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Cookbook Or Coffee Table Book? The James Beard Nominees

By Melissa McEwen in Food on May 1, 2015 2:55PM


I have to admit, I am a cookbook addict. I can't stop buying them. But how many do I actually cook with? Seems like many cookbooks these days function more as coffee table books for ogling than kitchen manuals. While the main James Beard awards happen this Monday here in Chicago, last week they gave out the Book, Broadcast & Journalism awards in New York City. I spent some quality time with some of the finalists to see which ones are which for the average home cook.

Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes, Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns (Winner, Cooking from a Professional Point of View)
They were nominated in the category of "Cooking from a Professional Point of View" but I think some of these recipes are pretty simple, especially the ones that focus on technique. I'm really into pickling so I'm looking forward to trying some of their pickles. I also find the recipes pretty easy to adapt to the home kitchen. Their amazing kale salad with tahini I've been making an easy version of with store-bought tahini and greek yogurt. It's not too different from our other favorite kale salad.

Verdict: Cookbook

2015_05_books_relae.jpg Relæ: A Book of Ideas, Christian F. Puglisi (Finalist)
Notice the title— this isn't even pretending to be a cookbook. It's a book of "ideas" though there are recipes in the back. This is a book for the high-end consumer of food porn and for professionals who might actually consider things like installing a complex water filtration system in their restaurant. And yes, I'm a consumer of high-end food porn— my library has a large collection of books that boil down to "Viking-Ish Man Cooks Precious Beautiful Dishes Out Of Random Leaves And Lichen." In that vein, this book will provide me and others like myself with hours and hours of entertainment. Not only is it beautiful, it's wordy, going into lots of detail regarding the sourcing and construction of the dishes presented.

Verdict: Coffee table book

Heritage, Sean Brock (Winner, American Cooking)
This book is extremely beautiful. And extremely heavy. I've enjoyed reading it and getting a sense of place for Brock's locality and the ingredients he uses. But I don't live there, so some of the ingredients don't make sense for me to use. Luckily, there is plenty to read in Heritage beyond just the recipes.

Verdict: Coffee table book

Radicchio, gruyere, pancetta, ginger, and leek pie from Bitter (Photo by Melissa McEwen)

Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes, Jennifer McLagan (Winner, Single Subject)
I know from experience that McLagan's cookbooks are actual cookbooks because I own most of them. Bitter is no exception as I wrote in my long review here. I like that the recipes are varying levels of difficulty and of course I love that everything I've tried has turned out great.

Verdict: Cookbook

Carrots with savory yogurt from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (Photo by Melissa McEwen)

2015_05_books_plenty_more.jpg Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London's Ottolenghi, Yotam Ottolenghi (Finalist)
Ottolenghi has earned a cult following from home cooks and professionals because his books are so eminently usable and the recipes teach you how to cook vegetables well. Of course some of the recipes are more difficult than others, but there are so many that can easily become part of a home cook's standard repertoire.

Verdict: Cookbook

Do you have any of these books or any of the other James Beard nominees? What do you think about them? Let us know in the comments.