that you'll one day have "the skill and knowledge of a professional chef". You can cook a lot and read a lot and be talented as hell but the reality is that many professional chefs work at cooking for something like 12 hours a day for years. It's just not fair to expect yourself to get to that level without making it *the* thing you do.

      1. re: lamb_da_calculus

        Thanks for the recommendation. I get what you are saying about being a chef. I think what i meant to say is more that i am someone wants to be skilled and knowledgeable about the things i am interested in, and not just someone who cooks to get by. I want to be an educated cook, not just a good one. Your comment makes me think of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," if you have ever seen it. The amount of time and dedication that he put into getting to where he is. I know that is a life's work, not a hobby.

      2. re: Sra. Swanky

        But how does Joy of Cooking replicate culinary school?

        1. re: rasputina

          It doesn't, but it's a mainstay in many home kitchens and I've seen copies in restaurant kitchens too. A tried-and-true reference to have on hand never hurt anybody.

      3. One thing I learned in cul school was that professional cooks/chefs do not use cookbooks. So it is hard to see how any cookbook could replicate the experience of not using cookbooks.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mwhitmore

          I think its safe to say you missed the point of my post. I'm not trying to play chef, or pretend i'm a chef. I'm trying to educate myself on classic cuisines. If you went to culinary school, i'm sure you had classes, where they went over recipes, techniques, ingredients, and you learned them. I want a book... that has recipes, techniques, and ingredients.... so i can go over them and learn them. (By cuisine type.) Then i will use that foundation, and build upon it, as i crank out classic recipes, as well as modern variations, all from my head, with no cookbook, like most chefs.

          1. re: zakappel

            Oh so you don't actually want to replicate culinary school as you say in your title.

        2. CCA SF 2000 and we used On Cooking, Techniques from Expert Chefs. Very informative IMO. Holds a prominent place on my bookshelf both for reference & sentiment.

          2 Replies
          1. re: letsindulge

            I read the description on amazon for On Cooking, and that is the type of book i was looking for. Looks to be relatively cheap also. Thanks. What is the CCA SF 2000 and yes i put that into google; didnt get anything.

            1. re: zakappel

              CCA SF was California Culinary Academy, San Francisco now known as Le Cordon Bleu since 2006. I completed the program in 2000. The 2nd edition of the book which I have is definitely based on classical French techniques, and recipes along with a small measure of contemporary techniques, and recipes of that time. I notice that they are up to edition 5 now. Can't attest to the content.

          2. I'm posting this because maybe someone else can remember the name of this book . . . .

            There was a cookbook (I may have it somewhere) that was organized by technique - so there was a chapter on braising with different recipes showing different ways to use braising to achieve results . . .and one on sauteing , etc, etc.

            I think learning the techniques will get you far (not just knowing what each one is, but when/how to use them to achieve different results). All cuisines use essentially the same techniques with different flavor profiles and core ingredients to achieve different flavors. Really knowing those techniques is what I expect from a "chef".

            Sherry Yard has a dessert cookbook (can't remember which one it was right now) that is organized this way as well. It is a great resource if you want to learn pastry as well.

            7 Replies
            1. re: thimes

              I like that idea also. I asked my mom what the curriculum's were like in culinary school, but she didn't know because she learned on her own. I figured i could either learn by cooking method, or by cuisines. The reason i am leaning towards cuisines is that every region creates dishes using the ingredients they have available, and they learn to blend the flavors together. I figure i could learn from their experience. Then choose to mix and match (flavors and ingredients,) afterwards as i create my own dishes. Sometimes the amount of ingredients and spices available are overwhelming; we have so much more available at our modern supermarkets than they did hundreds of years ago when these dishes were created.

              1. re: zakappel

                Its long out of print, but look up the old Time-Life Food of the World series. You can find them on ebay. I think you could find a complete set for $200 or so. I once read a comment from Mark Bittman where he said reading them was like going to cooking school. The only challenge will be replicating flavor profiles when you've never had them. No way to know if you're getting it right or not.

                1. re: Bkeats

                  The Grand Diplome Cooking Course Le Cordon Bleu, 20-volume set 1972 by Time-Life. This really taught me everything I know about cooking. Sadly I gave it away when I moved and am sorry now. It beats all other cookbooks that I own or have owned.

                  1. re: hazfora

                    There are still plenty of sets available (used, obviously):


                      1. re: rasputina

                        @ rasputina. I grew old with that set :-). Yes, it's a keeper. Most of the cookbooks today are either short on technique, or don't have photos of steps (especially if it's difficult or complicated), or the recipes are too contrived or a variation of some old recipe. This set teaches you the classic techniques and once you've tried a few of them (remember, 20 volumes!), you get better and better. I tried at least one recipe in each volume, but of course I had certain favorite volumes that I referred to again and again until they got bloodied with tomato juice and droplets of color-rich ingredients. Then, one day you'll just find yourself cooking without a recipe, you begin to understand what flavors or ingredients go together, and you become more confident about innovating.

                        Another old cookbook I love and which I've kept is The Doubleday Cookbook, a 2-volume set (as opposed to 20!). This one has few photos but is very well organized, has everything you need to know (including how to prepare the ingredients for cooking, substitutions and variations) and, most important, has an extensive index. This is the book I brought with me on my first visit to Provence (1983), because it has recipes for every ingredient you could possibly imagine, including obscure or rare, and it's indexed. I think I invented the word "foodie" then :-); sadly, I didn't patent it.

                        I don't like Joy of Cooking -- I get no joy in it.

                2. re: thimes

                  Ruhlman's Twenty - I'm not sure that was the original one I was thinking about but it is organized this way. Check it out at the LIbrary or bookstore and see what you think. He has a good blog as well . . .

                  The Sherry Yard book is "The Secrets of Baking" - I loved (and still do) this cookbook for how it is organized, very helpful in mastering the techniques and applying them.

                3. I very much recommend the Culinary Institute of America's book, THE PROFESSIONAL CHEF.

                  "Named one of the five favorite culinary books of this decade by Food Arts magazine, The Professional Chef is the classic kitchen reference that many of America's top chefs have used to understand basic skills and standards for quality as well as develop a sense of how cooking works. Now, the ninth edition features an all-new, user-friendly design that guides readers through each cooking technique, starting with a basic formula, outlining the method at-a-glance, offering expert tips, covering each method with beautiful step-by-step photography, and finishing with recipes that use the basic techniques.

                  The new edition also offers a global perspective and includes essential information on nutrition, food and kitchen safety, equipment, and product identification. Basic recipe formulas illustrate fundamental techniques and guide chefs clearly through every step, from mise en place to finished dishes."


                  3 Replies
                  1. re: C. Hamster

                    That looks like exactly the kind of book im looking for. Thanks for that rec.

                    1. re: C. Hamster


                      Also the classic Larousse Gastronomique

                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                        Oh gawd. I found that tedious. It's like the Oxford Dictionary (the hardbound supersized one).