The Best Cookbooks of 2009 Roundup Spectacular


2009 has really been the year of the home cook. While last year's crop of cookbooks was dominated by technical, aspirational, fantastical documents like Alinea, A Day at El Bulli, and Under Pressure, the front runners this year are all about doability — take Ad Hoc home, take Momofuku home, make your own bacon, can your own jam. Amidst the piles of books we've read in the past twelve months, there are dozens we're sure we'll turn to time and again. But a few stand out as the strongest, the smartest, the most beautiful, the most engaging — basically, the best of 2009. Our books editor Helen Rosner and associate editor Paula Forbes share their picks:


Best Overall

2009momoMomofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan
(EMD review; Amazon)
I read this cookbook with the same exhilarating glee I previously had only experienced with my favorite novels. It's the whole package: great recipes, great design, great story, great telling. This is going to be the French Laundry Cookbook for the next generation of chefs and cooks. –HR

In a relatively small volume, Chang covers three of his restaurants, almost all their recipes, and still has room to meditate on his rise to greatness. Chock full of curse words, this book is a refreshing look at culinary creativity — and a great excuse to go to the Asian grocery store and buy all kinds of ingredients you'd never know what to do with otherwise. –PF


Best Design

2009adhocAd Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller with Michael Ruhlman and Dave Cruz
(EMD review; Amazon)
Because sometimes you're in the mood to cook something that's difficult. Because the recipes here aren't as intimidating as those in Keller's other books. Because every single individual, persnickety step is worth it. Because it tastes like the food your grandmother would cook in heaven. Because Thomas Keller knows what he's doing, better than anyone. Oh, and because the pictures, layout, typography, and overall feel are stunning. –PF


Best Food Adventure

2009sexdeath(EMD review; Amazon)
Sex, Death, and Oysters by Robb Walsh
Walsh, a Houston-based food writer, goes on an oyster adventure, eating the bivalves on two continents. The book would be too sodden with facts and figures if not for Walsh's light, journalistic style. Warning: this book will make you want to go out and consume massive quantities of oysters, as well as whatever alcohol is locally traditional to consume with them. –PF


Biggest Mindfuck

2009buildingBuilding a Meal by Herve This
(EMD review; Amazon)
Ready to have your brain melt? This, a French chemist and grand poobah of modern culinary theory, has written a tiny tome that takes Harold McGee-like themes (how best to boil an egg?) and throws in some French existentialism and crazy Socratic dialogues between himself and his friend Marie-Odile Monchicourt. That book took me like eight times longer to read than I expected it to, and it's only 120 pages. My brain hasn't hurt like that since college, in a good way. –PF


Hardest-Core Food Porn

2009blackThe Blackberry Farm Cookbook, by Sam Beall
(EMD review; Amazon)
The recipes in this chronicle of Tennessee's poshest working farm are cookable and yummy and all, but it's the photography — epic, lush, and glossy — that really steals the show. I'd want this on my shelf (okay, coffee table) even if it didn't have words. –HR


Biggest Genre-Buster

2009cookingdirtyCooking Dirty by Jason Sheehan
(EMD review; Amazon)
The tired old predictable culinary memoir trope gets punched in the gut with Sheehan's life story, a riveting, hilarious, harrowing drug- and booze-fueld meander through short-order kitchens across the country. Nothing's cliche here, not even the hero's inevitable redemption. –HR


Best Horizon-Expander

2009vefaVefa's Kitchen by Vefa Alexiadou
Who knew that Greek cuisine was as regionally varied as Italian and French? I mean, I knew, but I didn't really absorb the real diversity of Hellenic cooking until I picked up this volume, which should be listed in the dictionary under both "accessible" and "exhaustive." –HR


Strongest Argument for Carnivorousness

2009sevenfiresSeven Fires by Francis Mallman and Peter Kaminsky
(EMD review; Amazon)
The vegetarian recipes in this cookbook are fine and dandy, but there's something about a hunk of meat and an open flame that's undeniably alluring. After reading the recipe for una vaca entira, I seriously considered buying a cow and cooking it whole over a banked fire. –HR


—Paula Forbes & Helen Rosner

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Comment Feed

  1. I so need that Blackberry Farm Cookbook. It's going on my wish list!


  2. wow. i must be the only person who was completely underwhelmed by ad hoc at home, and i found the layout typography and artwork disjointed, a patchwork of indecision over design ideas. the recipes do have a great many steps making it a bit...fussy... and well, it's way too big for my bookshelves with doors on them, which makes it a coffee table book by default.

    right underneath blackberry farm, which being from tennessee made me very happy to see the book, but i'm still poring over it trying to find...Tennessee in it.

  3. Anna

    No Gourmet cookbook? I'd pick that over Ad Hoc at Home, which I personally agree has been waaaaaay overhyped.

  4. Jasper

    I have to second Momofuku. Quite possibly my new favorite cookbook. Everything I have made has turned out wonderful, highly recommend!!

  5. Two cookbooks I've gotten this year that I've fallen in love with are:
    Michael Psilakis' How to Roast Lamb
    Kevin Dundon' Great Family Food

    Thanks for the list!

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