The Best Cookbooks of the Decade [goodbye aughties]

best-cookbooks-2000s-naughties

While 2009 was full of spectacular cookbooks, the rest of the decade hasn't been too shabby either. With How to Cook Everything (published in 1998) and French Laundry (1999) completely changing the game for home and restaurant cookbooks alike, the next few years were already set up for greatness. Through the hundreds and hundreds of volumes that saw the light of day between 2000 and 2009, EMD's Helen Rosner, Paula Forbes, Raphael Brion, and Ryan Adams picked the books that made the decade.

2000

2000s-chefThink Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio (Amazon)
Tom Colicchio wrote this pre-Craft, pre-Top Chef, all the way back when he was the chef at Gramercy Tavern. It's a clear precursor to the seasonal haute barnyard New York City cuisine: back then heirloom tomatoes could only be had at the farmers market, not at every corner grocery. The book's structure is unique, and it's instructional without being pandering: first, basic techniques (braising, sauce-making, etc), then increasingly complex studies of single ingredients, then ingredient trilogies, and finally full chapters of recipes divided by season. Looking back at it, it's shocking (and also not) how timeless it really is. It both documented and prophesized a very specific way of thinking and cooking, pronouncing a pivotal shift in American cuisine. –RB

2000s-staffStaff Meals from Chanterelle by David Waltuck (Amazon)
This book, a collection of hearty, unpretentious family meal recipes from a delicate, mildly pretentious New York restaurant (which, sadly, closed this year), was the first clue I ever got that restaurants had back-of-house existences beyond what I experienced as a customer in the dining room. (I know, I know, but I was a kid back then.) It painted a warm, chummy, delicious-food-filled picture of what went on before and after service and behind closed doors — a far cry from the illusion-shattering bluster of 2001's Kitchen Confidential. It doesn't hurt that the recipes are fantastic, comfort food constructed with haute cuisine expertise, Ad Hoc at Home six years before Ad Hoc even opened. –HR

2001

2000s-riverThe River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Amazon)
I don't think it's an overestimation to say that this book is the butterfly whose wing-flap led to the current culinary hurricane of locavorism, foraging, and DIY butchery. Sure, there are recipes, but what's really galvanizing here is Fearnley-Whittingsall's unbridled passion for (and seeming obliviousness to the notion that anyone could not be passionate about) growing his own vegetables, raising and slaughtering his own livestock, foraging around his home and restaurant for whatever delicious items happen to have grown there, and then preserving and preparing all those things in the most stunningly simple, spectacular ways. –HR

2002

2000s-zuniThe Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers (Amazon)
I found this book when I was in college, thanks entirely to the home cooking forums on Chowhound.com, where quite possibly millions of posts have been written about Zuni Cafe's recipe for roast chicken with bread salad. For one reason or another I still haven't gotten around to actually making the chicken, but thanks to Rodgers's fluid narrative voice this was the first cookbook I sat down and read through cover to cover. The recipes are often intimidatingly difficult and precise, but I've never had a miss. One day I'll get around to the chicken. –HR

2003

2000s-flavorFlavor by Rocco DiSpirito (Amazon)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Earlier in the decade, Rocco DiSpirito was a pretty respectable chef, and Flavor is proof of that. Full of amazing, innovative food photography by Henry Leutwyler, the recipes are fresh, non-fussy fusion, and they really work. From that to Dancing With the Stars? Sigh. —PF

2004

2000s-bouchonBouchon by Thomas Keller with Michael Ruhlman (Amazon)
I've never been a huge fan of The French Laundry (or, for that matter, the restaurant). I respect it. I admire it. But I will not cook from it. To me, it's too foreign, too expensive, too fancy, too removed from the way that normal humans eat and cook. On the other hand, Bouchon (and the restaurant) takes simple, traditional bistro fare and, thanks to Thomas Keller's exacting principles, elevates it to something extraordinary. To be sure, some of it is ridiculous: caramelizing onions for five hours? Please. But damn, if you need guidance in making the best bistro-style food, including the ultimate quiche (and yes, it will take you hours), this is the book for you. –RB

2000s-beastThe Whole Beast: Nose-to-Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson (Amazon)
Five years ago, I'd have laughed right in your face if you'd have told me that not only would I eventually be cooking offal on a regular basis, but loving every minute of it. That was before I cracked open Henderson's magnum opus, a cookbook that presents the fifth quarter openly, simply, and honestly. I can't say that about many of the other cookbooks I own. –RA

2005

2000s-bonesBones: Recipes, History, and Lore by Jennifer McLagan (Amazon)
The precursor to McLagan's equally excellent 2008 cookbook Fat, Bones is responsible for getting me over my squeamish fear of cooking bone-in steaks, gnawing the good bits off the end of a chicken leg, and scraping the marrow out of veal shanks. It also uses the bone as a philosophical jumping-off point, boneless meats serving as a potent symbol for our increasing disconnect from the animals we're eating. It's also gorgeous to look at — not just in the austere, bleached ivory way the title might imply, but robustly, meatily beautiful. –HR

2000s-charcCharcuterie: The Craft of Smoking, Salting, Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (Amazon)
A bible if ever there was one, Ruhlman's homage to the slow art of meat curing is an absolute masterpiece of single-minded commitment. Each preparation is minutely detailed, meticulously researched, exhaustively tested, and totally and completely doable (assuming you have the time, the humidity control, and easy access to lots of pork). These are recipes totally worth risking botulism for. –HR

2006

2000s-happyHappy in the Kitchen by Michel Richard with Peter Kaminsky (Amazon)
It's always mystified me that Michel Richard hasn't attained the kind of global, slavering fans that attend chefs like Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, and Grant Achatz. But maybe he likes it that way: his D.C. based restaurants are far and away the best in town, thanks in part to Richard's giddy, boyish playfulness with his ingredients and flavors. This cookbook — packed with trompe l'oeil dishes, visual puns, bait-and-switch preparations, and just plain bright and shiny recipes — captures Richard's effervescence. On top of that, for all the whimsy and spectacle, it's completely cookable: Romaine on Romaine and the asparagus-stuffed salmon are in regular rotation in my kitchen. –HR

2007

2000s-river-meatThe River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Amazon)
It's intimidating how much Fearnley-Whittingstall knows about meat — so much that didn't make it into the first River Cottage cookbook is in this volume, and he's probably got a lot left over still to tell. Although it's full of gorgeous shots of meat and sumptuous recipes, this is mostly about the information: page after page of text on cuts of meat, how to store them and cook them, when to use them, and how to talk to your butcher about them. Anything you need to know to be a better carnivore is in these pages. –PF

2008

2000s-alineaAlinea by Grant Achatz (Amazon)
I'm not sure if any other cookbook has ever been as hotly anticipated as Alinea — and it didn't disappoint. The actual recipes from Grant Achatz's genre-busting Chicago restaurant may not be manageable for most of us, but they're conceptually fascinating and meticulously explained. The fact that the book is absolutely gorgeous doesn't hurt, either. –PF

2000s-eatmeEat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin (Amazon)
This idiosyncratic, beautifully-designed cookbook demolished all the rules of the genre — what other cookbook mentions masturbation? Uncannily capturing Shopsin's raw, unedited humor and philosophy, Eat Me is a backstage pass into a legendarily tiny kitchen that can generate hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties of dishes within mere minutes. It's an inspirational and genuine piece of literature, a too-short biography of a prodigal chef, and a chronicle of a New York City long-gone. Also, it gives you a much better idea of what to order. –RB

2000s-ripertOn the Line by Eric Ripert and Christine Muhlke (Amazon)
Most restaurant-based cookbooks promise that between their covers lies the soul of the restaurant, with varying degrees of accuracy. Ripert's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink snapshot of Le Bernardin is equal parts scrapbook, inventory, philosophy textbook, intimate autobiography, and masterful cookbook. Once you start turning the pages, it's almost impossible to stop until you've reached the very end. –HR

2000s-bfdThe Big Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal (Amazon)
Quite possibly the most opulent cookbook every created, this is both an artistic and gastronomic achievement of epic proportions. From its fairytale-like beginning through the seemingly-impossible recipes to its brain-numbingly complex scientific conclusion, Blumenthal's masterwork is unparalleled. –PF

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13 Comments

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  1. Moira

    I loved Kenny Shopsin's book. He is a good writer. I saw the documentary about him ("I Like Killing Flies", and loved that, too.

  2. dav

    The Rocco book was ugly ... I think the beef cake aura is tainting the selection.

  3. Anna

    I would definitely not include Rocco's book. And where are Jamie Oliver's books?

  4. Paula Forbes

    Y'all say tomato... The DiSpirito book was largely picked for its photography, which I think is amazing. Disagree?

  5. I agree that one or two of Jamie Oliver's books should be mentioned (say what you will, he was one of the first to get me excited about food and the process of cooking), but my personal favorite is Two Dudes, One Pan by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo. It's filled with my favorite recipes and flavors.

  6. Loved How to Roast Lamb by Michael Psilakis. Beautifully written. Nice list (outside of the DiSpirito book).

  7. There are definitely interesting books here but what defines the best books of the decade - the most innovative, the best photography or the ones we actually cook from the most? If it's the latter, I'd have listed several of Jamie Oliver's, Nigella Lawson's Feast, Molly Steven's All About Braising, Dorie Greenspan's Baking, Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

  8. Karl

    Unfortunately, some of this books are more celebrity-chef coffee table books that either functional, deeply informed or magisterially technical: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is the exception to this rule, as it is all three of those things.

    I think to omit three of the five cookbooks of John Thorne, probably America's best food writer of the past generation (I would count James Peterson as probably America's best cookbook writer of the past generation, even more important that the very respectable Bittman brand, which is getting a bit too full of itself and losing touch with what made it good originally), is a serious oversight - they could be grouped together as one (Serious Pig, Pot on the Fire and Mouth Wide Open were published in this decade; Outlaw Cook and Simple Cooking date from the prior 5 years). Whatever Thorne writes is not only deeply informative and useful to home cooks, it will invariably seep into professional kitchen practice and food writing elsewhere.

  9. Mer

    It seems like a long time ago[2001],but 'The Last Course',The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern' is one of the best 'grown-up' dessert books ever...lots of fruit driven recipes and technique,well tested recipes.

  10. dav

    Rocco photography was pretty bad. I'll be surprised if he paid the photographer anything ... but then again the photographer probably got away with murder.

  11. Paula Forbes

    Hmm. I stand by my thought that Flavors has some of the most fascinating food photography I've seen, but I can understand if people disagree--it's certainly different than most photography out there. It does seem, however, that some of you are just shooting the book down based on the fact that it was written by Rocco DiSpirito. Yes? No?

  12. bob

    good list. but no love for Au Pied Du Cochon's cookbook from a few years back? better than Rocco i'm sure

    http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/album_e.html

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