Cooking is a science as much as it is an art. But more than that, cooking is fun, and it’s accessible to all, whether you’re a Michelin-star chef or a disaster-prone mess in the kitchen.
That’s why there are quite a few beloved personalities who have put the joy of cooking into words. No, we’re not talking about cook books, but rather books about cooking—books that describe the freedom, philosophy, and art of putting together something tasty.
The Best Books About Cooking
Below are 12 books about cooking that will have you reaching for your whisk and anxiously awaiting dinner time.
1. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain’s revealing look at what goes on behind the kitchen doors of even the most acclaimed restaurants. Bourdain’s riveting memoir of his own experiences offers a scathingly honest account of drug abuse and other tales of debauchery that Bourdain both witnessed and partook in.
But in Kitchen Confidential, it becomes clear that Bourdain was not only a knowledgeable and seasoned veteran of the food industry, but also an incredibly talented storyteller. In fact, this book paved the way to his highly popular television gigs, which focused on his journeys around the world as a chef, writer, and lovably imperfect human.
2. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
On Food and Cooking is a kitchen classic, explaining where our food comes from, what it’s made of, and how it can be transformed into something new and delicious through the art of cooking.
The book covers everything you need to know about cooking as a science, including the traditional and modern methods of food production, how people in different places and times prepared the same ingredients with diverse methods, and tips for choosing the best ingredients and preparing them successfully.
3. Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist
Sure, Bread & Wine says a lot about food and cooking, but it also offers up a beautiful series of essays about family, friendship, and how food brings us together.
The author has been praised for her beautifully painted prose throughout the book, which will make readers feel like they’re listening to an old friend more than reading a book about food.
To conclude most chapters, Niequist provides a recipe that relates to a specific memory or experience from her life.
4. We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook by Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph
The mother and daughter duo behind We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook dish about their bond, the food they love, and the hilarious stories they’ve collected throughout the years.
Between the pages you’ll also find some of the recipes they love to cook and share, from hot meals for sick friends to lunches for toddlers. This book is especially a must-read for mothers and daughters who love to cook (or eat) together.
5. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Before opening her highly successful restaurant Prune in New York, Gabrielle Hamilton occupied many kitchens, each one quite different from the next.
Blood, Bones & Butter is her account of those experiences and how each has shaped her path, from her mother’s rural kitchen, to the hospitality she received from strangers during her time in France, Greece, and Turkey, and finally her Italian mother-in-law’s kitchen, which serves as the connection between her past and future.
Hamilton serves up her story with grit, humor, and an undying passion for good cooking,
6. Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Ruth Reichl is a world-renowned food critic and one of the most high-profile experts on excellent cuisine in the U.S. As such, Reichl understood the importance of maintaining anonymity when reviewing restaurants, so she came up with some pretty creative disguises.
Garlic and Sapphires documents some of the eccentric personalities she took on for her work, while also revealing her thoughts on how one’s outer appearance can influence character, expectations, and of course, the quality of service received.
7. The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten
Upon being appointed a food critic for Vogue, Jeffrey Steingarten decided it was time to overcome his opposition to foods like lard, Greek cuisine, and anything blue.
Thus, he set upon a journey through Alsace, Japan, Sicily, and other locations to try some of these regions’ most beloved staples. This book is his account of those travels and meals, along with a handful of hilarious experiences that are sure to entertain and recipes that will certainly delight.
8. How to Eat by Nigella Lawson
Nigella Lawon’s How to Eat is part cookbook, but it’s also simply a delicious read, whether you’re in the kitchen or lounging in your backyard.
Lawson explains how she thinks about food and how she creates new recipes in her head, while also offering hundreds of savory recipes. Because her voice is relatable and down to earth, the recipes remain accessible to even the most novice of home cooks and are a joy to read.
9. The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
If you’re considering a culinary education or simply wondering what it takes to become a professional chef, you’ll definitely want to check this one out.
Journalist Michael Ruhlman joined students at the Culinary Institute of America, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious cooking school, to learn more about the profession and the people who enter it. Ruhlman documents the atmosphere of tension and competition to give a compelling account of a professional culinary education.
10. The Apprentice by Jacques Pépin
Legendary chef Jacques Pépin tells his life story in this captivating memoir. From his childhood in Nazi-occupied France, to his years as Charles De Gaulle’s personal chef, Pépin recalls his extraordinary career and inspiring life.
Along the way, readers will also see how Pépin and his contemporaries, such as Julia Child, transformed America’s culinary scene and made food a national discussion. You’ll also find 40 of the chef’s favorite recipes.
11. Heat by Bill Buford
Writer Bill Buford left his job at the New Yorker to try his hand as a line cook at Mario Batali’s revolutionary new restaurant, Babbo. His passion for Italian cuisine then takes him on an even greater journey, this time to the boot itself to discover the secrets of pasta-making and pig-slaughtering.
Buford shines a light on the complexities of Italian cooking while offering humorous and insightful narratives of his own experiences.
12. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
When Julie Powell finds herself trapped in a dead-end secretarial career, she decides to take back control of her life by taking on a daring challenge: to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 years.
Not only does Julie gain an education in French cuisine, but she also learns how to live a life full of gusto and flavor. You can also check out the film version with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, but the book is definitely worth a read first.
Food and Literature
Life’s better with good food and good books. Check out one of the 12 books above to feel inspired to cook up something great this evening.
Then, put your new culinary wisdom to work and try one of these literary recipes to whip up some of our favorite foods from literature.
What’s your favorite thing about cooking? Share your thoughts or favorite dishes in the comments below!