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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).

                    2. I just "Sauces" by James Peterson. it's from 1998 and I am fairly overwhelmed at the comprehensive nature of it. I NEVER KNEW I NEEDED THIS BOOK!

                      1. Is Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child too obvious?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: chowser

                          It worked for me Chows. I was going to suggest it also.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Nothing is too obvious because that is exactly what i am looking for, the obvious classics that you would assume all cooks know. I appreciate all the responses.

                          2. I remember reading through Martha Stewart's Cooking School and thinking that it had a lot of good information in it a couple of years ago when I borrowed it from the local library.

                            1. I really appreciate all the responses, i had zero knowledge of cookbooks past the joy of cooking, (which i'v never actually looked through,) so this was a great briefing. Here is the list of everything i was suggested with prices i found online. I'd rather not break the bank on this particular endeavor.

                              Culinary Artistry - $12
                              Ruhlman's Twenty - $14
                              On Cooking - $10
                              The Professional Chef Textbook - $51
                              The Secrets of Baking - $10 (Not really a desert guy, but i guess that means that's where i'd need the most help.)
                              Mastering The Art of French Cooking - 7$
                              Larousse Gastronomique - $55
                              Sauces - $27
                              Foods of the world by Time Life, set of 14 on ebay - $50 starting bid.

                              Does anyone who is familiar with the lot have any input as far as where my money would be better spent? I dont want to buy 3 or 4 of the cheap ones, only to find out the textbook style ones cover all that and more, and take up less space. (I know this also comes down to a matter of opinion, and there is no right answer.)

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: zakappel

                                Look at your public library first to check them out. If you like them, check out overstock.com. I was surprised at the number of good cookbooks they carry. Oh, if you want bread baking, check out Peter Reinhart's Bread Bakers Apprentice. For science, Shirley Corrihers Cookwise or Bakewise.

                                1. re: zakappel

                                  Yes, the library will have most all of those aside from the C.I.A. book- check ebay or craigslist for one of those.

                                  1. re: zakappel

                                    You cannot forget Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Italian Cooking. This is truly a classic and will give you an excellent grounding in Italian food.

                                    1. re: zakappel

                                      foods of the world are often in thrift stores for super cheap. i'd go with the library or used book stores to start: the more popular ones should be easy enough to find, and you can spend the hard cash on the textbooks. (my copy of "Sauces" was $9.50 at our local used book store..)

                                    2. In addition to those above…

                                      The Art of Cooking by Pepin (vol. 1 and 2)
                                      for indian, Julie Sahni
                                      for curries, 660 curries by dyer
                                      and honestly, tho some may disagree, i think How to Cook Everything by Bittman is a nice shelf resource.
                                      for breads, the bread baker's apprentice

                                      i think ratio by ruhlman is also a valuable resource. he includes recipes in addition to the basic ratios, so…

                                      have fun!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Emme

                                        All 3 of Ruhlman's books on the basics: Ration, The Elements of Cooking, Ruhlman's 20. I with there were a boxed set of these, and a boxed set of his Making/Soul/Reach of a Chef books.

                                      2. Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen (get a used version for a few dollars)

                                        1. Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking - I have the first edition and understand the second edition is significantly different. It won't teach you different cuisines but it WILL explain how and why certain things work, or don't. This type of knowledge is helpful in enabling you to do your own freestyling from the starting point of a given recipe.

                                          Shirley O. Corriher's Cookwise is another good one for scientific understanding of how to cook.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: greygarious

                                            Those are both great choices. Bakewise too, also by Shirley O. Corriher.

                                            1. re: roxlet

                                              I've never looked at Bakewise, but have often read that much of it is just a repeat of the material in Cookwise, so if you have Cookwise you don't need Bakewise. If memory serves, there were also some complaints about the lightness of the font and layout of the pages. Do you have both?

                                          2. I second On Food & Cooking. It will explain the "science" of cooking which is valuable for improvisation. Back in my formative years I also liked La Technique & La Methode by Jacques Pepin. Today. you have the added benefit of all the recipes & videos on the Internet. I have not bought or used a cookbook in years although I have a wall full of cooking books. Now, I just search online.

                                            1. I saw a Richard Olney book in a used bookstore that does this--goes technique by technique in a very simple clear way, with pictures. I didn't buy it (stood there for a long time reading it, though) I looked at his book list on wikipedia and I think the booK I'm talking about is The Good Cook's Encyclopedia.

                                              1. What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained

                                                This is one my all time favourite books. I read it when I first got into cooking and it helped me understand the science behind cooking and thus how to develop my own feet in the kitchen.

                                                1. per se not per say. I'm sorry but that begs to be corrected.