An excellent list of food-themed books
Editor’s note: We are republishing Thomas Zacharias’ lovely list of food-themed books which have shaped his culinary journey. This was published back in 2021 in one of the older templates of splainer–that no longer exists.
Written by: Thomas Zacharias, quite honestly needs no introduction. As executive chef, he powered the success of the wildly popular, multiple award-winning ‘The Bombay Canteen’. And his Instagram videos remain a source of continual delight for his devoted fans—which includes the entire splainer team.
Over to Thomas…
As someone who has been obsessed with food and cooking for nearly three decades now (yes, I’m only 35, but I started out as a helper in my grandmother’s kitchen before I could even reach the countertop), I have relied on building an extensive library of food books to guide me through my career. A few of these stand out as significant influences in my culinary journey, not only shaping me into the professional chef I am today but also moulding my philosophy towards food. Regardless of whether you’re an aspiring chef or just an avid home cook, these are definitely books I would recommend exploring:
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. This was my first introduction to the magnificent mind of the late chef-traveller Anthony Bourdain who influenced my approach to food travel deeply. This is one of his earliest works of writing which catapulted him to fame and stardom, but the story-telling is simply fantastic! Although the edgy lifestyle of chefs as portrayed in this book isn’t as common anymore, it is still a powerful account of the inner workings of the restaurant kitchens of yesteryear.
On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee. This book appealed to the inner geek in me as a culinary student. This one’s a must-read for the curious folks who want to understand the science behind food. The hows and whys of cooking are an understated aspect of the craft which will enable each one of us, professional or otherwise, to become better cooks in small and big ways. It’s a mammoth of a book but I promise you’ll come out on the other end with a renewed worldview on food.
On the Line by Eric Ripert and Christine Muhlke. They have written what is by far one of the finest depictions of how a restaurant functions—let alone that of Le Bernardin, one of the finest kitchens in the world, three Michelin stars included. I was so enamoured by the sheer brilliance of how the kitchen operated that I actually ended up applying for a job and eventually working here during my stint in New York. The beautiful imagery and the exquisitely photographed recipes make this a real collector’s item.
Kitchen Creativity, The Flavor Bible and Becoming a Chef by Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page. The entire collection is a treasure, but especially these books. This wife-husband author duo have spent the better part of their lives codifying different aspects of the culinary arts, from creativity to flavour pairings, and their books are peppered with insights from leading figures in the food industry. I use many of their books as reference, or for inspiration and ideas, constantly.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I read this book nearly 15 years ago at a time when I was still shaping my own philosophy about food. The powerful way in which it makes you rethink what we eat and—more importantly—the journey of our food from seed to plate is still relevant to this day. This is a must-read for anyone who cares (and perhaps even more critical for those who don’t) about how our food systems and personal food choices have ripple effects on practically everything.
The Third Plate by Dan Barber. This chef redefined farm-to-table cooking in a way no one else has in the past several decades by giving precedence to the farm over the chef’s creative talent. His world-renowned restaurant ‘Blue Hill’ at Stone Barns in New York is a testament to how reevaluating our relationship with food can be applied not just in principle but in action as well. In ‘The Third Plate’, he brilliantly breaks down this hypothesis through the varied stories and experiences that have led to the success of his groundbreaking restaurant. (Oh and please also watch him on S1E2 of Netflix’s Chef’s Table)
Letters to a Young Chef by Daniel Boulud. This diary of sorts by the legendary French chef is a must-read for anyone considering a career in the kitchen. It will either put you off professional kitchens or make you yearn for them even more. It is broken down into easy-to-digest chapters covering various facets of the industry and even has its own list of Ten Commandments of a Chef.
Life, On The Line by Grant Achatz. A touching memoir about an award-winning 21st-century chef’s journey through life, his career, and his battle with tongue cancer that threatened to take away a chef’s greatest asset, his sense of taste. Truly inspiring, even if you’re not in this line of work.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. This one is not a food book, so I’m using a little poetic licence here. But it has still got me through many harsh creative blocks. What I love the most about the book is its basic premise: we are all artists at our core. This book explains how our upbringing and societal conditioning have worked to stunt our creativity. And that innate ability can be unleashed with a 12-week program of tools and exercises anyone can take on.
My Restaurant was My Life for 20 years. Does the World Need it Anymore?: Okay, one last poetic license. This one’s not a book, but a heart-wrenching New York Times Magazine piece written by chef Gabrielle Hamilton on the future of restaurants and dining in a post-pandemic world. Another example of terrific food writing. And there’s an audio version too!
Note: This is NOT sponsored content. We use this section to spotlight the recommendations of people we trust and admire. But the Amazon links are part of an affiliate program. So we could earn some revenue if you buy from Amazon.