I have written before about my love of books; this isn’t a recent flirtation and is not just about cookery books either. As a child I loved reading and despite the changing medium I can still get totally lost in a narrative or be enthralled by learning something new through reading. I am also really lucky to get paid to write on occasions too. It is all tied up together I think, reading, learning, sharing, teaching, going on a journey in your mind and sharing experiences. It is a real joy. Today much of our reading is on screen, a phone a tablet or a computer, but what I still enjoy most of all is the tactile sensual experience of reading something in print. The senses are fully engaged; the smell of the paper, the sound it makes and most importantly the feel. Silky smooth, textured, light or heavy, a perception of quality and value are conveyed through the paper.
I had lunch recently with Matt Inwood who has kindly guest blogged here before. We share a number of interests, primarily food, books and photography, so it was somewhat inevitable that this is the way the conversation would turn, a conversation that resulted in an invite to submit my top 10 cook books to the 1000 cook books list. Matt is the art director for this fascinating project, a website that has invited hundreds of authors, chefs, bloggers and food professionals to compile their list of the top 10 cook books in the English language. What is really intriguing is how this has created a searchable database that has many options. Search by title, author or use the category section to explore the list by era, who the book is popular with, seasonality, restaurant or even what music is playing in the kitchen.
As Matt and I chatted about the site I started to rattle off some of my top 10; easy. Well actually, when I sat down to complete my questionnaire, no. I spent the best part of a day browsing my book shelves, picking up forgotten publications or flicking through old favourites; so many books have so much merit. In the end I picked 10 books that have been truly instrumental in my career. They have inspired, taught me new things, changed preconceptions, made me think and evaluate. They have provided a mass of information and helped me become a better cook and I hope a better writer. I genuinely agonised over my decisions and felt guilty about some publications I left off. And no, I am not going to say what didn’t make the cut! I could have compiled a top 100 and would still have wanted to include some more.
Interestingly none of the books on my list are particularly new. I think it takes some time for a volume to become truly important to me so it will be interesting to revisit my list in a few years time and see what is influencing me, particularly as I am now cooking so differently than when I ran a restaurant.
Pay the site a visit, it really is fascinating to see all the different lists. One of my choices, The French Laundry Cookbook, made the top ten, you can see the others on my list here.