One of my main tips I can offer in becoming a better cook/chef is to read as much as you can. Study recipes, read your Larousse, understand an ingredients history. So much of my knowledge has come from books, I read them constantly. When I sat back a few years ago to see just how many cookbooks I had, I thought a quirky (James) thing to do was to stack them from floor to ceiling. They towered above me…I’m 6ft 3 by the way.
It took me a few years to really appreciate a cookbook for what it was. You have a collection of recipes generally (in my collection anyway) written by a chef. Read the introduction to any cook book and get a feel it, how it’s creation came to be, it is the best words you’ll find in most cookbooks. Now read through the recipes and thank the author for sharing these ideas, these secrets, his or her inner most thoughts on food and technique – sharing is very important, just ask Fernand Point * [see quote below]
2 Books that have had significant influence to my career. One book came early on in my career, when I started to wise up and one later when I’d learnt how to cook and was looking to climb the next plateau.
A Chef for all Seasons – Gordon Ramsay - Half way through my apprenticeship I met a new sous chef who had sweated it in kitchens in London and she came back talking of a certain chef influencing food in the UK, he was one Gordon Ramsay…soon enough ‘Ramsay’s Boiling Point’ was on the box ( you want a real reality cooking show, get on youtube now and watch this, see what it takes!) I then found his first and later managed to find his second book. [pictured] Both books did a lot for my development and changed the way I looked at food for my remaining apprenticeship. The ultimate for me came when I stood with Gordon and discussed his books influence on my career…then he bought me lunch!
The French Laundry Cookbook – Thomas Keller – If there is one book that will never be lent to anyone…it’s this one. To end a pilgrimage around the globe I was on a mission to eat at ‘The Laundry’ Mission failed due to many reasons, so while in San Fran I did the next best thing to get a feel for what the number one chef in the world was doing and bought his book. It was for my career the next step. I’d been cooking seriously for 10 years, and learnt how to rattle a pan, now came the real learning. Understanding food, suppliers, providores, what it takes to grow vegetables, the discipline and love demanded to become a skilful chef. Invaluable, don’t ask it doesn’t leave my house.
What am I reading right now…
I’m constantly picking up my cookbooks locating ideas and flavour combinations. It’s a strange thing; I’ll have an idea and know where to locate an appropriate recipe from my corpus.
Two books by my bedside right now are…
Momofuku David Chang – just amazing. I’ve seen him talk and demo twice now, this was along time coming. A great great book.
The Whole Beast – Nose to tail eating – Fergus Henderson – This will never age and will long be talked about around the hobs in many kitchens. Fergus is a unique chef, just recently I met and chatted with him. Sometime even I need a slap in the face with what real food is.
An important thing to remember is that cookbooks will never depart from society, they are just far too important for the future of food, they have been for centuries.
* ‘The duty of a good cuisinier is to transmit to the generations who will replace him, everything he has learned and experienced.’ F. Point