To say I am an avid cookbook collector may be an understatement. They line the walls of my office on London’s West Street and again at home – a constant colourful, streaming source of inspiration that I consider essential.
Last year we covered my all-time classics (Phil’s Must-Have Cookbooks: The Classics), and in this piece I’ve selected my must-have cookbooks: the modern essentials – those recently published cookbooks that I find myself grabbing off the shelves again and again to kickstart the creative process.
By no means is this list definitive, but it reflects this moment in food –from vegetable-centric to Middle Eastern to pickling, fermenting and Korean with NY attitude. I hope they serve to similarly spark your creativity.
Big Flavours From a Small Kitchen – Chris Kitsch
Bold, powerful, punchy flavours and a balance of healthy and indulgent comes from the small kitchen of Chris Kitsch – a small coffee shop/eatery in Muswell Hill and also newly in Hoxton opened by world-class chef Chris Honor. Salads are at the heart of this place, but not as you’ve seen them before – they’re full of colour, life and individuality and are as substantial as they come. He also covers sections Brunch, Soups, Mains and Bakery – all crossing boundaries but nevertheless with culinary integrity…a modern way to eat indeed.
Eat Right – Nick Barnard
A triumph of real food, Nick Barnard of health-food company Rude Health delivers an inspiring no-nonsense modern approach to food rooted in ancient principles. A far cry from the health-food heroes of today, Nick’s work is deliciously different, with lots of virtuousness and inventive fermenting mixed with an insistence on indulging in whole, real foods that we’ve denied ourselves for so long – like lard, butter, ghee, a real dauphinoise – there is even a section called ‘Pig fat is wonderful’…I couldn’t agree more.
Root to Leaf – Steven Satterfield
As the title alludes, this book is all about the veg – and portrays Southern cooking in a new, softer light. Created in the wake of a battle with cancer, Steven Satterfield – chef-patron at Atlanta restaurant Miller Union – has made Root to Leaf nutrient and seasonally focused, holding the innate belief that there is a correlation between eating healthily and eating seasonally. It’s also personal, poetic and inventive – like his gumbo z’herbes – a traditional Southern roux-thickened stew made with a multitude of fresh spring greens.
The Wisdom of Simple Cooking – Clare Lattin and Tom Hill
I love the Japanese expression kokumi – a compound of the words for “rich” and “taste”, a mouthfeel sensation for when something is truly delicious – and I love how Clare describes this as at the centre of their cooking at Duck Soup, their restaurant in London’s Soho. I have always been thrilled by the food they serve there – they are really champions of the simple, masters of the effortlessly delicious. Their book, The Wisdom of Simple Cooking, lifts the lid on their process and approach – which is really an ode to ingredients, to the seasons and to the natural. As we approach fig season, their fig dish with labneh, pistachio and olive oil hugely appeals…what could be better?
Five Quarters – Rachel Roddy
One of my favourite books of this year, it really harks back to what I believe and love about Italian food and the Italian way of eating – plus it’s a captivating read. As an English woman falling for the Roman quarter of Testaccio, Rachel embraces the regional food and styles of Rome and the five key courses: antipasti, pasta, meat or fish, vegetables and then a simple pudding. With the popularity of shave ice increasing, I love her notes on grattachecca – the traditional Roman version of shaved ice, topped with chopped fruit and covered with fruit syrup.
Pickled – Freddie Janssen
A slightly off-the-wall mouth-puckering handbook on one of the biggest modern trends, with tons of innovative pickle recipes to boot. I’m totally charmed by her coffee pickle pour-over mushrooms, umami ketchup and rhubarb and jasmine kefir – cool, current and packed with original ideas. A must when catering for the healthy crowd.
The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook – Salma Hage
Capturing a big part of the essence of eating today is Lebanese cook Salma Hage’s Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook. Born and raised in Lebanon, her food is deeply authentic and rooted in her family’s kitchen, while, due to the surge in interest in Middle Eastern foods, it’s also simultaneously familiar and accessible. I particularly like her rosewater pancakes with pistachio and honey, pomegranate-yoghurt ice pops, and her recipe for Middle Eastern scrambled eggs – mashlouka, made with tomato.
A. Wong, The Cookbook – Andrew Wong
For modern Chinese through a British lens, A. Wong’s cookbook is absolutely spot-on – full of beautiful clean imagery and outstanding and inventive recipes like classic congee with sliced pork and century egg, xinjiang cumin lamb ribs, char siu roasted pork, steamed seabass with ginger and spring onions, and crispy aromatic duck – which apparently originated in North London from a chef working at the Chinese Embassy, not in the forbidden city in Beijing as commonly thought.
Fermented – Charlotte Pike
Fermented food comes out of the jar and onto the plate in this accessible beginner’s guide to fermenting, from sourdough to saurkraut, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and more. Arming readers with recipes for integrating good-for-you fermented foods into the everyday, it’s easy-to-read and unpretentious – great for inspiration and key techniques.
Low and Slow – Neil Rankin
A bible on slow cooking and cooking meat, Neil Rankin, one of the first chefs to do BBQ food in London and do it well, dissects his processes for achieving meat-based nirvana in a book that’s beautiful but also very much rooted in science. He also shares some kickass sauces that pair brilliantly with his food, like his Korean BBQ sauce, and an in-yer-face mescal sauce. An essential companion for anyone interested in meat and BBQ.
Koreatown – Dewuki Hong
Chef Dewuki Hong of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, a smash-hit BBQ joint in Manhattan’s Koreatown, and food journalist Matt Rodbard take us to said buzzing NY district – without the plane ticket or the heat of the crowds – for killer Korean fried chicken, bibimbap, sashimi rice bowls, kimchi pancakes and dumplings and Korean Sloppy Joes. A valuable insider’s tour of one of the most beguiling food scenes the world-over.