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  • The Chopping Blog

Top Ten Fancy Chef Books for the Fancy Cook in Your Life

Posted by Max on Dec 22, 2022


If you’re one of those among us who celebrates one of the winter gift giving holidays that terminate near the end of December then by the time this post comes out you will technically still have some time to finalize your gift shopping. If you are buying for an ambitious chef (or are one yourself), I wanted to share some ideas that might make your shopping a bit easier, especially if whoever you’re buying for happens to be a pathological bibliophile like myself (my wife doesn’t even know about all the books I have in the mail right now, and that's true). Full disclosure, some of these options will definitely not make your shopping easier due to their price, or lack of availability, or both. However, if you do happen to get your hands on any of the more exotic options then your gift-ee will definitely owe you a handwritten thank you note at the very least.

title imageNow I will readily admit that this list is heavily influenced by my personal taste in high end cooking. This is not meant to be a list of the ten best restaurants that happen to have cookbooks (though they all are cookbooks from chefs running high end restaurants), and it is certainly not meant to be comprehensive. Rather this is a list compiled from my personal library, and therefore books with which I am intimately familiar and feel good about recommending. Furthermore, for the most part, these books are not books I cook out of often. For me, and I think most chefs who are into collecting books of this nature, these books are more about inspiration, and occasional guidance on particular techniques, than they are for practical kitchen application. However, the better you get at cooking, the less important recipes become, and the importance of ideas take their place.

With all the intros and caveats out of the way let's get into the list. In no particular order, here we go:

  1. On Vegetables by Jeremy Fox — currently available from org for $46.45

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Chef Jeremy Fox rose to prominence cooking a vegetable focused tasting menu at Ubuntu in California (now closed). Though the restaurant didn’t serve any meat or meat products, Chef Fox’s mantra there was always “Vegetables, not vegetarian.” He wanted to distinguish his cuisine from cooking that was satisfactory despite not having any meat. His vision was to construct dishes that allowed the vegetables to be the main event to such a degree that even after many courses you wouldn’t even notice there hadn’t been any meat. Most would agree he was successful in this endeavor, including the Michelin panel which awarded him a star for his cooking at the now defunct restaurant. Modern high end cooking is becoming more and more vegetable focused (look no further than Eleven Madison Park, once a temple of indulgent luxury, taking their menu completely vegan in 2020), and we can thank Jeremy Fox for being one of the early chefs (among other less championed but no less important chefs like Amanda Cohen) who took this philosophy to a higher level.

  1. Frantzen by Björn Frantzen — currently available from frantzengroup.com for $54.18

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The seemingly endlessly lauded Swedish chef Björn Frantzen has garnered acclaim from just about every entity responsible for letting the public know which fancy restaurants are worth their time. The restaurant that this book chronicles is a temple to hedonism where every dish makes you go “how is it allowed to put that many of the greatest ingredients in the world onto one plate?” Not to say that the cooking is overwrought or needlessly complicated. It’s just indulgent on opulent in a way that I find exciting instead of annoying and boring. The construction of the book is beautiful, and the photography and editorial design are absolutely gorgeous. Even the edges of the pages are gilded.

image 3This is a truly inspirational tome even if it would take me a month to save enough money to buy the ingredients for even an amuse bouche.

  1. Astrance: A Cook’s Book by Pascal Barbot — currently available from Amazon starting at $655.07 (and going up from there)

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Right, this one is very expensive, and typically not easy to find because it is out of print (probably should have taken better care of my copy). That said, Pascal Barbot is a legendary chef working in Paris, and this book is a treasure because it's not just stories and recipes. It is a book attempting to communicate how Pascal actually cooks. It focuses on technique, ideas, and step by step instructions with pictures. This is so unbelievably rare when it comes to books from chefs of this caliber. This book feels like the author is actually invested in getting you to be able to cook at his level (yeah, right) and is trying his absolute best to get you there without you actually having to set foot in his kitchen (which would be, I’m sure, terrifying).

  1. Kobe Desramaults by Kobe Desramaults — currently available from Amazon from $166-$800

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This book by one of the most widely acclaimed chefs cooking in the New Nordic style has absolutely no recipes, but with its interviews, laconic yet evocative dish descriptions, premium paper (some of the monochrome photos are printed on heavyweight silver metallic paper), and breathtaking food and editorial photography, this book is perhaps the best inspirational cookbook I own. It chronicles the cooking at In de Wulf, the restaurant that made him famous, then the closing of that restaurant, and opening and cooking at his next high end restaurant called Chambre Separee (now also closed. Kobe has been experimenting with a model where his restaurants have a set expiration date regardless of their success). It's well worth a read, and a re-read, and frequent revisits. You’ll almost certainly never cook out of it, but that's not really the point.

  1. Etxebarri by Juan Pablo Cardenal & Jon Sarabia — currently available from bookshop.org for $49.95

 image 6The only book on this list that isn’t authored by the chef of the restaurant it documents, this book attempts to show the deep passion and philosophy of chef Bittor (Victor) Arguinzoniz who helms Asador Etxebarri in the Basque region of Spain. This restaurant peaked at number three on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and is all the more impressive because every single morsel of food that comes out of their kitchen is cooked over live fire. There's not a gas burner, or induction cooktop anywhere in the place. This is simple cooking at is absolute peak. The secret to this type of cooking is a seemingly maniacal pursuit of quality ingredients, extremely careful cooking, and very little else. This is reflected in the ingredient lists of the dishes in the book; most of which top out at around four ingredients. That said, the book does a good job of communicating what to look for when you’re trying to source the absolute best quality ingredients, and how to handle them with careful precision. It's also fascinating to see the special tools and techniques this extraordinary chef has developed to cook all these delicate and rare ingredients over the most chaotic and unpredictable heat source you can find: actively burning wood fire.

  1. Faviken: 4015 Days from Beginning to End by Magnus Nilsson — currently available from bookshop.org for $55.75 

image 7The second book by the isolated wunderkind of New Nordic cuisine. This book is fascinating because it was released after the closing of this widely acclaimed, and two Michelin starred, restaurant. This freed Nilsson to fill the book not only with beautiful photographs and recipes for almost every dish that was ever cooked at the place, but also with lengthy essays and anecdotes that offer surprisingly candid takes on the state of high end cooking and restaurants (by and large, not flattering). This is one of the only cookbooks in recent memory that I have read cover to cover without putting down. Nilsson’s philosophy is as spartan and practical as it is unusual, and he describes techniques that are somehow simultaneously perfectly in line with common sense, and flying in the face of what is traditionally taught. His writing is trenchant and invigorating, and communicates a personal style in a way that very few chefs have the literary chops to achieve. Highly recommended.

  1. Relae: A Book of Ideas by Christian Puglisi — currently available from bookshop.org for $50.00

 image 8This is another book that attempts to go beyond pretty photos and recipes (though it certainly has those) to provide a look into how the chef actually thinks and approaches food. Though Relae recently closed, it was widely hailed as one of the best fine dining options in Copenhagen, one of the most Michelin-starred cities in the world, and home to the current best restaurant in the world (according to the 50 best list). This is one of my most revisited books on this list. It is a treasure trove of ideas, and does a commendable job of laying out the considerable content in an easy to reference manner. This is an oldie but a goodie of the highest order.

  1. The Wizard’s Cookbook by Ronny Emborg — Currently a single copy available on eBay for $2000.00

image 9 Are you going to buy this book? Almost definitely not. Both the average price of available copies and the incredible scarcity of said copies make this book a real bummer to get your hands on (not to mention the fact that because the cover bears neither a title nor an author’s name it took me hours of internet sleuthing to even figure out what book it was after seeing it on a friends Instagram story with some obnoxious caption like “if you know you know”). However those things, and the almost legendary status of the Chef author, makes it a sort of holy grail of collectible cookbooks. Emborg’s cooking is precise, inspired, and unique, despite drawing from many pools of modern inspiration. There is nothing quite like it. More of a crown jewel than something I reference frequently, this book does not offer a lot of practical use aside from inspiration, but that doesn’t make it any less of a desirable piece to add to one’s collection. It does, however, contain a cheeky little epigram in the back of the book right before the index for those of us that are inclined to skip right to the good stuff.

image 10It was, and I am

Of course it’s beautifully photographed and designed, and offers a glimpse into a chefs cooking style that is truly unique on the modern stage, but its this book’s rarity that drives its price and demand. An amazing find if you can get your hands on it, and a book any cookbook obsessed chef or collector surely longs to own. Godspeed.

  1. Bras: The Tastes of Aubrac by Sebastien Bras — currently available from bookshop.org for $55.75

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This is a newly released book by the son of legend of legends Michel Bras. Michel was your favorite chef’s favorite chef and many people lamented his official retirement from cooking a few years ago. But this book shows that his son has taken the mantle and continued to push this stalwart of modern French cooking further into the future. The Bras’s cooking is unlike anything else in France. It almost feels like they are living on their own planet. Driven by the seasons, and the natural world, but filtered through the lens of these two tremendously creative chefs. Sebastien is clearly invested in keeping the spirit of his father’s cooking alive, while updating it with his own life experiences and ideas. A great way to get a glimpse into this vaunted kitchen without shelling out a few hundred dollars for one of Michel’s books.

  1. Noma 2.0: Vegetable Forest Ocean by Rene Redzepi, Mette Søberg, and Junichi Takahashi — currently available from bookshop.org for $69.75 

image 12Rene Redzepi will almost certainly go down as one of the 21st century’s most influential chefs. He invented New Nordic cuisine which ushered in an entirely new school of thought in global gastronomy. If you know a chef that is into naturalist presentations, foraging, fermentation, hyperlocal sourcing, micro-seasonal cooking, or just about any other hallmark of modern fine dining, they owe Redzepi for pushing it into the mainstream. This is the third cookbook from Noma (fourth if you count their fermentation guide), and it documents the tremendous change in style the restaurant adopted after closing and moving to a new location. Noma has won just about every award there is for a restaurant to win, and has shot to the top of pretty much every best-of list in the world at some point or another. The cooking in this book is creative to a degree that can be hard to fathom, but somehow manages to still be a useful repository for techniques and pantry staples. Even if you already own all the other Noma books this one is worth picking up. It’s something completely new.

If this post has inspired you to take up some fancy pants cooking of your own (guided by yours truly (we can talk about cookbooks if you want!)) I encourage you to check out our virtual New Years Eve Workshop on Saturday, December 31 at 6pm CST. I hope to see you there!

Register now

Topics: cookbooks, restaurants, restaurant, cookbook, Cookbooks & Tools, author

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