Worldwide icon-chevron-right 16 chefs share the cookbooks that changed their lives
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Image: Time Out

16 chefs share the cookbooks that changed their lives

Restock your collection with these chef-approved tomes.

By Morgan Olsen
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Cookbooks can open portals to cultures, cuisines and techniques from around the world. When you look at your cookbook collection – however big or small it may be – is there one title that's more worn than the others? You know, the one that's speckled in sauce and marked with Post-it notes from extensive use. Consider for a moment how that book has changed the way that you cook and eat. Impressive, right?

We went to some of the world's best chefs with the same question: What's the one cookbook that changed your life? They came back with a stack of tomes that is both aspirational and educational. (And as it turns out, chefs are really into the science behind food.) There's even one book that three chefs chose as their all-time favorite, so make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom of this list. Let's get cooking!

Craving more insider insight from the world's best chefs? You're in the right place. Talk to the Chef! is a weekly food series that will tap into the minds of culinary leaders around the globe. The conversation changes just as often, and we'll chat with chefs about everything from podcasts and kitchen equipment to travel and trends.

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Life-changing cookbooks, according to chefs

Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking
Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking
Image: Courtesy Phaidon

‘Mugaritz: A Natural Science of Cooking’ by Andoni Aduriz

“Living and working at Mugaritz over half a decade ago, this book reminds me of a time where I felt the pulse of creativity and teamwork. I often think of the incredible dishes in this book and how much heart and how many hours went into making them, only to be eaten in a single bite.” —Chanthy Yen, founder of Touk and chef of Parliament Pub & Parlour in Montreal

The French Laundry Cookbook
The French Laundry Cookbook
Image: Courtesy The French Laundry

‘The French Laundry Cookbook’ by Thomas Keller, Michael Ruhlman and Susie Heller

“I don’t think I’ve made a single recipe from it, but Thomas Keller’s in-depth explanations on proper technique are inspiring. Knowing the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’ is so important for a better understanding of cooking good food. He so clearly shows there is never an excuse for sacrificing perfect technique.” —Luciana Giangrandi and Alex Meyer, chefs and co-owners of Boia De in Miami

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‘The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine’ by John Folse

“It’s full of great Louisiana food history and recipes. It continues to inspire me to this day.”—Brian Jupiter, chef-owner of Ina Mae Tavern and Frontier in Chicago

Essential Cuisines of Mexico: A Cookbook by Diana Kennedy
Essential Cuisines of Mexico: A Cookbook by Diana Kennedy
Image: Copyright © 2009 by Diana Kennedy. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

Anything from Diana Kennedy

“I would have to say the books of Diana Kennedy. Having discovered how wonderful Mexican food was, I then spent vast amounts of time in England, not in Mexico. Diana’s beautifully evocative food writing and those amazingly detailed recipes she has documented in her books were like companions and guides into a cuisine about which I was desperate to learn more. Thanks to her, I really did.”—Thomasina Miers, founder of Wahaca in London

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‘Culinary Artistry’ by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen A. Page

“A book that I’m constantly using as a chef. It’s a great reference for ingredients and coming up with new dishes, and it gives you a breakdown of foods in seasonality and different antidotes by the country and world top chefs. This is a must-read book that every chef should have in their repertoire.”—Cesar Zapata, chef of Phuc Yea and Pho Mo at Time Out Market in Miami

Alinea
Alinea
Image: Courtesy Ten Speed

‘Alinea’ by Grant Achatz

“It was the first ever Michelin-level cookbook I read, and it opened my mind. He’s my favourite chef in the world. He was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer and it completely destroyed his taste buds, but he beat it and taught himself how to taste again – what a warrior. His recipes are simple and straightforward, but his food is bonkers. It really influenced me.” James Cochran, chef-owner of 12:51 by Chef James Cochran in London

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‘Letters to a Young Chef’ by Daniel Boulud

“One of the first cookbooks I owned as a young cook was 'Letters to a Young Chef' by Daniel Boulud. It was my bible at the time, and gave me an insight into what the world of being a chef looked like. The book was a source of inspiration and motivation in my career that led me to eventually work for him for four years in two continents, largely shaping me into the chef I am today.”Emily Yuen, executive chef of Bessou and Bessou at Time Out Market in New York City

‘Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art’ by Shizuo Tsuji and Yoshiki Tsujui

“I read this cookbook many years ago and it gave me an introduction of what went on to become a passion of mine. It touches on the very fundamentals of Japanese cooking and provides very detailed explanations on the different techniques and rationales.”—Agustin Ferrando Balbi, chef-founder of Andō in Hong Kong

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Modernist Cuisine
Modernist Cuisine
Photograph: Chris Hoover courtesy of Modernist Cuisine

‘Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking’ by Maxime Bilet and Nathan Myhrvold

“With a degree in geophysics, I am always looking for a scientific explanation to any process in the kitchen. The amount of research that went into this book is simply astonishing. And the step-by-step instructions helped improve my understanding of food and cooking and thus eased the transition of my career and definitely improved my cooking skills.”—Marwa Alkhalaf, chef-director of Nutshell in London

The Whole Beast
The Whole Beast
Image: Courtesy Ecco

‘The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating’ by Fergus Henderson

“I think it's hard to look past Fergus Henderson’s ‘The Whole Beast’ – it’s been so revolutionary to British cooking, it’s almost become a cliché. From the effect it's had on the way I view food and drinks, and the way it shaped the restaurant industry – first in London and then in the rest of the world – it’s definitely changed my life.”—Max Venning, co-owner of Top Cuvée in London

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‘Leiths Cookery Bible’ by Prue Leith

“I’m not sure a cookbook has changed my life, but 'Leiths Cookery Bible' changed the way I cook forever. It’s where I went to culinary school, and between this book and the 'Techniques Bible,' I learned that to really make something well, you should understand the thing you’re making. Also, I learned that practise really does make perfect and often the fault is with the recipe when something goes wrong, not with the cook.”—Anthea Stephenson, co-founder of Wild Radish in the UK

Les Halles Cookbook
Les Halles Cookbook
Photograph: Courtesy Bloomsbury

‘Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook’ by Anthony Bourdain

“I find myself returning to [this book] all the time – I think because it's unapologetically cheffy. The recipes are not tweaked to be easy at home, they are the same as would be in a professional kitchen. Having worked in restaurants for so long, I find that easier to follow and they just taste better. Most of this stuff chefs ‘just know’ and cookbooks skip a lot of it to make it more accessible, so following one of the complex recipes there is always rewarded with a restaurant quality meal.”—Brodie Meah, co-founder of Top Cuvée in London

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‘White Heat’ by Marco Pierre White

“When I was 19 and still at college, I moved to work at a restaurant in the Lake District in the UK. My head chef, Andy McGeorge, made me buy three things. One: A carving knife. Two: A really expensive German palette knife, which, to be fair to him, I still actually have. And three: ‘White Heat’ by Marco Pierre White. I remember being amazed by the tagliatelle of vegetables and this British chef that was smoking in the kitchen! That book and those images still have the same effect on me 20 years later. He’s a legend.”—Scott Price, chef and co-founder of Nick & Scott restaurant group and folly by Nick & Scott at Time Out Market in Dubai

The Flavor Bible
The Flavor Bible
Image: Courtesy Little, Brown and Company

‘The Flavor Bible’ by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen A. Page

“This book inspired me to be creative. It gives us the guidelines of pairing foods with one another, and then leaves it to us to build something amazing from those pairings.”—Carlos Gaytan, chef-owner of Tzuco in Chicago

“It’s the ultimate chef guide when we are stuck on an ingredient we want to use but can’t seem to find the right ingredients to pair it with. It's basically like a dictionary or glossary for ingredients. You search one ingredient in the book and it will tell you which are the best ingredients to pair it with. It was one of the few books that traveled with me to Hong Kong when I left New York and it’s the one cookbook I always gift my staff.”—Nelson Gonzalez, head chef of Kinship in Hong Kong

“Cookbooks typically show recipes which have been created, whereas the Flavor Bible shows how certain flavors can be matched and used in a dish with complete harmony. When I read this book for the first time as a young cook, a lot of my questions began to be answered. I was able to think more independently on how I could create a dish that’s not an existing recipe but something I could call my own.”—Prashant Chipkar, executive chef and culinary director at Masti and chef at Time Out Market in Dubai 

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