Cookbooks for every food lover

Our chief restaurant critic picks the year’s best culinary tomes.

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

  • Photograph: Bryan Mayes

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Night-table reads

A Work in Progress

(Phaidon, $59.95)

The story: This groundbreaking three-book set takes you deep (seriously deep) inside the mind of New Nordic trailblazer René Redzepi, courtesy of the chef’s personal journal. It also includes 100 recipes from Noma, and a Moleskine-sized collection of behind-the-scenes snapshots, as if Redzepi had printed his Instagram feed.

Point of interest: Redzepi on creativity: “Is there some rhythm, pulse, a beating heart to our creativity?… Is everything intuition? Are we better when we play around or does real creativity only occur at the darkest of moments? I’m fucking done with burning out!”

Dishes to make: Fat chance; you can’t pick up Redzepi’s foraged ingredients at your local Whole Foods.

Dishes to inspire: Flip to any random page and you’ll find mad-genius cooking, like turning bone marrow into fudge or milk into a crispy bowl.

Ivan Ramen

(Ten Speed Press, $29.99)

The story: The blow-by-blow recipe for Ivan Orkin’s famous shio ramen will be the main draw for any noodle freak, but the soul of this book is the candid memoir of a middle-aged Jew from New York who was ballsy enough to open a ramen shop in Tokyo.

Point of interest: Orkin on preparing to open his ramen shop: “There were multiple times when I walked into a ramen shop, hat in hand, ready to ask the owner about an apprentice position. But the words never came out. At the end of the day, I thought, ‘Fuck it. I’m a good cook, I can figure it out for myself.’ ”

Dishes to make: Orkin benevolently includes recipes that use up the leftover components from his shio ramen, like schmaltz-fried chicken katsu, or a chashu pork Cubano.

Dish to inspire: If it’s never occurred to you to put cheese on your ramen, Orkin’s signature four-cheese mazemen will blow your mind.

To the Bone

(Clarkson Potter, $30)

The story: This thrillingly honest narrative tracks the rise of Paul Liebrandt, one of the most mercurial and fiercely creative chefs cooking today. The story of Liebrandt’s relentless obsession with what he calls “The Food” is as captivating as his whimsical recipes and Evan Sung’s fantastical photos.

Point of interest: First rule of the kitchen is you don’t talk about the kitchen: Recounting his days cooking at London’s L’Escargot, Liebrandt admits that on nights when two colleagues butted heads in the kitchen, they would occasionally “work out their differences” with their own version of Fight Club.

Dishes to make: Just as art students can’t forge a Monet, home cooks can’t replicate a Liebrandt.

Dishes to inspire: All of them. Flipping through this book is like wandering in an enchanted forest.

L.A. Son

(Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, $29.99)

The story: Before his Kogi truck revolutionized street food, Roy Choi was a gambling, boozing, wayward soul. He pulls no punches recounting his roller coaster of a life story, which seems straight out of a movie.

Point of interest: Choi is probably the only person to liken buying crack to selecting produce; he has firsthand knowledge of both. “It was like Asian ladies picking fruit: a little bit of superstition, intuition, feeling for the primo spots to find the one that feels just right.”

Dishes to make: Stoner or not, you’ll crave lowbrow munchies like Spam banh mi and instant ramen with American cheese.

Dish to inspire: Choi’s thick abalone porridge sounds like straight comfort food, but the funky dried-anchovy stock that flavors it is a revelation.

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