The holiday season has moved in like a ninja this year: swift and unseen, appearing only at the last minute for a killing blow. Thwack! It’s time to start buying gifts for family and friends. If you’ve got a special cook in your life that you think is ‘kinda keen, then this year you should think about stuffing a little literary love in their stocking (not a metaphor).
I’ve been reading a lot this past year and I’ve been blessed with a lot of family and friends that have gifted me many books on food and kitchen life. I’ve compiled a short list of my favourites, why they pop and my recommendations for who might love finding them under the tree this Christmas.
There are a couple things about this year’s list that differ from the previous one:
- First off, there are no cookbooks – These are all prose books about the sourcing, harvesting, cooking and contemplation of food. You won’t find any Ferran Adria gastro-bibles or Company’s Coming stuff this time.
- Second, I’ve actually read them all! Like I said, I’ve spent a year with my head in a couple books and I want to share ‘em with the world!
- Third, and foremost – A lot of these books were gifts, so if you know someone as bent as me, go ahead, click that Order button and rest easy. They are going to love it.
Winter is the season for oysters, and if you want to look like a rock star at the Christmas Party you should read up on these delicious little bivalves. A Geography… covers the history of oyster cultivation, harvesting, lore, and all the regions and species between Apalachicola and our very own Quadra Island. The book is both comprehensive and entertaining, thanks to Jacobsen’s great sense of balance. Every time it seems like it’s becoming too academic, he throws in an entertaining anecdote. It’s a great casual read for anybody who delights in delicacies and a valuable resource for cooks and caterers.
Chef Gabrielle Hamilton takes us back to her childhood on an artistic farmstead and guides us through her entire journey to the professional chef she is today. Good times and bad times are shared equally with a charming mater-of-factness that really endears the reader to their (oftentimes misguided) narrator. The concept of “Home” and what it means to belong to a family, a culture, an industry, and a cuisine is a thread that runs throughout the book. Give it to an aspiring culinary student.
Chef Hamilton’s voice is unique in the world of culinary writing and it’s kind of a shame that she’s often pigeonholed as the female version of my next pick…
For those of us who thought that crazy Uncle Tony’s 2011 book Medium Raw jumped the shark a bit, a return to the classic lean, mean, drug-fueled cooking machine days of Kitchen Confidential is in order. It’s been 25 years since this passionate and vitriolic exposé of the professional cooking industry was first published, and it hasn’t lost a beat. In fact, the new “Insider’s Edition” published to celebrate the anniversary includes a new intro and hand-written notes by the author to supplement his already heartfelt prose. It’s a very special book for me, and for pretty much every cook I’ve ever met. In fact, I’ve lent it out at least four times over the last six years and never got my copy back. It was about time I got a new one… Just don’t buy one for your mom.
Here’s a clip of Tony discussing the anniversary, and his new additions to the book
This classic series of journalistic essays by Michael Ruhlman (prodigious food writer, and co-author of my favourite book on Charcuterie) were absolutely enthralling for me as a culinary student, and now years later, they continue to inspire. It begins with a day-by-day account of seven chefs and their attempt become Certified Master Chefs (the American version of our CCC) through a series of grueling tests, followed by two chapters dedicated to the lives, restaurants and cooking philosophies of two legends: Michael Symon and Thomas Keller. It’s an intense and inspirational book that I’ve re-read many times when I needed to re-center on what’s important in my job, and in life as well. Ruhlman has also written The Making of a Chef, and The Reach of a Chef, both of which I’m eager to read.
This is not a book about cooking or kitchen life, but it is something I think people of my particular warped mindset would really enjoy. It’s the collected wisdom of a guy from the Comox Valley who has, unbelievably, spent the majority of his adult life as a homeless person living off of the land. It’s part instruction guide on how to forage and survive without anything, and part philosophical treatise on why that shouldn’t matter. There’s plenty of information on the identification and harvesting of wild edibles, gardening and eating road kill… Wait, what? It’s a compelling read and a thought-provoking piece of truly local literature. Get it for your plaid-sporting adventurer friend who loves hunting for mushrooms… and zombies.
Happy Holidays Everyone!