The cookery books chefs reach for

Updated on 02 December 2011 | 0 Comments

Nigella and Jamie's latest cookery books might be at the top of the bestsellers lists, but what books do the country's top chefs turn to?

We’ve all got recipe books that we return to again and again – they’re the ones which are splattered with cake mix, the ones where pages are stuck together. Whether it be for inspiration, technical advice or to strictly follow recipes, cookery books are the porn of the foodie world. But while the majority of us favour popular TV chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gino D’Acampo, and Nigella Lawson for our dinnertime reads, what books are on the shelves of our top chefs?

Gordon’s boys

Best known for winning the coveted title of Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant back in 2010, the Sanchez-Iglesias brothers (pictured above) run the Michelin-starred Casamia restaurant in Bristol. Jonray and Peter are some of the youngest Michelin-starred chefs in the country and have just launched an innovative new concept called seasons, where the restaurant’s décor, menu and even scents reflects the changing seasons. I took a look around their new development ‘apt’ kitchen and inspiration room. Spider diagrams and scribblings line the wall and there is a book shelf stacked with culinary tomes.

“We are always looking for innovative and new techniques, flavour combinations and methods of cooking which means we are constantly researching new ideas for us to experiment with,” explains Jonray. “A favourite book for us at the moment is Larousse Gastronomique. It's a classic reference book and a great resource. The other book that we always refer back to is Thomas Keller's French Laundry: he creates such simple but technically brilliant dishes that add a new dimension to American cooking.

“One book we’ve used loads, and we’ve got to mention, is Ramsay’s original Passion for Flavour. It’s a bit more technical than what he does now but it is the best book he’s ever produced and there’s so much inside information.”

A relaxing read

Less than 20 miles away, at the Michelin-starred Lucknam Park in Wiltshire, Welsh executive chef Hywel Jones has two culinary heroes he looks up to. “I believe books are important to most chefs,” says Hywel, who has previously appeared on Great British Menu. “We use them as reference points for recipes, for inspiration for new dishes or simply as a way of relaxing."

Two books in particular stand out for me. The first one was a book entitled Memories of Gascony by the chef Pierre Koffman. I was given this book by my then head chef Gilbert Viader upon completing catering college in Cardiff. When I asked him where Pierre’s restaurant was, he told me London and this was the reason that I decided to move to London to work as a chef. Looking back it was the best decision I ever made in my career.

“The other book is Darina Allen's cookbook from her world famous Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. Although not aimed at professional chefs it is always in use here at Lucknam Park. It is packed full of top quality and useful recipes for anything from Bircher muesli to biscuits and tasty salads.”

Family affair

Popular TV chef Rachel Allen, who recently appeared at the BBC Good Food Show, studied at Ballymaloe and now teaches there. Her influences, it seems, still lay in the very foundations of that iconic empire today.

Rachel Allen

“There are many cookery writers who I admire hugely, too many to name them all. One who has had a profound influence on me is Myrtle Allen,” says Rachel.

“I can remember her Ballymaloe Cookbook being part of our kitchen when I was much younger. Little did I know back then, when I was making the sweet sugary donut-like balloon recipe, that Ballymaloe would become my home where I would bring up my own children. I loved reading the funny tales and anecdotes next to the recipes and the cute little Mel Calman cartoon-like drawings. The recipes in the book are classical and quite simple with no unnecessary faffing about. Myrtle Allen, who is my husband’s grandmother, believes in using the best ingredients possible and just letting them speak for themselves. Her ethos has influenced me hugely.” Rachel has her own book out now, called Easy Meals.

Kitchin essentials

Tom KitchinHe’s surely got one of the best names in the industry, has worked in some of the top restaurants in the world, and yet Tom Kitchin - who owns and runs The Kitchin in Edinburgh – still loves a good recipe book like the rest of us.

“For me, most of my time revolves around food and cooking so it’s probably no surprise that some of my favourite books are cookbooks,” says Tom. “I particularly love iconic masterchefs' bibles such as those from two of my greatest mentors - Alain Ducasse’s Grand Livre de Cuisines and Pierre Koffmann’s Memories of Gascony which I dip into all the time - as well as At the Crillon and at Home: Recipes by Jean-François Pièg. I also like to read about food from across the world and love to explore books that tell you about local seasonality, authentic places to visit and dishes to cook: books that take you on a culinary journey to wonderful places."

So what are your favourite cookery books? Let us know in the comments box below.

More bookish things

My top 10 cookbooks by Kirsty Page

Could you cook and eat testicles?

Instinctive cooking from the heart by Claudia Roden


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