Thursday, July 28, 2005

A list of ten most useful cookbooks

Many British newspapers reported today on a list of ten most useful cookbooks, as compiled by Waitrose Food Illustrated. The panel consisted of restaurateurs, chefs and consumers, among them Aldo Zilli, William Sitwell, John Torode, Sophie Grigson.

Here are the ten most useful cookbooks:

1 Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham

2 Delia's Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith

3 Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater

4 The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

5 A New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden

6 Leith's Techniques Bible by Susan Spaull and Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

7 Elizabeth David Classics by Elizabeth David

8 Rick Stein's Seafood School Cookbook by Rick Stein

9 Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook by Alice Waters

10 The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander

And the most useless cookbook? According to the panel, this title goes to the Larousse Gastronomique. Apparently it's "overrated, esoteric and stuffy" as well as "heavily biased towards all things French."

The list may seem a bit surprising, considering that many best-selling cookbooks (f. ex. by Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, Mrs Beeton) are absent, but apparently the jury panel was looking for durability, reliability and not celebrity.

Any comments on the above list from well-read foodbloggers?

If you're interested in more detail, check out the Waitrose Food Illustrated, or Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, London Evening Standard for instance.


Niki said...

The Cooks Companion by Stephanie Alexander is simply spectacular. It's known as the Orange Bible in Australia, and is owned by 1 in every three households. It's divided up into chapters by ingredient. Have a few bananas, but don't know what to do with them - her chapter will tell you about the different varieties, how best to store them, what ingredients they complement and a list of recipes. I know of people moving to Europe who leave behind all kinds of essentials to take along this enormous brick of a book. It weighs a ton.
I've never heard of the first book, but I do love Delia and Nigel Slater. I would have thought Nigella's Domestic Goddess would be there; it's an indispensible baking book, I think. Or How To Eat, which is just so damn sensible and thoughtful.
I have a bit of a crush on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall, but I wouldn't have thought his meat book was particularly useful. It's expensive and full of recipes for obscure cuts of meat...hmm.
But a pretty good list. And I agree with the sentiment about Larousse. Impenatrable!

Pille said...

Hi Niki - thanks for your thorough comment! Stephanie Alexander's book is on my wishlist (I got her "A Shared Table" as a gift from a visiting Australian friend ages ago, and really liked it, although it's very different from "The Cooks Companion"), and I would happily have many of the other books.. Funnily, I have books by quite a few of the listed authors (Nigel Slater, Delia Smith, Elizabeth David, Stephanie Alexander, and several by Claudia Roden, who's an absolute delight to read) but at the moment _none_ of the listed books. Sulk.
I'm a great fan of Nigella Lawson as well and would have expected to see her listed. Here's a quote from The Telegraph: "Unquestionably, Nigella is a legend and her food and recipes are extraordinarily good," said Mr Sitwell [of Waitrose Food Illustrated]. "Her book How to Eat is pretty invaluable and well written, but the competition is fierce."
So it was a close call:)

Anonymous said...

that list/panel is soooo biased. larousse gastronomique (unless they got a worthless edition) is not useless at all. so many generations of cooks/chefs learned their basics from larousse gastronomique. even *old* cookbooks, like beeton's, can't be called indispensable. what exactly was their criteria for "useful"??? besides 7, 9 and 10, i think that for the other choices -- or at least the 4 (5, 8, 2, and 1) that i'm familiar with -- there are much much better cookbooks that have dealt with those topics.

Joycelyn said...

hi pille, thanks for the tip-off - agree with most of the list. simon hopkinson's book, in particular, is wonderful. and can't say i'm a fan of the larousse ;)

Spinning Girl said...

Wow, you have been busy! I went away for a week and a half and I came back to all this new stuff!
ps The Barefot Contessa is the best!!!

Michèle said...

Hi Pille, such an interesting post. I guess its all very dependent on the person and how they like to cook, but its interesting to read what the "critics" consider the best. I dont actually have any of those books, but many of them are on my wish list. I do have the Larousse though, but it serves more as a curiosity than a regular cooking resource..

Pille said...

Stef - I guess all lists are biased to a degree - and the panel was quite Brit-heavy, so it's inevitably biased towards British cookbooks. I haven't seen the whole article in WFI yet (I guess it's in the September issue), so don't know all the criteria they used. Reading the newspaper articles gives some insight thou..

J - you're welcome! I'll try to check out Hopkinson's book one day soon. By the way - did you like the book about Georgian food?

Ketrav Tydruk - I'm trying to keep up:) I actually ate out quite a lot last week, so haven't had time to cook much. Soon.

Michele - thanks! If nothing else, then the list gives some food for thought, a chance to consider books we hadn't maybe thought about before.. I've been thumbing through Larousse few times, but am not really in the mood for encyclopaedic books or plain recipe books at the moment, so have not bought it.

Shaun said...

Pille - I'm just ducking into your archives for a bit, especially the cookery book reviews because I want to incorporate this as something regular in my blog (well, regular will mean one review per month, I think).

I, too, am surprised by the omission of Nigella Lawson from the Waitrose list. I say this because most people of our generation credit her with inspiring us to get to repossess the kitchen (it was really becoming a space in which to heat up leftovers from takeaway food or to make coffee, and that's it!). Her recipes and methods are adaptable and inspiring, often encouraging the uninitiated and the curious to seek out the world's cuisines. And her books, particularly "How to Eat" and "How to Be a Domestic Goddess", have withstood a small test of time in this age when too much is quickly digested and forgotten. They are the go-to books for many of us.

I am intrigued by the inclusion of "Roast Chicken and Other Stories" by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsay Bareham. It has been cited by many cookery book authors I admire. I should check it out.