Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The Best of Cookbooks…

As a chef, I often get asked all sorts of things.  What’s your favorite dish?  What do I do with arugula?  What’s the best sauce?  How do I cook X?  Who’s your favorite chef?  What’s the best cookbook?

These are questions that are often complicated. Favorite dish changes on a whim, because what you’re in the mood for depends on the season, depends on who you’re with, depends on how you feel that day.  Arugula has lots of uses.  Best sauce with what?  Lots of ways to prepare a lot of things, so it’s sort of a loaded gun sort of question.

But the last two are fairly easy for me.  Hands down, it is Jacques Pepin.  No question. No equivocation. Jacques is THE man in my book. An amazingly skilled chef, he is likewise a gifted teacher, an advocate for the profession, someone who loves food, and has an attitude that is generous and wide when it comes to cuisine. La Technique

was a brilliant and accessible way to bring the fundamentals of French cuisine to the masses.  His work and his passion earned him France’s highest civilian honor, the Légion d’honneur. He is very much one of my culinary heroes.

Not surprisingly, he also wrote the cookbook that recommend to folks who want to get their feet wet in cooking.  Jacques’ Art of Cooking is easily the most accessible, and best cookbook that I can recommend for beginners and enthusiasts alike.  Jacques is very much a teacher, and this pair of books is not only lavish with illustrations, it is a course in cooking. From stocks to patisserie, from fish to meats, from various cutting techniquest and presentation, it is very much a course in cooking that leads one recipe at a time to teaching the fundamentals of cooking, and with step by step instructions, and each recipe builds skills to take to the next. They are an investment in skills, and when I recommend them, it isn’t just for the recipes, but for what amounts to an education in the craft that I love. His enthusiasm and joy for that craft is evident, and it is a joy just to look through, and for beginners and enthusiasts alike, the pair of books are an ode to the craft and art in the kitchen, and done with simplicity an elegance.

Get these first, and take the time to sit down with them. Not just for the recipes, but for the technique and the skills that are presented.  For the joy and the artistry.  For the basic fundamentals that will build your own skills and develop your own eye and taste.  I cannot recommned these books enough, and for the beginner, they are gold. Far more so than The Professional Chef by the Culinary Institute of America–which is far better suited as a text for the burgeoning professional, than for laymen looking to improve their skills.  The key to Pepin is always the joy of sharing, and that is what good cooking is about. Sharing with those you love, sharing good times, sharing something that is basic and commonplace, and elevated by the company.  

Crossposted to The Suicidal Cactus Hour


  1. xenophon41

    Thanks for your article; there’s few things more enjoyable than listening to someone talk about something they love.  This comes through when I watch Jacques, and it comes through in your writing as well.

    As a stay at home husband (read: “unemployed”, first by circumstance and later by spousal request), I’ve rediscovered my own joy in making and sharing food.  Jacques Pepin is, as you say, one of the most accessible popularizers of cooking out there.

    The thing I most enjoy about Pepin is that whether he’s cooking on his own, with his daughter or with another great chef, he never comes across as a “personality” with a cooking show; he’s just a guy showing you something cool.  Like any great teacher.

  2. jsfox

    And the biggest mistake you may have ever made was letting me know you are a chef 🙂

    I love Pepin and have his French Chef Cooks at Home. But I must say the one who made me feel the most comfortable in the kitchen was Pierre Franey. This was where my cookbook collection started and has grown and grown every since. From the straightforward How To Cook Everything to the odd and eclectic such as David Chang’s Momofuku. There isn’t a recipe in this book that just doesn’t petrify me.

    Another good technique book is James Peterson’s Cooking.

    And if you love food anything by M.F.K. Fisher.

  3. For Christmas. It takes a totally different approach to cooking, looking at flavours and how they mix (like colours on a palette) so that people can find a herb, meat, vegetable, cheese or other flavour, and rapidly find contrasting by complimentary ingredients.

    It’s been a huge hit. I got the last two copies in the biggest bookstore in London. Dunno if it’s published in the US yet. It’s called….

    (I think this must be the US edition. The UK edition gives a sense of the ‘flavour wheel’ which uses colour to grade the different complementary elements)

  4. spacemanspiff

    This is perfect timing since I am getting my feet wet.

    Well I had thought about it so this kind of pushed me into the water.

    Maybe I should write a diary everytime I try to cook. lol!

    I’m stopping by Borders tomorrow and getting Art of Cooking.

    Jacque and spiff are going to become friends.  lol!

    Hope I don’t burn anything down. This should be interesting.

    I’ll keep you posted.

  5. Strummerson

    What I appreciate is that it gives just the right amount of prescriptive advice, explanation of why, and encourages you to take the recipe and develop it in different ways, with initial hints of what might work.

    I’ll have to check out Pepin.  Maybe I’ll ask for it for Father’s Day.  

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