Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

« Previous Post | Daily Dish Home | Next Post »

Greatest cookbooks ever: What would you choose?

What are the greatest cookbooks ever written? The International Assn. of Culinary Professionals is trying to determine that, with a new Culinary Classics award. Ten finalists were selected from a long list of nominees and five of those will be chosen. As a member of the IACP committee doing the selecting, I can report that the conversations were long and thoughtful. But I’m wondering what you would have chosen.

The main guideline was that the book had to have been published after 1940 and in English. New editions of previously published books could be honored, if they were significantly revised from the original.

The 10 we came up reflected the varied background of the judges: “The American Heritage Cookbook,” “A Book of Mediterranean Food” by Elizabeth David, “The Classic Italian Cook Book” by Marcella Hazan, “Delights and Prejudices” by James Beard, “The Gastronomical Me” by M.F.K Fisher, the 1975 edition of “Joy of Cooking” by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee, “Oxford Companion to Food” by Alan Davidson, and “Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.” The winners will be announced at the IACP convention June 2.

What would your five choices be? And which great books did we miss?

-- Russ Parsons

Photo: Julia Child. Credit: Paul Child

Comments () | Archives (29)

The comments to this entry are closed.

You missed a lot of great books because, of course, there are more than 10 great ones. I agree with earlier comments that not all of these are cookbooks. Certainly something by Alice Waters should have been on the list. I would also have added "The Vegetarian Epicure" by Anna Thomas, a true classic.

Physiologie du goût / par Brillat Savarin ; illustrée par Bertall

...but maybe it is not a cookbook.

Cooking books will forever relate to contemporary methods and ingredients available for the reader. The book by Brillat Savarin is one of the few that tries to rise over the manuel level in describing more eternal truths. That is what you have to do if you want to find 'the greatest cookbook ever written'.

As with any list, there are titles that will have you scratching your head in wonder. Criteria is important to know and this list has books that don’t even fit the category of cookbook—M. F. K. Fisher, Harold McGee, and Alan Davidson are examples. While at opposite ends of the cookbook spectrum I would include Elizabeth David and Julia Child. Elizabeth David’s writing is stellar and her recipes are sketches that assumes the reader has some common sense when it comes to cooking. Julia Child’s approach is totally different with recipes so detailed that only an idiot wouldn’t succed in following her instructions. My selections would be:

Julia Child et al Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1
Marcella Hazan Classic Italian Cook Book (both vol. 1 and 2, not the combined Essentials of)
Richard Olney’s Simple French Food and The French Menu Cookbook
Elizabeth David everything by her
Lindsey Sher’s Chez Panisse Desserts
James Beard American Cookery
Patience Gray Honey from a Weed
Paula Wolfert Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco

Not an original list, however, these books have been my most trusted friends for years and I could survive easily on these alone.

I feel like I'm at a family reunion when I read these comments. Everybody will have different opinions. As for myself, I would take advance the obscure. I make a distinction between recipe books and cookbooks. It's particularly difficult to choose only one Elizabeth David, but I would prefer her Italian Food-and use it. I think think Hints and Pinches and Delectable Dishes from Termite Hall by Eugene Walter have been completely neglected and deserve better. Although I highly regard their contributions to Louisiana's culinary prominence I think Mr. Prudhomme's works and Emeril's have been eclipsed by Marcelle Bienvenu's editing of the Times Picayune's Creole Cookbook-absolutely stunning. And for those of you who want to know what New Orleans really ate you will be shocked by From Woodstoves to Microwaves put out by the New Orleans Electric company. It's a recipe book. It was compiled from recipes sent out with the electric bills and handed out on trolley cars. None of that overspiced, over salted nonsense that has become tragic fodder for bad cooks over the past few decades. OK that's enough.

Time Life Cookbooks Series, esp Creole, India
Adele Davis, Let's Cook it Right
James Beard, American Cooking
A World of Breads, Doris Casella
Joy of Cooking (because my husband uses it)

Honey from a Weed

First, while these are fantastic books that I could not live without, “On Food and Cooking” and “Oxford Companion to Food” are not cookbooks. Which leaves “A Book of Mediterranean Food,” “The Classic Italian Cook Book,” “The Gastronomical Me,” “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and “Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen” as my favorites from the list.

Some favorites that were NOT on the list:"The Cuisines of Mexico" by Diana Kennedy, "Mrs. Chiang's Szechuan Cookbook" by Ellen Schrecker, and "Cousous and Other Good Food from Morocco" by Paula Wolfert.

Missing: Jacques Pépin's "La Technique.

My Five?
Delights & Prejudices
Classic Italian

imho Fisher was a great food writer, but her recipes are not memorable.

I recently bought Uchi, The Cookbook and it's a wonderful read!


I have at least 60 cookbooks, most cookbooks fail to provide any type of traditional techniques, that are often only provided in the best culinary schools. Both of my favorite cookbooks were purchased at goodwill for about a $1.00. a great place to find cookbooks that are not in print anymore. Here is my vote: THE TALISMAN Italian Cook Book by Ada Boni, publisher Crown Books 1950 year, and the second is the only book ever that taught me the correct way to make bread, titled: The Complete book of Breads by Bernard Clayton Jr, publisher Simon Schuster NY 1973.

Any book by Beard, especially the earlier works like "The Fireside Cook Book," 1949. The color illustrations are just as delicious as Beard's musings on "Fine Cooking for Beginner and Expert." Quite interesting to thumb through history and realize that 62 years ago Beard was introducing America to recipes and ingredients that they may not have ever heard of up to that point.

While it's not a cookbook, "The Flavor Bible" is a great source of inspiration for flavor pairings!

I find this type of list, especially when looked at through the lens of IACP politics, a good example of the "blind men and an elephant." (http://tinyurl.com/4nskh4c)

First there's the question as to how the Association defines the award versus how the voters will. It is called "Culinary Classics" which would imply to me meaning more than cookbooks, and as exemplified by the books by Fisher, McGee, and Davidson that are not cookbooks per see. You, however, refer to the awards as for cookbooks, which I feel the average IACP voter would interpret the award to be.

Second, there's the issue of why the first group of awards is being limited to five books. The smaller the list, to some extent, the more artificial it becomes. Major culinary works from the last 70 years are missing from the top ten, some arguably more important. Maybe, it's because the term "Culinary Classics" has been defined in the blog post. Otherwise, how does the committee justify "Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen" over the 1966 English translation of Montague's "Larousse Gastronomique"?

Another vote for Olney's Simple French Food.

Agree with the Child and Hazan and the edition of JoC. My top five, the ones I go back to over and over, are Simple French Food, Richard Olney; Floyd on Spain, Keith Floyd; The Cooking of South-West France, Paula Wolfert; Classic Indian Cooking, Julie Sahni; Bistro Cooking, Patricia Wells. And Larousse Gastronomique and Anne Willan's La Varenne Pratique are my Bible.

escoffier and la guide culinaire

The most significant american cookbook -- Fannie Farmer - defined the way every cook book after it was written.
Craig Clairborn's book and the NYT cookbooks.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison is the most instructive and resourceful cook book I have ever had the privilige to live with and learn from. I still cook from it, years after purchasing it. There is much explanatory material as well as a great range of recipes.

The most useful and beloved: the 1955 Betty Crocker cookbook. Loaded with information, and ways to make just about any basic recipe, with variations provided for almost every recipe. A bit sparing with spices, though. All recipes repeatedly tested. Perfect for a less experienced cook.

Some surprising choices, given the universe of possibilities. I'm wondering if you could expand a bit on why each book was deemed worthy of this award?

Delia's Complete Cookery Course (Classic Edition) by Delia Smith

Add one more Simple French Food, Richard Olney

My mom's.

The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking Through the Ages [Hardcover]
William Harlan, ed. Hale (Author)


The Tassajara Bread Book.

Simple French Food, Richard Olney

In no order, French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters, The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson.

The cookbook I grab off the shelf the most is JC's The Way to Cook.

The Joy of Cooking most definitely!


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Recent Posts
5 Questions for Thi Tran |  August 6, 2012, 8:00 am »
SEE-LA hires new executive director |  July 31, 2012, 9:34 am »
Food FYI: Actors reading Yelp reviews |  July 31, 2012, 9:16 am »
Test Kitchen video tip: Choosing a bread wash |  July 31, 2012, 6:04 am »



About the Bloggers
Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.