I’ve found in the past few years, especially living in the culinary mecca of NYC, that discovering more about the food ecosystem has been an integral part of my culinary education. Reading stories from the perspectives of the chefs, editors, and people close to food has helped me to gain an even deeper understanding and appreciation of what I put into my body, and all that has gone into food prior to it arriving on my plate. Note that this is a great starter list, but there are infinitely more options to layer on top of these books. Read on for my favorite food-related books.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma & Cooked – I’ll say it: Michael Pollan changed my life. This is two for the price of one here, because you absolutely must read both books. Start with The Omnivore’s Dilemma – it dives into our moral responsibility as human beings to think about where our food is coming from and what that means. Then read Cooked – which dives into the history of food and how human beings create it. Lastly, you can watch the Netflix micro-series Cooked, which is visually stunning. And Pollan narrates it.
Blood, Bones, and Butter – Ever waited in line for brunch at Prune? You may or may not have seen the chef, Gabrielle Hamilton, who is also the author of this memoir. It is witty, full of life, and full of intel about Hamilton’s journey to open an iconic NYC restaurant.
Kitchen Confidential – The classic story of the bad boy in the kitchen. Anthony Bourdain’s autobiography is down and dirty, even graphic at times, but exposes the underbelly of kitchen life in a way that feels explicitly raw and real.
Tender at the Bone – Famed food editor and recipe guru Ruth Reichl sheds light on the quirky childhood that shaped her love of food in this touching memoir. From a mother who didn’t believe in expiration dates to stints in the restaurant industry to living in a hippie-esque commune, Reichl shares the stories that paved the way for her rise to the apex of the food world.
Real Food/Fake Food – Ever wonder what’s in that Sam’s Club vat of olive oil that claims to be “all natural” and “extra virgin” on the label? Turns out that the US has incredibly lax standards when it comes to what’s in your food and on the label. This expose sheds some light on what you should be looking for.
Yes Chef – Travel to Sweden by way of Ethiopia and then back to Harlem with Marcus Samuelsson’s fantastic autobiography. All of the people and culinary influences that made Marcus a top chef come to life in this work (and you’ll need to make a reservation at Red Rooster once you finish that last page).
Cooking for Mr. Latte – Anyone who reads the incredible blog Food52 (I do so, daily) will adore this memoir from the CEO. At its core, it’s a love story about how Hesser met and fell in love with her husband, but food plays the third wheel in their relationship. There are recipes sprinkled throughout that I am slowly working my way through – try the coconut cake 🙂