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Classic Cookbooks

Every cook, no matter how experienced, should have a few classics on his or her shelf. With so many cookbooks and types of cuisine, we went to the experts for advice.

The Culinary Institute of America
Hyde Park, N.Y.

Noni Tritto, assistant manager at the Craig Claiborne Bookstore at the Culinary Institute of America (1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park, NY; 1-800-677-6266), recommends Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" as a staple. "You can’t go wrong with Julia Child," Tritto says. "She takes you by the hand and says, 'You can do this.'" Tritto says Child’s book teaches the basic techniques rather than simply throwing recipes at the reader.

StarChefs has a page devoted to Julia Child, complete with a biography, interview and recipes. A more recent bestseller by Child is Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, the companion to the 22-part public television series of the same name, which premiered in 1999.

Tritto’s favorite book for learning to bake breads is Bernard Clayton’s "New Complete Book of Breads." For other specialty and hard-to-find cookbooks, she recommends Jessica's Biscuit, which has an inventory of more than 8,000 cookbook titles.

Tritto advises beginners not to always follow the bestseller list. "Cookbooks go in and out of fashion just like last season’s clothes," she says. For the more experienced cook, the bestseller list can be a great place to find new resources. Books For Cooks, the online home of a retail cookbook store in Baltimore, has a bestseller list to point you in the right direction.

Kitchen Arts & Letters
New York City

Matt Sartwell, manager of Kitchen Arts & Letters (1435 Lexington Avenue, New York City; 212-876-5550), says the book he uses most is one he pulls off the shelf for inspiration, not recipes. But he admits that "almost every kitchen needs a core book." Sartwell says he still recommends "The Joy of Cooking". "It has very detailed information on how to handle food."

For American regional fare, Sartwell recommends James Beard’s "American Cookery." "It’s a great homecooking book that doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles," he says. Sartwell also has a few favorites for ethnic dishes. For Indian, he recommends "Classic Indian Cooking" by Julie Sahni. "It’s a terrific introduction to the ingredients, cooking methods and how the meals are put together," Sartwell says. For French, Sartwell prefers "Simple French Food" by Richard Olney, the 1993 winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Excellence. "It’s accessible but authentic French home cooking," he says.

The Tattered Cover

Suzanne Lyon, cookbook buyer for The Tattered Cover, an independent bookstore in Denver, recommends "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman as a useful, all-purpose cookbook. Her personal favorite is "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison. In keeping with the book’s title, Lyon admits she’s not a vegetarian, but loves the recipes. "She’s great," Lyon says, referring to the cookbook’s author. "You can cook up her recipes without changing any of the ingredients." Read an extensive review and find out more about vegetarian cookbooks at the Global Gourmet

Additional Recommendations and Reviews

  • Cravings
    This monthly online newsletter about cookbooks and other literature on food has an online archive.

  • ChefTalk.com
    For a more specialized list of cookbooks, check out this great source for finding out what books professional chefs recommend.

  • Barnes & Noble.com: Cooking
    Offers editor’s picks, recent reviews and interviews with authors.

  • Epicurious
    This site "for people who eat" has a cookbook section that features the top 10 cookbooks, a "community chest" of regional cookbooks and Jewish Cooking Bibles, a list of eight Jewish cookbook classics.

  • Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking-School Cook Book
    The full text of this classic American cooking reference is available at Bartleby.com.

   --- A. Harris

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