by Ann Cox, MLS
If you’ve spent any time around me while in a library or bookstore over the ten years, you’ll have heard me talk at length about how we’re living in a golden age of cookbooks. Honestly, I’ve probably told people in line at the grocery store. It’s one of my favorite topics. But how can you not get excited about the abundance of recent cookbooks that combine fantastic recipes of varied international flavors with gorgeous photography and thoughtful design? They’re beautiful enough to display on a coffee table, but the food is too amazing not to be cooked and savored. I could easily swap out every book I’ll mention with another equally wonderful, but my highly subjective batch of current favorites will surely have your patrons rushing to the kitchen, if they can stop drooling over the photos.
I should be very clear: I’m not saying that cookbooks older than 2012 or so haven’t been amazing or worthwhile. Some of my most used cookbooks are favorites from decades past. But for that sweet spot of appealing recipes paired with aesthetic allure, current cookbooks are where it’s at. My own collection has exploded as I’ve been unable to walk away from a book too lovely to pass up! The reason for this shift can be attributed to the massive prominence of food within our culture over the last twenty years, thanks to the rise of the Food Network, Instagram, and blogging, among other factors. Within cookbook publishing itself, the beginning of the current publishing trend can often point straight to Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Its exciting flavors, bright photography of local food culture, and modern design made it a classic title almost as soon as it was published. Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Element of Good Cooking has a similar cult status, with charming illustrations and a rapturous tone that educated novice and experienced cooks alike and propelled the author to a popular Netflix show. While not all cookbooks will have such lasting power, the impact of these two essential titles can be seen among countless volumes.
I could make pages of lists of favorite cookbooks right now, but I’ll highlight a few that I’m particularly thrilled about. It’s hard to resist the punchy, color-saturated photography that’s dominating food media right now, and the cover of Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico by Rick Martínez may be the brightest and most alluring of them all. Not only does he methodically catalog the vast regional variety of Mexican food through his personal travels over nineteen months, but he also delves into its essential place in Mexican culture and highlights the people who produce it. The vibrant, sun-drenched photos of ceviche and carnitas tacos have me looking into flights to Mexico City regularly. This is a stunner. Although I haven’t seen it personally, thanks to its infamous loss at sea, Mason Hereford’s Turkey and the Wolf: Flavor Trippin’ in New Orleans employs a similar aesthetic. After being named Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant in 2017 (a surprise for a sandwich shop) the eclectic space has grown into cult status thanks to iconic dishes like the Collard Green Melt. You can find kitschy, pop-culture infused photo spreads among the recipes.
At the other end of the spectrum, I love soothing, minimalist design in cookbooks as well. Perhaps the peak example of this look is Mangus Nilsson’s The Nordic Baking Book. Nillson was the chef of the two-Micheline-starred Fäviken, a tiny restaurant in northern Sweden, and that quiet atmosphere is reflected in his encyclopedic tome on Nordic baking. The photography of the food is spare, coupled with epic vistas of Nordic landscapes from Iceland to Finland, and the book itself is bound with textured gray fabric. If you need to get your hygge on, this is the book to do it. You may recognize Benjamina Ebuehi from Series 7 of The Great British Bake Off. She was a personal favorite of mine that season, and her most recent book A Good Day to Bake employs her good taste and impeccable styling in its clean pages and photographs. New takes on well-known dishes like Rosemary and Honey Scones give a fresh sensibility to classics, and perusing the book feels calming.
If I see you at the grocery store, I’ll give you dozens more cookbooks that I personally think fit my “golden age” status, but I’ve compiled twenty-five favorites into an ipage list for you to enjoy. If you’d like some award-winning titles, the RUSA CODES list of Essential Cookbooks can point you in the right direction. What a glorious time to be cooking!