Julia Child! Michael Ruhlman! Patricia Wells! The Best Books About Food! Pt. 1

Behold the professional kitchen. Skilled Chefs use their culinary skills to create masterpieces, meant to nourish as well as entertain us. In that spirit, I wanted to share what I consider to be my favorite books about food.

When you type “plate of food” into google, this is what pops out. And it is, in fact, a plate of food. But if you want truly majestic food, like the image below, you must seek out the best Chefs in the world.

These are the “Lobster Mitts” from The French Laundry. That’s not just food, that is art.

Since you know how much I love food, I wanted to share some of what I consider to be the most entertaining books about food, and the love of food.

No, there will not be any books that celebrate the mighty Cheeseburger – not this post at least. and yes, I left a number of great books out…don’t worry, there is more to come – this will be a 3-part post in order to fit it all in – so grab an apron and let’s get started!

“Mediterranean Summer” by Chef David Shalleck and Erol Munuz. David Shalleck is a Chef who took a job cooking for a wealthy Italian couple. But not at their villa – no, Shalleck cooked on board one of these:

Chef Shalleck spent a season cooking aboard their private yacht as they cruised the French Cote d’Azur and Italy’s Costa Bella. This book is full of fun adventures, and interesting insight into cooking. Go to his website: http://www.mediterraneansummer.com, which is full of great articles, recipes and updates from the book…

As the site itself states: “An alluring and evocative summer voyage on the Mediterranean Sea and into the enchanting coastal towns of France and Italy by the young chef aboard an Italian billionaire couple’s spectacular sailing yacht.”

A really fun read – part travelogue, part cooking memoir, and some recipes to boot!

“Cooking For Kings: The Life of Antonin Careme, the First Celebrity Chef” by Ian Kelly.

Here is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about this terrific biography of the world’s first celebrity chef: Readers who enjoy being privy to the evocative details of a past era will devour this book, and foodies will have a field day with the engrossing story of a man who literally died for gastronomy. Carême (1783–1833) was born poor in Paris, and by his late 20s he was already Europe’s most famous chef. He cooked for monarchs and noblemen, even baking Napoleon’s wedding cake, and his fame dovetailed with the rising interest in gastronomy. Luckily, Carême was also a prodigious author who recorded every major meal and became rich off his cookbooks.

The scale of Carême’s meals will astonish today’s readers: he served literally hundreds or even thousands of elaborate dishes for throngs of guests. He’d cook for weeks on end without a break, and Kelly theorizes that he eventually died of “low-level carbon-monoxide poisoning after a lifetime of cooking over charcoal in confined spaces.”

The book is packed with great drawings and recipes that attempt to capture what a genius Carame was — and not just food: we can thank Carême for numerous culinary advances, including chef’s toques, which he invented, and the course-by-course meal service we’re accustomed to today.

The Apprentice: My Life In The Kitchen by Jacques Pepin

What a fantastic book this is! I was mildly interested in reading the story of Jacques Pepin’s life – but I had NO idea it was so full of amazing adventures and achievements. Here is what Amazon says about the book:

“With sparkling wit, occasional humility, and a delightfully curated selection of recipes, Jacques Pépin tells the captivating story of his rise from a terrified thirteen-year-old toiling in an Old World French kitchen to an American superstar — he was one of the earliest pioneers of culinary television — who changed American tastes with his culinary wizardry and ad-libbed charm. The Apprentice begins in prewar France, with young Jacques cutting his teeth in his mother’s small restaurants. When he moves to Paris, we see tantalizing glimpses of Sartre and Genet, and in his role as Charles de Gaulle’s personal chef, Jacques witnesses history from a remarkable vantage point behind the swinging kitchen door. In America, he rejects an offer to be chef in the Kennedy White House, choosing instead to work at Howard Johnson’s.”


You can see from this picture with Julia Child, he always had a twinkle in his eye, and this book is a fast-paced, fascinating look at a great Chef – and yes, the book is full of recipes, too!

My Life In France – Julia Child and Alex Prud’Homme. Speaking of Julia Child, here is the classic book about her life in France, which led to her becoming America’s greatest cooking personality.

Julia Child single handedly created a new approach to American cuisine with her cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and her television show “The French Chef”, but as she reveals in this bestselling memoir, she was not always a master chef. Indeed, when she first arrived in France in 1948 with her husband, Paul, who was to work for the USIS, she spoke no French and knew nothing about the country itself. But even before she could cook, Julia knew how to shock – just look at this Valentine’s Day card she sent out one year!

Her book vividly recounts her culinary education, from taking classes at the Cordon Bleu to her struggles with the head of the Cordon Bleu, rejections from publishers to whom she sent her now-famous cookbook, and a nearly fifty-year long marriage that took them across the globe. She became an icon – so much so that Dan Aykroyd parodied her on Saturday Night Live in the 70’s:

And of course, Meryl Streep portrayed her brilliantly in the movie “Julia & Julia…

This book is a great food memoir and love story as well…

“We’ve Always Had Paris…And Provence” by Patricia and Walter Wells.
Speaking of love stories, here is one that I have had the opportunity to see up close – here is the Amazon writeup of Patricia Wells and her memoir:

“Patricia Wells, long recognized as the leading American authority on French food, and her husband, Walter, live the life in France that many of us have often fantasized about. After more than a quarter century, they are as close to being accepted as “French” as any non-natives can be. In this delightful memoir they share in two voices their experiences—the good, the bad, and the funny—offering a charming and evocative account of their beloved home and some of the wonderful people they have met along the way.”

Patricia Wells has published a number of food guides and cookbooks, and they are all terrific. Here is just one of my favorites:

Patricia and Walter own a home in Provence, which they open up several weeks a year for a cooking class – one that Alex and I were able to attend in 2009. Here we are with Patricia, posing in front of the Julia Child’s stove – a gift from Julia:

What is so much fun about the cooking class is that it takes place at their home – which they call Chanteduc – located in the shadow of the french village Vaison la Romaine, near Avignon:

The book is full of stories of the life they have built together in Provence, and when you spend a week cooking with them, you see what a terrifically happy couple they are. Here is Alex getting some instruction from Walter:

After cooking together, you eat the food in a group setting – a wonderful way to savor the hard work that went into the meal. Hard work, but so much fun, and always with the full support and guidance of Patricia:

It was one of our favorite vacations ever, and we learned things that influence our cooking to this day. Check out Patricia’s website for a bunch of great stuff, including information on her classes: http://patriciawells.com/

“The Making Of A Chef” by Michael Ruhlman
. This is without a doubt my favorite book about cooking, and just like Patricia Wells, I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Michael, and a more passionate lover of food I have never met.

Michael Ruhlman was one of my Hosts for “Cooking Under Fire”, my PBS series from 2004 – along with Chefs Ming Tsai and Todd English. This picture was taken by Michael Ansell for WGBH-TV Boston. I was able to observe Michael up close, and I also saw how inspiring he was to the young Chefs competing on the series.

Here is why: In the winter of 1996, Michael Ruhlman donned hounds-tooth-check pants and a chef’s jacket and entered the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, to learn the art of cooking. His vivid and energetic record of that experience, “The Making of a Chef”, takes us to the heart of this food-knowledge mecca. Here we meet a coterie of talented chefs, an astonishing and driven breed.

This book captures the life of a student learning the craft of cooking. Many of the young chefs on “Cooking Under Fire” told me they were in awe of Ruhlman, and treated his book like their bible, a way to understand how to master the complexities of cooking school…

Michael has a terrific website: http://ruhlman.com/

It is packed with useful cooking information, gorgeous photography by his wife Donna, and lots of perspective and opinion.

Ruhlman has a huge number of books, including his latest bestseller “Twenty”, which distills all of cooking into 20 fundamental techniques, illustrated with 100 recipes, but “The Making Of A Chef” was where it all began!

Please share this list with friends, and let me know what you think!

Categories: Books / Media, cookbooks, Food, Food Review, Recipes, Restaurants, Travel, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized

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