These are the first responses received in a query to food professionals (chefs, cooks and restaurateurs) across the state about cookbooks that have inspired, informed and entertained them from their earliest years.
Dan Blumenthal: (BRAVO!) La Technique by Jacques Pepin—step by step intro to classic French cooking with many helpful photos; On Food and Cooking by Harold Magee-The Bible of food chemistry; just loaded with knowledge about food in general; The Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan—Wonderful intro into the world of Italian pasta making
Taylor Bowen Ricketts: (Fan and Johnny’s) The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall because I love him and the way he cooks, my great-grandmother’s well-documented, preserved and used notebooks that somehow I was lucky enough to inherit, and the St. Stephens’ Episcopal chicks of Indianola, Ms. cookbook, Bayou Cuisine. Delta women are by far and away the best cooks and hostesses, more particular, demanding, and expecting of any women on earth, and rightly so; almost every one of us bitches can cook.
Alex Eaton: (The Manship) Donal Link – Real Cajun -This is a bad ass book that is spot-on with his recipes. He really is teaching how to cook real Cajun food. From boudin to fried oysters it’s my go to when cooking rustic Cajun food. Mike Solomonov – Zahav Cookbook– In the world of Middle Eastern cooking Arab chefs are so secretive; I once tried to learn how to plate hummus and the chef would not let me come back in the kitchen and watch. This book is useful and extremely helpful with his techniques in the secretive cooking of Middle Eastern food. Hot and Hot Fish Club, Chris and Idie Hastings; I love this book not only because it goes season by season… but I actually worked here and was impressed that the cooks and prep cooks used the book for their work; often times chefs seem to just guess at these recipes and they never come out right.
Martha Foose: (Screen Doors and Sweet Tea) The Inverness Cookbook, The Time-Life Picture Cookbook, and The Better Homes & Gardens Look and Cook Book.
Dixie Grimes: (The B.T.C Old-Fashioned Grocery) These are in no particular order, as I adore all three equally. White Trash Cooking– Ernest Matthew Mickler. This book speaks to my very soul as a southerner from rural Mississippi. One has to understand that this is not a book mocking a poor class of people but a shout out to the most real and righteous cooking of the south. Recipes for Potato chip sandwich, Cooter Stew, 1-2-3-4 cake as well as or most importantly Fried Squirrel, Butt`s Gator Tail and Aunt Donnah`s roast possum. It is all about necessity, using what you have, not what you want and making it taste good. Betty Crocker`s Picture Cook Book circa 1950. This book was geared towards the 1950`s house wife, a era of three martini lunches, church socials, afternoon bridge games and cocktail parties and the perfect Ozzie and Harriet housewife/mother who flawlessly executed them without so much as a wrinkle in her skirt; simple, yet elegant. The recipes consist of all things souffléd, scalloped, congealed and supremed. Canapes and sparkling punch with sherbet is what’s up. As a chef I adore the nostalgia this book holds and the old school feel of classic recipes no longer in use like Pompano En Papillote and Seafood a la Newberg. The Joy Of Cooking: The title says it all, cooking can be fun and easy it does not have to be a chore or dreaded task. This is the book that I give to all young couples starting out and to anyone who says, “Hey, I would love to learn to make some basic dishes but just do not know where to start.” I consider this book a staple in my own kitchen. It pretty much has a recipe for ANYTHING one might want to cook as well as covering all basic techniques baking and cooking, i.e. roasting, boiling, braising, sautéing etc. It explains why things work the way that the do, like why butter needs to be cold for biscuits and pie crust or softened for cakes and frostings. Also included is a fantastic conversion chart for measurements which believe it or not I still use regularly, because like most chefs math is not my strong point.
Jesse Houston: (Saltine) Three cookbooks that had a large influence on my career are Momofuku, The Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook, and Under Pressure. I read them all cover to cover and absorbed as much of their knowledge as possible. I’ve cooked more recipes out of Momofuku than almost all of my many cookbooks combined. I was a kid right out of culinary school when it came out, and picked it up because I heard it was a fresh way of looking at food. In the opening pages they were dropping f bombs, and I knew this would be unlike anything I had read before. Being a Dallas native, Southern food wasn’t really easy to come by and I didn’t know much about it, but was about to relocate to the South to open a revolutionary Southern restaurant, Parlor Market. I read every word in the Lee brothers’ book, and I was able to get comfortable with ingredients I had never used before in my life. It should be considered a Southern cook’s bible. Under Pressure is a book all about advanced cooking techniques used in a modern kitchen, most noticeably sous vide. Although I don’t use sous vide much anymore, it taught me so much about modern cuisine. Currently I’m influenced by books from Noma and Rene Redzepi for their beautiful simplicity and natural approach. They use a lot of modern techniques as well, but hide them in ways that will surprise you, but also seem incredibly natural, as if it were found in nature that way.
Lou LaRose: (Lou’s Full-Serv) I can tell you that Larousse Gastronomique was the first book I ever got. My dad gave it to me back in the early 90’s. From there I was intrigued by lots of the recipes. Old school French was definitely a favorite of mine. I was also very fond of the early “great chefs” shows. I collected all of the books from San Francisco, New Orleans. Chicago etc. James Beard’s Beard on Bread was a hand me down from my grandmother, and I cooked many things from that as well.
Randy Yates: (formerly Ajax, now at large) The Joy of Cooking and the Jackson Junior League cookbook, Southern Sideboards, were always in our kitchen, as was the Baton Rouge, River Road Recipes, and I learned how to read from a book version of the song “On Top of Spaghetti”.