It has been a bold year for cookbook publishers. There’s little chance of the high interest in food waning for a while yet, and many finely crafted and well-written books have been published locally and overseas. I have drooled over the glossy photos of several restaurant books, been moved to tears by the personal stories of cooks and chefs and occasionally been inspired to jump up from my desk, rush to the kitchen and actually get cooking.
Books always make delightful gifts, and finding the appropriate food book for a friend or family member shows thought and care. Don’t forget to include an exchange card; last Christmas a young friend of mine received three copies of the same book, but had trouble returning surplus copies. Here are my personal picks, chosen from the piles of books I have encountered in 2012. Each section is listed in alphabetical order.
TOP FIVE NEW ZEALAND COOKBOOKS
Bangers to Bacon, by Jeremy Schmid
(New Holland, $45)
The owner/chef of popular Auckland restaurant Two Fifteen in Dominion Rd shares his expertise, with techniques for sausage-making and charcuterie. Filled with tips for curing, brining, smoking and air-drying meat, and comprehensive illustrated explanations of every step of sausage-making and fine meaty recipes, it is appealing in its simplicity. Will appeal to cooks wanting help to demystify the processes involved.
Peter Gordon Everyday, by Peter Gordon
Master of fusion and New Zealand’s brightest international culinary star, Peter Gordon shares his everyday home cooking. The recipes, all with ingredients found at the supermarket, are simpler than the restaurant fare for which he is known and the recipes in his previous books. It is a user-friendly book, with clear instructions and lots of photos and it will sit perfectly on the kitchen bench.
Pipi the Cookbook, by Alexandra Tylee
(Random House, $65)
I can’t remember a book that captures the essence of any chef and her restaurant quite as well as this one. Pipi, the casual and slightly eccentric restaurant in Havelock North, loved by locals for its warm atmosphere, offers a fresh menu of pizzas, local fish and more. Owner/chef Alexandra Tylee shares her life, the region, her restaurant, fine poetry and, most importantly, her simple family recipes. Every page is a delight.
The Engine Room, by Natalia Schamroth & Carl Koppenhagen
Diners flock to the Engine Room for the stunning yet familiar food. Owner/chefs Schamroth and Koppenhagen cook food that makes you think, “Maybe I could have done this at home”, but you know their magic would be lost in translation. With their stylish and artfully designed and photographed cookbook, you can almost taste the restaurant on every page. They’ve shared more than 100 of their recipes, so maybe you can cook like them at home, after all.
The Taste of Central Otago, by Pete Gawron
In a year of magical cookbooks, this is a standout for its gorgeous presentation, its beautiful Aaron McLean photos and its stories by Pete Gawron. He’s the passionate chef/owner of the renowned Saffron restaurant in Arrowtown. The pair documented a complete year, capturing the essence of the district and its food in every season. The recipes are a delicious tangle of influences, reflecting Gawron’s passion for travel, local knowledge of everything edible and appreciation of seasonal change in the kitchen.
TOP FIVE INTERNATIONAL COOKBOOKS
Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi
(Random House $64.99)
This book became a runaway best-seller throughout the world, which would have come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Ottolenghi’s previous books, Ottolenghi and Plenty. The authors, a Muslim and a Jew, both from Jerusalem, are friends and business partners in London’s successful Ottolenghi restaurants. Their exciting recipes are bright and highly original, with an array of intriguing spicy dishes garnered from their home city. The colourful diversity of Jerusalem is also captured. An essential addition to the shelves of any adventurous cook.
My Umbrian Kitchen, by Patrizia Simone
(Penguin Lantern, $70)
Tucked into the northeastern corner of Victoria is a special Italian restaurant, Simone’s of Bright. Owner and chef Patrizia Simone hails from Umbria, and in this handsome book she shares the food, recipes and landscape of that rich region of Italy. The recipes translate beautifully from her birthplace to her adopted homeland of Australia. She’s a warm, traditional cook and photographer Simon Griffith’s accompanying images have captured an atmosphere and the authentic food of both Umbria and Bright.
Origin: The Food of Ben Shewry, by Ben Shewry
(Murdoch Books, $120)
Reading this enormously personal book, I laughed and cried, and at times the honest text almost took my breath away. Ben Shewry, Taranaki-born and raised, is a chef with Attica, a top-rating Melbourne restaurant. One of the rising stars on the world’s culinary stage, he has retained humility and he shares his respect for his family and his roots. With stunning photography to illustrate his farm upbringing and a full description of the influences and experiences that have shaped him, this book will be inspirational for fine chefs and a joy for lovers of restaurants and food. New Zealanders can feel proud to be connected with him.
Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (of Sorts), by Russell Norman
Beautifully bound and presented, Polpo is a book of inspirational recipes from the restaurant of the same name in London’s Soho district. The popular casual eatery has a simple formula of serving Venetian-inspired small plates of delicious fare. One of the year’s most original and beautiful books.
The Kitchen Diaries II, by Nigel Slater
(Fourth Estate, $59.99 )
Another worthy gem from Nigel Slater, who may be the world’s best food writer. His enthusiasm for food shines. Slater is very much a home cook, with simply delicious food to enjoy and share every day. It’s not fussy, and it’s always cooked straight from the heart – and from his garden. A solid book to wallow in; his jottings and notes collected over several years make even the most mundane details and practical observations of his kitchen a fascinating read.
TOP FIVE LITERARY FOOD BOOKS
A History of Food in 100 Recipes, by William Sitwell
Sitwell, the accomplished editor of British food magazine Waitrose Kitchen, has a natural curiosity for the stories and history of food and it took him on a journey from early Egyptian cookery to today’s contemporary star chefs and cooks. The recipes he uncovered and his scholarly investigation make a fascinating read of the history of European and some American food. A lovely book that can be read in small bites.
Food Heroes, by Simon Farrell-Green
This celebration of artisan producers and stars from the boutique side of our food industry is beautifully written and photographed. There are many stories to be told about our food, and here the personalities, the sheer hard work and the brilliance of our finest artisans are captured on every page. Meet more than 20 of New Zealand’s food heroes, and learn of their contribution to our exciting food scene.
The Art of the Restaurateur, by Nicholas Lander
(Phaidon Press, $70)
In a world where the new celebrity is a chef who shouts at us from the television screen most nights, it’s refreshing to read and learn about the skills of a true restaurateur. Lander owned a successful restaurant in Soho, London, and now travels widely as the Financial Times reviewer. He’s well qualified to single out some of the world’s finest restaurateurs and identify their success. A great read for anyone who has a passion for understanding what makes the restaurant world tick.
Who Put the Beef in Wellington? by James Winter
(Kyle Books, $45)
This quirky book selects 50 classic recipes and cocktails from around the world and delves into the stories behind them. Winter uncovers the controversy of just who invented a dish, then tells the true tale – they make fascinating reading. Each recipe and tale is accompanied by a contemporary version of the presentation and method and colour photos. It is an excellent reference book and a reminder of the true classics of the kitchen.
Yes, Chef, by Marcus Samuelsson
(Random House, available on request)
This internationally recognised Ethiopian-born chef was adopted into a Swedish family and has blazed a trail to become a star in the top echelon of the US culinary scene. His remarkable story is told with honesty and insight. It is one of the most riveting food reads of the year for me, combining personal triumph and tragedy with descriptions of his work and food philosophy.
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Entries close at 5pm on Friday, December 14.