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Updated by Wynn Writer on Apr 28, 2017
Headline for Top 6 Classic Books about Cooks
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Top 6 Classic Books about Cooks

Before Jamie there was Julia. Before Nigella there was Elizabeth. Before Anthony there was Marco Pierre White: in fact, without White, there might not have ever been a Bourdain. If you want to understand cooking and recipes, it's good to know a bit about the cooks. That means you need to read books, articles and interviews about chefs, cooks, celebrity chefs and famous people in the world of cooking... Biographies, memoirs, autobiographies, tell-alls, journals and cookbooks that illuminate the lives of chefs, cooks, food writers and interesting people in the world of books and cooks. Here are six of my favorites – a good place for novices, newcomers, foodies and even food bloggers to start.

Garlic & Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl (2006)

Ruth Reichl's classic memoir about her days as The New York Times restaurant reviewer is such a classic, it must be on this list. Plus, it's pretty darn funny. "Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and former editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world—a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities." Goodreads: "Ruth Reichl, world-renowned food critic and editor in chief of Gourmet magazine, knows a thing or two about food. She also knows that as the most important food critic in the country, you need to be anonymous when reviewing some of the most high-profile establishments in the biggest restaurant town in the world--a charge she took very seriously, taking on the guise of a series of eccentric personalities..." My advice: In this case, I would read Garlic & Sapphires before Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples so you know a little about Ruth before you read about her past. OK? Just saying. Did you see those italics? Before.

Humble Pie, by Gordon Ramsay (2007)

This was, I believe, chef Gordon Ramsay's first attempt at documenting his life as a famous chef, TV show host and restauranteur. Humble Pie should be read first, before Roasting in Hell's Kitchen, or Playing with Fire: Raw, Rare to Well Done. Why? Because it talks about his childhood, his parents and – most importantly, to my mind – about his brother, who was a heroin addict. When you read the unvarnished, un-boastful (humble, even) account of how many times Ramsay funded his brother's addiction treatments, you can't help but like the famously foul-mouthed chef. You don't have to like him, but I do. Now, no matter what, I will always have a soft spot for Gordon. No wonder he's foul-mouthed. *Amazon.com: *"In this fast-paced, bite-sized edition of his bestselling autobiography Ramsay tells the real story of how he became the world’s most famous and infamous chef: his difficult childhood, his brother’s heroin addiction, his failed first career as a footballer, his fanatical pursuit of gastronomic perfection and his TV persona – all the things that have made him the celebrated culinary talent and media powerhouse that he is today. Gordon talks frankly about: his tough childhood: his father’s alcoholism and violence and the effects on his relationships with his mother and siblings; his first career as a footballer; his brother’s heroin addiction. Goodreads: "Gordon James Ramsay, OBE, is a British chef, television personality and restaurateur. He has been awarded a total of 16 Michelin Stars, and in 2001 became one of only three chefs in the United Kingdom to hold three Michelin stars at one time. Ramsay currently ranks 3rd in the world in terms of Michelin Stars behind Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse."

My Life in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin (2004)

I know this book is kind of obvious, if you already read or follow writings by chefs about their early lives and character-building exercises. But you cannot have a list for novices and not include The Apprentice. Excerpt: "My mother made it sound like a great adventure. "Tzati," she said... "You are going to a marvelous place. A farm. A real farm." Amazon: "When he comes to America, Jacques immediately falls in with a small group of as-yet-unknown food lovers, including Craig Claiborne, James Beard, and Julia Child, whose adventures redefine American food." Goodreads: "In this captivating memoir, the man whom Julia Child has called "the best chef in America" tells the story of his rise from a frightened apprentice in an exacting Old World kitchen to an Emmy Award winning superstar who taught millions of Americans how to cook and shaped the nation's tastes in the bargain."

The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, by Alice B. Toklas (1954) * Foreword by M.F.K. Fisher

This was probably the book that launched my interest in reading about chefs, cooks and – basically – famous people eating well. This is a must, if only for the "haschich brownies" recipe and the gossip about Hemingway and the expats in Paris during WWII and after. Goodreads: "Alice Babette Toklas was an American-born member of the Parisian avant-garde of the early 20th century... She met Gertrude Stein in Paris on September 8, 1907, the day she arrived. Together they hosted a salon that attracted expatriate American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bowles, Thornton Wilder, and Sherwood Anderson, and avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Matisse, and Braque. Acting as Stein's confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer, Toklas remained a background figure, chiefly living in the shadow of Stein, until Stein published her memoirs in 1933 under the teasing title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It became Stein's bestselling book." Amazon: "...stands alongside Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as a celebration of the fascinating life and times of the woman James Beard called, “one of the really great cooks of all time." Amazon preview.

My Life in France, by Julia Child & Alex Prud’homme (2006)

I love, love, love this book. And it's so sweet to read about the love between Paul Child and Julia. Goodreads: "Julia Child was a famous American cook, author, and television personality who introduced French cuisine and cooking techniques to the American mainstream through her many cookbooks and television programs. Her most famous works are the 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and, showcasing her sui generis television persona, the series The French Chef, which premiered in 1963." Amazon preview. Amazon: "Julia Child was born in Pasadena, California. She was graduated from Smith College and worked for the OSS during World War II in Ceylon and China, where she met Paul Child. After they married they lived in Paris, where she studied at the Cordon Bleu and taught cooking with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, with whom she wrote the first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). In 1963, Boston's WGBH launched The French Chef television series, which made her a national celebrity, earning her the Peabody Award in 1965 and an Emmy in 1966. Several public television shows and numerous cookbooks followed." **Amazon preview.

South Wind through the Kitchen, by Elizabeth David (1997)

This is a big book, filled with recipes, letters, remembrances, drawings and musings, all published after David's death. It's an incredible piece of history – remember, she lived during World War II. Not that she was poor, because she certainly wasn't. But, still. All that rationing. Sighhhh. She was friends with Lawrence Durrell in Greece, in case anyone cares. By the way, she was one of the first food writers to suffer the effects of her profession. According to Goodreads, "in 1963, when she was 49, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, possibly related to her heavy drinking. Although she recovered, it affected her sense of taste and her libido." This is a true glimpse into history. Remember, many of her recipe ingredients were "unknown in England when the books were first published, as shortages and rationing continued for many years after the end of the war." *Amazon: "Before Elizabeth David died in 1992 she and her editor, Jill Norman, had begun work on a volume of ‘The Best of’ but then her health deteriorated and the project was shelved. The idea was revived in 1996 when chefs and writers and Elizabeth’s many friends, were invited to select their favorite articles and recipes... This book is the fruit of that harvest of recommendations and the names of the contributors, who number among them some of our finest food writers such as Simon Hopkinson, Alice Waters, Sally Clarke, Richard Olney, Paul Levy..." **Goodreads: "Gwynne had an adventurous early life, leaving home to become an actress. She left England in 1939, when she was twenty-five, and bought a boat with her married lover Charles Gibson-Cowan intending to travel around the Mediterranean. The onset of World War II interrupted this plan, and they had to flee the German occupation of France..." *[Also on Goodreads](http://https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12090.Elizabeth_David)*: "At the age of 19, she was given her first cookery book, The Gentle Art of Cookery by Hilda Leyel, who wrote of her love with the food of the East. "If I had been given a standard Mrs Beeton instead of Mrs Leyel's wonderful recipes," she said, "I would probably never have learned to cook." Also read: An Omelette and a Glass of Wine + Is there a Nutmeg in the House + At Elizabeth David's Table: Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom.