My personal cookbook library is filled with books of all shapes and sizes, all topics and themes and while some of them see pretty regular use (as evident from the red wine stains and oil splatters on the pages,) others don’t quite get the same use. If you have a large culinary library you’re probably familiar with these; the ‘pretty’ books that you love to look at and were excited to buy, but since they’re full of multi-step recipes and page-long ingredient lists, they’re just not practical for everyday use. It’s always nice to make restaurant quality food at home but you don’t want it to be a three day process, or use every pot, pan and appliance in the house. Now I’m not saying don’t buy these books (I’d never advocate against a cookbook purchase) but I do recommend stocking your shelves with some books that show you how to make restaurant quality food at home with fresh, simple recipes that you can go back to time and time again. Like these ones; here are a few of my favorite restaurant cookbooks you’ll actually use at home:
Yotam Ottolenghi is a bit of a culinary legend in the UK and his four famous London restaurants have become culinary destinations with their unique blend of patisserie, deli, restaurant and bakery all rolled into one. We can’t all get to London, but thankfully some of the best flavors of Ottolenghi are available in this cookbook which is designed to help home cooks bring these fresh inventive dishes to their own table. Many of the dishes are reflective of the chef’s upbringing in Jerusalem but this is in no-way an exclusively middle eastern cookbook as traditions are incorporated from all over the Mediterranean, Italy and even California.
If you follow the wild and wacky adventures of David Chang and the Momofuku empire no doubt you’re familiar with the sinfully sweet creations brought to life by baking genius Christina Tosi. Tosi founded the dessert program at Momofuku and then went on to open Momofuku Milk Bar -the sister bakery to the Momofuku restaurant group. Her selection of cookies, cakes and pies are a stoners delight but also have that wildly addictive quality that makes us want to duplicate them at home. Thankfully this cookbook gives you the recipes needed to make favorites such as the compost cookie, crack pie and cereal milk ice cream. There’s nothing fancy or pretentious going on here, just reinvented childhood favorites and home-style classics that you can make right at home.
If you’re familiar with Thomas Keller’s more famous book The French Laundry Cookbook, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now, and thinking “does this chick know I only have 45 minutes to prepare, serve and clean up dinner?” This American chef is known for his meticulous nature and while the recipes of the famed French Laundry restaurant are a process even for the more ambitious home cooks, this book gives us classic Keller in a way we haven’t previously seen. Ad Hoc at Home is full of playful takes on American comfort food inspired by his more casual restaurant in Yountville, California. You’ll love the 200+ family-style recipes in this book packed with full-color photographs and easy to follow instructions.
Mention the Zuni Cafe to anyone from California and they’ll be drooling and rambling on about roast chicken for the next half hour at least. Just take a few slow steps back and head to your nearest bookstore to find out what the heck they’re talking about. The Zuni Cookbook is a compilation of recipes and cooking lessons from San Francisco’s iconic restaurant. This book is not only accessible for home cooks but it will actually make you a better home cook overall. American chef and writer Deborah Madison says the book’s introduction alone “should be required reading for every person who might cook something someday.” I say: just get this book.
You cannot go wrong with any of the River Cafe cookbooks (there are 11 of them published to date) but of them all, River Cafe Easy is one that you’re going to get some massive mileage out of. London’s iconic Italian restaurant has been delighting guests since 1987 and this cookbook allows you to bring the fresh vibrant flavors into your own kitchen with easy recipes that are designed for people who have little time in the kitchen but aren’t willing to sacrifice on quality. Gorgeous full-color photos provide an easy visual reference for these dishes which are sure to satisfy.
If you, or anyone in your family has a sweet tooth this book is an essential for your cookbook library. The world-famous Magnolia Bakery first opened its doors in New York City’s West Village in 1996 and ever since, people have been lining up round the clock for a taste of their classic baked goods including pies, cookies, cakes and of course their famous cupcakes. The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook shares their most treasured recipes so you can taste these sweet treats without lining up for hours. Imagine showing up to your next potluck or birthday party and saying “What these? Oh they’re just the hottest cupcakes in NYC.”
Honestly, who doesn’t love Mexican food? If you say you don’t, I’ll just assume you’re lying. Frontera Grill has been a Chicago institution since 1987, where chef Rick Bayless changes the very way Americans think about Mexican food. Among the restaurant’s most popular recipes are the refreshing margaritas, world-renowned guacamole and savory snacks. After years of requests Bayless has finally shared some of these recipes so that we can create an authentic Mexican fiesta at home (and not the kind that comes out of a yellow box.) This book includes 35 margarita recipes (giving you the perfect reason to throw a party,) as well as a guacamole recipe for each month of the year, which is good because we can’t bear the thought of a month that was guac-less.
I know that I’ve now listed two different Italian cookbooks in this list so you’re probably thinking I’m some sort of pasta-fiend, but how could I not list this book which brings home James Beard Award-winner Nancy Silverton’s best recipes from her famed Los Angeles restaurants? Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza are co-owned by Silverton, Joe Bastianich and celebrity chef Mario Batali and getting a reservation here can be tougher than a two-dollar steak. In this comprehensive book, Silverton shares her extensive knowledge of Italian traditions and techniques enabling you to make perfect pizza, pasta, gelato and more right at home. Her encouraging tone makes even multi-step recipes easy for any home cook to follow along with.
Years ago the word Momofuku was nothing more than rambling gibberish but thanks to culinary mad-genius David Chang, it’s now synonymous with his empire of award-winning restaurants in New York, Toronto, Sydney, Washington and soon-to-be Las Vegas. The Momofuku approach to cooking has a reputation for complexity and an unrelenting obsession with pork, but this cookbook does indeed have its place in your home library. Part story and part recipes, Chang shares the tales behind such iconic and much-loved dishes like the pork buns so that you not only know how to make them, but you understand how and why they came to be. While the recipes here do take time to create, this book also serves as a reference and reminder that you can experiment and take some personal liberties in the kitchen, so long as it’s “f***- delicious.”
If Heston Blumenthal is a mad-scientist of food, The Fat Duck in Bray is surely his laboratory. This restaurant which has been twice named the best in the world, is responsible for ground-breaking recipes like snail porridge and the whimsical “sounds of the sea”. While you’re probably less inclined to try and recreate these masterpieces at home, this book is worth owning simply for the stories behind one of the most iconic restaurants (and chefs) in the world. In the first section of this monstrous book, you’ll find out the history of both the restaurant and of the man behind it all, while the second section highlights 50 of his signature recipes. While they all require equipment that the average home cook isn’t likely to have heard of, let alone own, the recipes will inspire you to think outside the box and ultimately become a more creative cook yourself.