Austin chefs share some of their favorite food-related books



Don’t want to splurge on cooking lessons or a $500 gift card to the French Laundry as a holiday gift for your favorite food lover this year? Books make wonderful presents for the food-obsessive in your life. They are evocative, educational, transportive and often beautiful. And nobody knows these books better than restaurant industry professionals.

I asked some of Austin’s top chefs and restaurant operators to name their favorite food-related books, from cookbooks to memoirs to tomes on food philosophy. Let their answers help you during your holiday shopping or serve as a year-round personal reading guide.

While I recommend shopping for these books at independent bookstores like BookPeople and specialty shops like Métier Cook’s Supply, you can also purchase most of them from multiple online outlets, sometimes directly from the publisher or author.

Adam Brick, chef de cuisine at Apis Restaurant & Apiary

“The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller: “​I read this book front to back when I was 12 years old, and it is by the far the single greatest factor that lead me into kitchens at a young age. The idea in the book about acknowledging that only once you have accepted that perfection is unattainable, only then can you truly pursue it. The idea that I’d be chasing the carrot for the rest of my life is still in my bones and has made me into the person and cook I am today.”

Mark Buley, chef and partner at Odd Duck

“Cooking by Hand” by Paul Bertolli: “The most poetic expression of the tactile experience of being a chef who really cares deeply about the product and the process.”

“Glorious French Food: A Fresh Approach to the Classics” by James Peterson: “A great mashup of technique and food anthropology with respect to French food. It is the most dog-eared, highlighted cookbook that I have. It pays homage to the classics, which is what I fear the current generation would leave as a missed opportunity without books like this.”

“Au Pied de Cochon: The Album” by Martin Picard: “A cult classic. He cooks with emboldened passion that is a motivation for almost any dish based on excess that we do at Odd Duck.”

Michael Castillo, chef de cuisine at Uchi

“There is a manga series about Japanese food called ‘Oishinbo.’ Each book in the series focuses on a part of the cuisine — sushi and sashimi, rice, vegetables, etc. They’re fun and easy to read. They’re also incredibly informative.”

“’Pasta by Hand: A Collection of Italy’s Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta’ by Jenn Louis is another one of my favorites. Great technique and style.”

“’Mexico from the Inside Out’ by Enrique Olvera is amazing.”

Tyson Cole, chef and owner of Hai Hospitality (Uchi, Uchiko, Top Knot)

“Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef” by Gabrielle Hamilton: “Gabrielle’s food at Prune NYC is some of the best you’ve ever had, and it’s rooted in her childhood and mother’s French upbringing and her experience as a kid around their house with a plethora of eats and killer food combinations. Love this book and her cooking to no end. It’s all about the simplicity. And room-temp butter!”

Sonya Coté, executive chef at Eden East and Hillside Farmacy

“Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Tradition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods” by Sandor Ellix Katz: “I’ve bought this book over and over again. It’s a great travel companion, as well, as it reads like a novel and tells many tales. I love the way that the author describes each process. It’s a bit sarcastic and is also based on many of his personal experiences. Last season, I bought this book for my mother who had been going through some health problems, my best guy friend who operates a small farm in North Carolina, and my chef de cuisine at Eden East. I’ve made several recipes from this book and recommend it to anyone that’s interested in making their own fermented foods.”

Andrew Curren, executive chef at ELM Restaurant Group (24 Diner, Easy Tiger, Italic & Irene’s)

“Les Dîners de Gala” by Salvador Dalí: “Amongst my collection of hundreds of cookbooks, this particular one is the standout because it has such history both on its own and between my wife, Mary Catherine (a pastry chef), and I. We discovered it in our favorite bookstore — Kitchen Witch Cookbooks in New Orleans, La. The initial copy we looked at had a price tag of $2,000, laden in gold foil and full of food pics that made us both drool and giggle. I eventually acquired a copy through the famous Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., at a slightly more palatable price, but much to my delight, it is once again in print (for $35.99).”

Chad Dolezal, co-owner and executive chef at the Hightower

“Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes” by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns: “This is just a book I bought after hearing about it for so long in the kitchen. It’s a great cook’s cookbook because it can be used as more of a reference guide than a straightforward cookbook. Everything they do comes from a very organic place. Nothing is too manipulated; it just shows you how to get the most out of your ingredients.”

Julio Florez, executive chef at Isla

“On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen” by Harold McGee: “Reading this book changes the way you look at food and cooking forever. This was the book to read when you wanted to know everything about the origins of food and its science. I’ve read it twice.”

“The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller: “This is one of the most important cookbooks ever printed. Thomas Keller is god.”

“The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection” by Michael Ruhlman: “This is an amazing book that I think every cook should read. I’ve read it twice and given it to a few select people as a gift.”

“Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain: “If you want to know what being a cook is like, read this book. I’ve read it twice. I can’t help but hear Anthony Bourdain’s voice when I read it.”

“Central” by Virgilio Martinez: “Central is the best restaurant in Latin America and No. 4 in the world. Peruvian food is at the top of the game, and this book represents that.”

Zach Hunter, executive chef at the Brewer’s Table

“The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller: “This was the first cookbook I ever owned and, consequently, the first book that truly inspired me to cook professionally.”

“Essential Cuisine” by Michel Bras: “A beautiful book, by one of the greatest chefs of all time. This book is an essential part of any chef’s collection.”

“On Food And Cooking: The Science And Lore Of The Kitchen” by Harold McGee: “This book rarely leaves my side. It is a wealth of knowledge and has never failed me as a culinary resource.”

“Food & Beer” by Daniel Burns and Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø and with Joshua David Stein: “This book is one of my new favorites. It provides an inside look at an amazing food and beer concept, highlighting the exciting relationship the two share.”

Lee Krasner, co-owner of Dock and Roll

“Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen: Recipes and Techniques of a World-Class Cuisine” by Rick Bayless, with JeanMarie Brownson: “I love this cookbook so much because as a kid growing up in Austin, I fell in love with Mexican food and flavors early on and haven’t looked back since. This cookbook is, in my opinion, the preeminent Mexican food cookbook for so many reasons. Rick’s knowledge of Mexican cuisine is unparalleled, and how he shares the recipes, techniques and regional distinctions of Mexican food makes it an easily approachable way for any home cook, chef or food lover to understand and learn a ton from.”

Evan LeRoy, chef and pitmaster (formerly of Freedmen’s)

“Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto” by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay: “This is essentially a textbook on barbecue, and nobody dives deeper into the minutia of barbecue than Aaron Franklin.”

“Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing” by Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman: “This book has been especially inspiring to me for making sausages. It has excellent basic recipes and descriptions of methods. It’s a pretty essential textbook on the craft of smoking and curing, and I used the book to develop my sausage formula.”

“A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook” by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer: “What’s great about this book is that the recipes come right from the books. It’s not often you can find authentic recipes based on a fantasy series. It’s a great gift for any ‘Game of Thrones’ fan.”

“Cooking Fearlessly: Recipes and Other Adventures from Hudson’s on the Bend” by Jeffrey Blank, Deborah Harter and Jay Moore: “Hudson’s on the Bend is where I learned how to cook and play with live fire. The restaurant can be attributed to some of the origins of higher cuisine in this region, and the book is a visual showcase of that.”

Rick Lopez, executive chef at La Condesa

“The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection” by Michael Ruhlman: “I read this book three times in 2006 before I moved to New York City to work at Café Boulud under chef Gavin Kaysen. It helped me understand the lifestyle of a driven cook and chef. Each chef’s story was an inspiration to me, and it made me want to create my own story and pave my own path. I still recommend this book to young cooks today.”

Elaine Martin, co-founder and owner of Eastside Café

“From the Earth to the Table: John Ash’s Wine Country Cuisine” by John Ash and Sid Goldstein: “The recipes are tasty and simple, relying on fresh ingredients. He wrote this in 1995 before the foodie craze.”

Larry McGuire, co-founder of McGuire Moorman Hospitality (Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, Elizabeth Street Café, Jeffrey’s of Austin, June’s All Day, et al)

“Living & Eating” by Annie Bell and John Pawson: “Pawson is one of my favorite architects, and his food is super simple yet luxurious. His London apartment, serving pieces, and daily menus are aspirational.”

Yoshi Okai, chef at Otoko

“Aji” by Tokuzo Akiyama: “In Aji, Tokuzo Akiyama talks about about his life in the restaurant industry and his personal philosophy. He used to work at Hotel Ritz Paris, and he helped spread French cuisine in Japan. I think he taught me that being a chef in another country is a little hard, but if you have a passion for your work, you will be OK. He also said that cooking is like music — I feel that way, too, because I play music also. So many similarities.”

Ted Prater, chef at Banger’s Sausage House & Beer Garden

“On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee: “This is one of my favorites because it breaks cooking down to the cellular level. It’s a great cross-reference book when you want to know not just how things work, but why they work.”

Scott Roberts, owner of the Salt Lick

“Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way” by Francis Mallmann and Peter Kaminsky: “I enjoy ‘Seven Fires’ because it’s a book about how cooking on these seven different fires is the heart and soul of South America. How could any Texas cook not be in love with a book about fire, smoke and meat — the holy trinity of Texas Hill Country cooking?

Ben Runkle, owner and chef at Salt & Time

“I really love ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals’ by Michael Pollan and ‘Heat’ by Bill Buford. Both of those books influenced me immensely and helped set me on my path toward becoming a butcher and starting Salt & Time. The part of ‘Heat’ where he describes Dario Cecchini singing opera while butchering made a lasting impression.”

“Additionally, ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ is a great read on food in general, but it really helped me think through starting to eat meat again. When Pollan spoke in Austin a few years ago, I told him this story. He laughed and told me that a lot of people tell him they started eating meat again after reading it, but just as many people tell him they became vegetarians.”

Naomi Seifter, founder and CEO of Picnik

“The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food” by Ian Knauer: “I came across this book while I was home in Washington State several years ago. As someone who is very passionate about the source of my food, I was initially drawn in by the name, but it was the unique, homestyle recipes that really caught my attention. Recipes like garlic-scape pesto, radishes with bacon butter, vanilla bean-mayonnaise cupcakes and strawberry cream cheese pie stuck out to me, and it was honestly one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. Ian Knauer shares such beautiful experiences from the Pennsylvania farm that has been in his family for ages and makes seasonal food approachable and exceptional.”

Quirino Silva, director of culinary operations at Flyrite Chicken

“Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain: “‘Kitchen Confidential’ is my go-to book for when I’m feeling worn out or stressed about the profession that I have chosen. It always reinvigorates my love for being in the kitchen and the restaurant business.”

“Uchi: The Cookbook” by Tyson Cole and Jessica Dupuy: “The Uchi cookbook always gives me more focus for simplicity and subtle flavors when designing a new menu item. It also reminds me of the respect we should have for our food and what the overall experience of dining should be.”

“Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico” by Rick Bayless: “‘Authentic Mexican’ gives me a stable source of inspiration for all of my dishes, even if they aren’t in the Mexican food genre. It reminds me of the tradition and culture behind most dishes and why it’s important to pay homage to those influences.”

Eric Silverstein, owner of the Peached Tortilla

“Think Like a Chef” by Tom Colicchio: “This is one of the first cookbooks I purchased. It’s really all about establishing the basics and getting your technique down, like how to roast, braise, make a stock, etc. I think this is a tremendous introductory cookbook, and it will continue to be a staple for any aspiring cook or chef.”

Marco Silvestrini, co-owner of Dolce Neve

The Tartine series by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson: “I have always had a passion for bread, especially when it’s made using nontraditional grains. A couple of years ago, Liz Prueitt stopped by Dolce Neve, and that’s when my obsession for Tartine Bakery started. The next day I bought “Tartine Bread,” and for my birthday, I received books 2 and 3. The following September I visited San Francisco mostly because I wanted to try Chad Robertson’s bread. The Tartine books are a great source of inspiration for the bread I bake at home and for the special gelato sandwiches we offer at Dolce Neve. I am eagerly waiting for “Tartine All Day” to come out in April.

Tommy Simpson, executive chef at Searsucker

“I constantly reference all of Nobu Matsuhisa’s cookbooks. His simple approach to food, letting quality ingredients shine on their own, really speaks to me. I worked for chef Nobu for two years and can’t tell you how much I learned from him.”

“I also really love all of chef Charlie Trotter’s cookbooks. The food photography is unbelievable, and while chefs don’t really steal from one another, being able to see his plate composition and approach to dishes is what I love about his books.”

“‘The French Laundry Cookbook’ is unbelievable. The French Laundry has a garden in the back of the restaurant that provides all the fruits and vegetables they use. Thomas Keller is a true pioneer of the farm-to-table movement.”

Jason Stude, executive chef at Boiler Nine

“Bouchon Bakery” by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel: “It has become a staple in my house. The recipes are spot on, as you would expect, and it’s my daughter’s favorite to look at.”

Fiore Tedesco, co-owner and chef at L’Oca d’Oro

“The Classic Italian Cookbook” by Marcella Hazan: “When I first read this I was struck by the book’s lack of pretension and the simple utility of her recipes. Her voice in this book has always reminded me of my grandmother, as I’m sure it has for thousands of other Italian-Americans of my generation. A few of my favorite recipes in here are Milk Braised Pork Shoulder, Pasta e Fagioli and Coffee Granita with whipped cream.

James Zoller, chef de cuisine at Trace

“The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller: “Having an extensive cookbook library is one of the ways I’ve learned and grown into a chef. I remember when someone gave me ‘The French Laundry Cookbook’ as I was leaving Arizona for Austin. I had no idea food could even look like that. It started the rabbit hole of collecting cookbooks. So ‘The French Laundry Cookbook’ will always have a special place in my heart.”


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