How Valuable Cookbooks Inspire Professional Chefs

Stories from chefs on how cookbooks have influenced their way of cooking.

A cookbook is one item that becomes a chef’s lifelong companion throughout their culinary journey. It is a bible and a manual that gives new cooks the foundation they need to do well in their profession. Every chef, no matter what position they hold in the industry, has a cookbook in their possession – even professional cooks still turn to these references to not only gather inspiration but also brush up on some basics they might have forgotten.   

For self-taught chefs, having some cookbooks to learn from can inspire them to come up with new dish ideas or flavors to experiment on. They can utilise the existing recipes in cookbooks as jump-off points to creating future culinary masterpieces, just like many professional chefs.  

Here are some ways cookbooks could inspire chefs or any kitchen staff: 

1. Become the First Cooking Inspiration 

Many cooks have named Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” as one that has influenced them the most in their careers. For baker Dan Lepard, this manuscript has fascinated and inspired him ever since he grabbed a copy in 1991. It has informed him how to prepare and cook French cuisine properly.  

For Chef Joe Palma, it was “The French Laundry Cookbook,” written by Thomas Keller, Michael Ruhlman, and Susie Heller. He received this book from his parents as a high school student. Even though he was on the path to becoming an investment banker, this cookbook somehow steered him towards the culinary industry.  

2. Reference to Master Different Flavors 

A good chef knows which flavors work well and which ones don’t. While this skill can be learned in culinary school, it helps to have reference material to know the basics. Chef Merlin Verrier, who was a guest judge on the reality show Master Chef, credits “The Flavor Bible” as one of his go-to cookbooks. Helmed by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, this book focuses on individual ingredients, how to best cook them, and what specific flavors to pair them with.  

a chef is reading a cookbook at the kitchen.
A cookbook is a valuable object to have within your restaurant chef’s reach. (Photo: Shutterstock)

3. Help to Hone Different Skills 

You’ll know you have a good cookbook in your hands if it does not only help you master specific skills, but it also allows you to explore the different possibilities from a single ingredient or recipe. Nashville-based Chef Julia Sullivan points to “The Zuni Café Cookbook” by Judy Rodgers as one that has made a significant impact in her career. The author dives into specific cooking methods and techniques, and how it is going to result in a beautiful, tasty dish when combined with the right ingredients. It helps you push your limits so that you can become better in the kitchen.  

4. Teach Resourcefulness 

Many chefs are preparing meals on the table.
Practicing resourcefulness in the kitchen is important to promote sustainability. (Photo: Shutterstock

Iron Chef America Michael Symon believes that Fergus Henderson’s “The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating” is a revolutionary cookbook and one that’s a must-read for any chef out there. This book espouses the idea that you should use an entire animal – whether it’s a pig, cow, or chicken – and not just parts of it in your restaurant. Doing so not only promotes resourcefulness but sustainability as well. You also get to be creative in figuring out how to use certain parts that aren’t common in most restaurant dishes.  

Cookbooks are great additions to your restaurant and shouldn’t be taken for granted, even if we live in the age of the internet. There’s nothing like flipping through the pages of a traditional recipe book as many of the dishes there have already stood the test of time and are still valid until today.


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