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London Food Writers and Chefs Share Their Favourite Cookbooks

Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi, and Dan Lepard join Eater writers to offer a bounty of inspiration for eating in

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Eater editors and writers join some of the city’s food luminaries to share the cookbooks that shape their cooking week in, week out.


Adam Coghlan

Made In Italy: Food and Stories

Giorgio Locatelli

For a brief stint at university I had a very mediocre food column in the student newspaper titled “Made in Manchester: Food and Stories”, which, at the time, I thought was an extremely clever riff on the Guardian column by the great Giorgio Locatelli, a weekly serialisation of his seminal work: Made in Italy: Food and Stories. I like to think that in the intervening decade, I’ve managed to get a sense of humour and learn a little originality. Of course, there’s no such thing as the latter in cooking; chefs — even those who talk straight-faced about the intellectual property of a given dish — privately accept that no recipe is truly theirs.

But for me the joy of cooking, conveyed somehow without cliche through the seasonal importance and regional differences of Italian cuisine in Made In Italy, is two-fold: with experience, adapting a recipe based on accumulated learning is far more interesting than accepting instructions (or even, sometimes, eating what you’ve made.) But there are occasions when a competitive urge and deep curiosity draws a cook to a master’s method. Something not to be fucked with. Something which teaches you how to cook. In the 600 pages of this book, 72 of which are devoted to risotto and 120 to pasta, there is a recipe, first attempted in Manchester in 2006 and followed to the letter ever since, is Ragù alla bolognese: Prepare a soffrito; sear, don’t “boil”, the meat; reduce a whole bottle of red wine, simmer tomato passata; add aromatic herbs. Give it time and watch it become that thing you’ve always wanted ragù to be. And remember, even though Giorgio shared it, it’s not really his. —Adam Coghlan, Editor, Eater London


The Superiority Burger Cookbook by Brooks Headley, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

The Superiority Burger Cookbook

Brooks Headley

This is not my favourite cookbook. Gastronomy of Italy by Anna del Conte taught me more about food; Real Food by Nigel Slater taught me more about myself; Tartine Bread taught me more about what to do when a seminal book’s author pivots to union-busting. But it is the most interesting cookbook I own, effortlessly, wryly achieving what so many restaurant cookbooks fail to grasp.

Restaurant cookbooks too often hoard their truth, their Restaurant Essence, leaving it to be divined from portentous landscapes and meticulous still-lifes, only to dissolve in the steam of a bubbling pot. Brooks Headley and his team lay it on the table, not telling the story of what the restaurant is but of who it is for: an essence of genuine sharing, genuine community, and genuine dexterity — never in service of chefs’ whims, but of farmers’ offerings and customers’ needs. It’s probably easier to be wry and effortless and humble with the support of merch-toting stans, devoted to crackle-skinned fried tofu sandwiches, crispy potatoes, and fruit clamouring for its ripeness to be spun into sorbets smoother than a mafioso, but the recipes and the generosity of spirit in their voice are true. I cook from a few restaurant cookbooks, but this is the only one that makes me wish it were my local. —James Hansen, Associate Editor, Eater London


The Secrets of the Red Lantern by Pauline Nguyen, Luke Ngugyen and Mark Jensen, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

The Secrets of the Red Lantern

Pauline Nguyen, Luke Ngugyen and Mark Jensen

This is a cookbook, but it is also a story about a migrant family. The Nguyen family escaped Vietnam not long after the war, via boat, and ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand where they were by a year; Luke was born in the camp and soon after they were sent to Australia. Pauline and Luke’s parents ran a Vietnamese restaurant in the suburb of Sydney where they grew up. Along with Pauline’s partner Mark, the siblings opened Red Lantern in their 20s, and have gone on to open other restaurants. Pauline writes about how her parents showed love through food — “when we quarrel, we cannot speak the words ‘I am sorry’ — we give [bitter melon soup] instead.” This is on the first page and sets up the book, as the story of a family and of the space migrant families exist in in western societies unravels through the food. It is a truly beautiful book, to read, to look at, and to cook from. —Anna Sulan Masing, food writer and Eater London contributor


Simple French Food by Richard Olney, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Simple French Food

Richard Olney

Out of all the hundreds of barely used cookbooks dotted around the house, there are only four that permanently reside in the kitchen. Two of them are by Richard Olney; the other two, for those wondering, are Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories, and Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy. The most used, dogeared, sticky with oil one of them all is Simple French Food. Olney has the rare gift of being as good a writer as he is a cook — turn to any page and you will be convinced straight away that he knows his shit inside out. The title ‘Simple’ French Food is a little bit of a misnomer. Olney reveres the regional culinary traditions of France and their directness and simplicity of spirit, but this does not mean “easy to prepare” or “uncomplicated” — the transformation of “poor” ingredients into sensual, sybaritic feasts requires imagination and some form of precision. Olney rarely tells you about corner-cutting ways to recreate a recipe: there’s only the right and wrong way. This style of cooking has undoubtedly inspired a huge number of London chefs — most obviously Hopkinson and the first wave of Modern British chefs pre-Fergus Henderson, as well as Steve Williams of 40 Maltby St, Alex Jackson, Nick Bramham and Anna Tobias. If you’re missing their food right now then Simple French Food is the way to recreate it, in spirit if not literally. —Jonathan Nunn, food writer and Eater London contributor


The Bread Book

Linda Collister and A.G.E. Blake

The Bread Book is a thing of beige-and-brown beauty, it really is. There’s hardly any sourdough in it, which is just as well because I find it exhausting making and eating sourdough. It’s just a load of stories and recipes about loads of breads from around the world, from saffron buns to intricate decorative harvest loaves. I love how retro and untrendy it is, but mainly it’s just a really good book — concise but thorough, clear, well-researched and full of human stories. —Ruby Tandoh, author and food writer


The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

The Cook’s Companion

Stephanie Alexander

This is positively a bible in Australia, but not well known enough here. I think I’ve probably given more copies of it to friends than any other book (excluding, immodestly, my own). You really could cook from this forever. It’s huge, at over 1,000 pages, and bulges with ideas, inspiration, and recipes that still seem fresh, even though it was first published 24 years ago. —Nigella Lawson, author and food writer


The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

The Whole Fish Cookbook

Josh Niland

Josh Niland inspires both the homecook and chefs around the world to treat fish in the same way we do with meat — think Moonfish belly bacon or swordfish prosciutto. Parts that are usually discarded without a second thought, receive a respectful and clever treatment. It’s a revolutionary approach that is as extraordinary to look at as it is to eat. —Yotam Ottolenghi, author, food writer, and restaurateur


Taverna by Georgina Hayden, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Taverna

Georgina Hayden

I really like this book and have cooked from it a number of times. There is so much in common when it comes to Cypriot and Palestinian kitchens, from ingredients to ways of cooking. —Sami Tamimi, author, food writer, and restaurateur


Dakshin by Chandra Padmanabhan, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Dakshin: Vegetarian Cuisine From South India

Chandra Padmanabhan

I chose this revered South Indian vegetarian classic because I’d love more people to discover it, pandemic or not. Originally published in the 1990s, it’s one of the earliest regional Indian cookbooks; and came at a time when Indian recipes were generic and written by wealthy Delia Smith-like Bombay and Delhi-based matriarchs.

There’s a vast range of beautifully photographed traditional recipes for regional dosas, idlis, sambars, thorans and more that can be conjured up from store cupboard ingredients; and for those looking to take on more challenging projects, plenty of dosa batters, sambar powders, and chutneys to make from scratch. Unusually for an Indian cookbook from that period, the instructions are clear and accurate.—Sejal Sukhadwala, food writer and Eater London contributor


The Prawn Cocktail Years by Simon Hopkinson, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

The Prawn Cocktail Years

Simon Hopkinson

I miss going out so much that I’ve started dressing for dinner. My nicest frock, my biggest hair, my brightest lipstick – the full Abigail’s Party. I’ve found myself wanting to cook menus to match, which is where this loving tribute to mid-century British restaurant fare comes into play. The appeal of French onion soup, crepes Suzette and Black Forest gateau is threefold: they’re time-consuming (and time is the one thing we have a lot of right now), plating them up creates a much-missed sense of occasion, and they make pre-dinner drinks in quantity absolutely obligatory. —Emma Hughes, author, food writer and Eater London contributor


Bocca di Lupo by Jacob Kenedy, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Bocca di Lupo

Jacob Kenedy

Jacob Kenedy’s Soho institution and the ice cream emporium opposite it are signal achievements in their own right, but both pale in comparison to what he pulls off between the covers of his 2011 cookbook. Like the Wikipedia plot summary of “Tiger King,” it has everything: spleen and pluck both literal and figurative; a beverage called Drunken Baby; card games; the recipes for the only two cocktails you truly need to know how to make (i.e. the spritz and Negroni); a chocolate pudding made with pig’s blood. Crammed into fewer than 500 pages, the range on show is astonishing — not just in the swathe of regional specialities brought to prominence, but also in the techniques an assiduous reader can learn and eventually master. Kenedy’s prose is so readable you can basically just go cover-to-cover as you would a novel; the photography captures Italy both in its heartbreaking beauty and in the daily ritual that occurs at a more human, personal scale. Sorry, River Café and countless other pretenders to the crown, but this might well be the best English-language Italian cookbook ever written. —George Reynolds, food writer and Eater London contributor


Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking

Fuchsia Dunlop

Way back before Sichuan cuisine was as popular in London as it is today, I yearned for the flavours I had first tried in Chengdu Heaven and other such restaurants in New York, where such food was easy to come by and unlike anything I had tried before. Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty (Sichuan Cookery, in the U.K.) received as a gift, brought those flavours — and the memories of a golden summer — into my kitchen. Not only did this book change the way I cooked at home, but it opened the gateway for many more culinary adventures. Even now, though I know many recipes by heart, it is one of my most used books: Oil spattered, dog-eared and much loved, it has helped me forge myriad new memories throughout the years.—Shekha Vyas, food writer and Eater London contributor


The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

The Kitchen Diaries (Part 1)

Nigel Slater

I have a degree in food, and I consider myself a writer of food and culture. This is embarrassing because I now have to admit that I’ve never owned any cookbooks. Only last year I received a small vintage cookbook for my birthday, and Nigel Slater’s Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter for Christmas; before this, all I had to show for cookbooks were small booklet-like pull-outs that came with the Tamil magazines my mum subscribed to. I did come into some cookbooks by way of being a journalist who covered the culture and food beat, but those books were either by celebrities, who were clearly lying about what they’d eat; by celebrities, who’d get very real about their “green-only diets” or by nutritionists, who managed these celebrity diets; or by Indian women, who’d move abroad after marriage and would team up to write nostalgic recipes with a truly American twist. I quickly gave these away. The short answer to the actual question is Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries, which I borrowed from my boyfriend’s mum to read. The book is proof of why Slater might just be the best food writer out there. I like the thorough mundanity with which he describes what he ate each day (it is actually anything but mundane), the descriptions of his kitchen on warm, sunny days (I read this in London winter and I am a tropical baby) took me back to my own, but mostly, his honesty with regards to snacking between “lunch and supper” is what made me fall for it. His recipe for leftover chorizo-leek-onion fried rice was one of the last dishes I cooked in London. I don’t have that book with me now, so one of the first things I’ll do after this lockdown ends is to simply buy it and relive it all over again. I want his year of good eating except for my whole life. —Apoorva Sripathi, writer and Eater London contributor


Dishoom by Dishoom, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Dishoom: From Bombay With Love

Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar, and Naved Nasir

I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t really use cookbooks. At least, not for their intended purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I still own a lot of cookbooks. I love to stack them neatly on my shelves; I love to softly trace my fingers over their sturdy covers; I love to leaf through their pages, gawking like a randy fourteen year old at all the lush photos inside; and — more than anything — I love to read them. But actually whipping up a recipe from them? Well, I’d much rather leave that to the professionals who wrote them. One of the reasons that the Dishoom cookbook is my favourite cookbook is because you don’t actually need to cook any of the many recipes it contains to get your money’s worth. It’s simply a beautiful, hefty thing to have in your home, fragrant with stories of the Parsi cafes dotted across Bombay and a narrative that’ll have you greedily racing towards the end like a pulp fiction novella. I’m never going to attempt to actually cook the ridiculously time-consuming house black dal but, dear God, this book makes me want to spend hours fantasising about doing just that. —Lucas Oakeley, writer and Eater London contributor


Revolting Recipes by Roald Dahl, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Revolting Recipes

Roald Dahl

The first cookbook I ever bought for myself with my own money, the illustrations of Quentin Blake peppered throughout drew me in but the sheer number of favourites had me flicking through the book again and again looking for any excuse to possibly make the Bruce Bogtrotter cake or lickable wallpaper or on a particularly bizarre day, snozzcumbers. Nothing cemented the enjoyment of Roald Dahl’s books like his descriptions of food, this made you want to make the food and then go back and read the books, or at least drink some frobscottle.—Feroz Gajia, restaurateur and Eater London contributor


Week In Week Out by Simon Hopkinson, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Week In, Week Out

Simon Hopkinson

Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories has frequently been cited as the best or most useful cookbook of modern times. For me, though, Week In, Week Out is better; it’s certainly the most regularly thumbed book on my cookshelf. This is a collection of recipes taken from Hopkinson’s time as the food columnist for The Independent newspaper, during which he wore the three cornered cap of authoritative chef, inquisitive home cook and food-loving flaneur better than any other recipe writer before or since. Some of the recipes are projects. Some are just good things on toast. All of them demand to be cooked. It’s many years, rather than just 52 weeks worth of eating.—Ed Smith, food writer, author, and Eater London contributor


Cook With Jamie by Jamie Oliver, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Cook With Jamie

Jamie Oliver

There will be more highbrow — let’s face it, pretentious — entries here, but Cook with Jamie came out the year I went to university and had more of an impact on me than any other book. Unlike other similar titles, you felt as though Jamie really wanted you to learn how to cook, to step out from behind the recipes and say, you know what, it might have chorizo in it, but I’m going to give this a go. The book sweeps over the basics in accessible but unpatronising prose, with helpful primers on fish and butchery and tons of recipes, many of which could be made on two electric hobs. Jamie has had his ups and downs, but in time the world will remember that if it wasn’t for him, for many British men cooking would still consist of throwing pints at each other beside a canal. Shoutout too for Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess, which made brownies horny. —Ed Cumming, writer and restaurant critic


At My Table by Nigella Lawson, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

At My Table

Nigella Lawson

I’d recommend Nigella Lawson’s At My Table, although any of her books have the approach I like. Nigella’s the original Netflix and chill author, surely? There’s a sense that the home cook’s situation has been digested first before the recipes are written: they answer why you might make it and how you would eat and enjoy it before you even think to ask. Nigella’s recipes works backwards from what the reader has in their cupboard or fridge, the situation they’re planning to cook for, and how they‘d fork or finger it from plate to mouth: that feels real and solid right now. —Dan Lepard, food writer, author, and baker


Cooking With Pomiane by Edouard de Pomiane, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Cooking with Pomiane

Edouard de Pomiane

Simple, unpretentious recipes embedded in a well-informed approach to convivium. Pomiane’s distinctive voice — so rare today — and gently amusing prose are welcome bonuses. —Vaughn Tan, academic and restaurant consultant


Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Salt. Fat, Acid, Heat

Samin Nosrat

In terms of what I’m cooking from most at the moment, my favourite cookbook is Nothing Fancy by Alison Roman. Alison’s recipes are just exactly what I want to eat, before I even know what I want to eat (and in the case of her pitcher of martini recipe, drink). The photography is bright and warm and welcoming, and her casual tone sounds like a friend giving you the lowdown on their killer dish. The one-pot chicken with sticky shallots, caramelised lemon and sweet dates is a revelation. But for a good read and beautiful watercolours, it’s got to be Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat - it’s kindly written and a real page-turner.—Daisy Meager, food writer and Eater London contributor


Mandalay by MiMi Aye, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Mandalay

MiMi Aye

The way MiMi Aye writes about her family’s story, the history and heritage of Burma/Myanmar is just magical. It’s a wonderful introduction to Burmese food — a cuisine I previously didn’t know much about. It’s worth picking up just for the stunning family photos and street food vendors in Mandalay, or for the excellent essay debunking the myths of MSG and why it’s fucking delicious. Her wood ear and glass noodle soup and fragrant cinnamon chicken recipes are my go-tos!—Angela Hui, food writer and Eater London contributor


Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

I own upwards of a hundred cookbooks but none are as treasured as my well-worn copy of Ottolenghi. Its slender appearance belies the comprehensive compendium of recipes that cover every eventuality; salads, bread, meat, fish, patisserie and more. Each section packed with foolproof recipe after foolproof recipe. The writing is clear but emotive and the images are bright and unstaged. His reputation is for long rambling lists of obscure ingredients is not entirely unearned, but my quarantined cupboards are nonetheless packed full of spices, preserved lemons, dried barberries and black garlic, so even in isolation this book is a reliable source of comfort and joy. —Leila Latif, Eater London contributor


The Complete Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson, one of the best cookbooks chosen by Eater writers

The Complete Nose to Tail

Fergus Henderson

In a world of restaurant cookbooks with overly elaborate recipes, St John’s Complete Nose to Tail still seems fresh, while each of the recipes are unusually accessible. My dad was a butcher for years and I’ve always been fascinated by offal, so often discarded and tragically underappreciated in Britain, even though the brains, intestines, hearts, lungs, and tongues are often the best part of the animal. As well as hoping to prove that British cooking needn’t be boring, there’s also a prominent focus on utilising offal, pairing under-loved cuts with seasonal ingredients. I bought the book long before eventually visiting the restaurant, which I now consider an all-time favourite, and have followed its recipes ever since. —Jonathan Hatchman, food writer and Eater London contributor

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