We’re halfway through our 2022 reading challenge. If you’ve been following along, you’ve been introduced to remarkable people whose talents and ideas have delighted fans, pushed limits, sparked revolutions, and even changed the world. Now we dive into famous chefs.
Memoirs and biographies allow readers to go behind the curtain into the lives of incredible people. This month, we’re going to go behind the swinging kitchen doors to meet chefs whose lives and personal stories are every bit as satisfying as their food.
You don’t have to be a foodie to love this list. You don’t even need to love to cook. All you need to do is love a good story, and these books don’t disappoint on that front. Stories and food connect us, making this list of stories a recipe for the perfect read.
Memoirs & Biographies of Famous Chefs
Earning the reputation of a world-class chef is no small feat. The folks that make it to this pinnacle are truly extraordinary, as you’ll find when reading their stories.
Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child
Noel Riley Fitch, 1997
When you think of famous chefs, Julia Child is likely one of the first names that comes to mind, which is why she leads the list. The influence of Julia Child is felt in millions of kitchens across the country. Her distinctive voice is instantly recognizable, and her name is virtually synonymous with gourmet cooking at home.
This biography gives you a chance to meet Julia through personal interviews, private letters, and journals. From her college pranks and parties to her years volunteering in the OSS during WWII, Julia’s larger-than-life personality is fully on display. Ms. Child had two great loves – her sweetheart Paul Child and food – you’ll enjoy every aspect of her romances with both.
This is a book about food, adventure, humor, romance, and a thoroughly modern woman.
My Life in France
Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme, 2006
Since Julia Child is a prevalent name and has such a dominant presence in the food world, she gets two spots on the reading challenge list this month. My Life in France is her story in her words. This memoir focuses on the beginning of her journey into all things French food. If you love Julia and French cooking, you’ll savor every word.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Anthony Bourdain, 2000
When it comes to modern memoirs written by chefs, this book tops most charts. Chefs consider this book a must-read. Chef Bourdain wrote several books, but this is his most loved one, and it will forever change how you see the restaurant industry.
This memoir is raw, sharp, humorous, and spot on like its author. The stories are memorable, and the author makes an indelible impression.
Yes, Chef: A Memoir
Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers, 2012
Vogue and The New York Times agree this memoir was one of the year’s best books, and you’re certain to agree.
Chef Marcus Samuelsson, famous for New York restaurants Aquavit and Red Rooster, began his love affair with food as a young Ethiopian boy cooking with his adopted Swedish grandmother on Saturday afternoons. Yes, this book is about flavors and food, but it’s also about family in all its many variations.
Samuelsson has delighted the taste buds of presidents, prime ministers, jazz musicians, and Swedish grandmothers.
It’s a book about failure and triumph, isolation and community, and the cutthroat world of food in New York.
Nobu: A Memoir
Nobu Matsuhisa, 2017
Chef Nobu Matsuhisa founded an empire with award-winning restaurants on five continents. His mark on the restaurant industry is wide-reaching, and this book gives you a chance to get to know the spirit of what makes him so singular in the food world.
Within these pages, you’ll discover his deep love for his
family, his passion for treating every member of his organization with dignity, and how his Japanese perspective influences every element of the job. Nobu’s story is full of highs and lows that will inspire you to persevere through adversity in pursuing your dreams.
Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table
Ruth Reichl, 1999
Chef Ruth Reichl had a successful career as a food writer, critic, chef, and TV personality. Her memoir is a delightful read, and you’ll eat up every word. She had a passion for food and writing, which makes this book such a feast. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you might even get a little bit hungry.
Reichl spins tales about her mother – the Queen of Mold. You’ll be there when Monsieur du Croix introduces her to foie gras, a group of hippies on the hunt for organic food in the 1970s.
The book is full of memorable characters. It’s a genuinely funny and entertaining book about one woman’s search for something edible.
Eat a Peach: A Memoir
David Chang, 2020
Chef David Chang is perhaps most famous for his eponymous restaurant and cookbook, Momofuku. Still, you’ll truly come to appreciate him as you enjoy this acclaimed and thought-provoking memoir.
You get it all from Mr. Chang: his Korean American upbringing, his adventures teaching English in Japan, his struggles with mental illness, his mistakes, his lucky breaks, and his genuine love of food. Mr. Chang’s path to success was by no means a straight shot upwards, but his circuitous path makes for excellent reading.
Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking
Bill Buford, 2020
Mr. Buford moved his wife and twin sons to Lyon, France, to apprentice at Lyon’s finest boulangerie. What followed was a grueling five years. In Lyon, he learned everything there is to know about baking, attended culinary school, and discovered the realities and rigors of working in a Michelin-star restaurant.
This well-written book has a sense of adventure and a lot of humor about how a fish out of water learned to swim. Could you master the art of French cooking? You’ll better understand your answer after devouring Mr. Buford’s memoir.
Best Books for Home Chefs
Since we’re talking about your ability to cook, it seems fitting to pivot from the kitchens of professional chefs to your kitchen. You’ve got cookbooks galore and Pinterest recipe pins by the dozens. But none of these teach you to cook.
The following three books, however, will take you a step or two closer to understanding the science of food and flavors like never before. If you want to feel more confident in your kitchen, these books are for you.
On Food and Cooking
Harold McGee, 1984
This book is commonly included in the curricula of culinary schools everywhere. Still, you don’t have to be a chef or even a chef-in-training to understand and appreciate the knowledge and info about food in this book.
Harold McGee shares a combination of literary anecdotes, food science, and history in this exceptional book that’s perfect for anyone who cooks or eats. On Food and Cooking is filled with illustrations, photographs, and information about every food category.
McGee answers questions such as why it’s necessary to knead dough, why cream whips but milk doesn’t, and even what makes white meat white. There’s a lengthy explanation of additives and a thorough exploration of taste and smell.
If you’re on a mission to understand food, this book will certainly satisfy you.
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs
Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, 2008
What Harold McGee did for food and ingredients, Dornenburg and Page do for seasonings in this exceptional guide to all things flavor. Getting the best flavors from food goes beyond following a recipe, and the authors explain why.
In The Flavor Bible, you’ll learn about different ingredients, what flavors work together, and how to create balanced flavors in dishes and meals. After reading and digesting the information in this book, you’ll be more intuitive in your kitchen.
If deliciousness is what you’re after, this book will get you there. It’s an invaluable reference book that belongs in every cook’s kitchen.
Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes
Jeffrey Hamelman, 2004
This book received the Julia Child award for being the Best First Book the year it was published. If you’re among the many folks who tried their hand at bread baking during the pandemic, this is the book you need to take your efforts to the next level.
It is the definitive book on the art of baking bread and shares formulas rather than recipes so you can create mouthwatering taste, texture, and flavor combinations. With lots of photos and engaging writing about the science of breadmaking, it is sure to become a tried-and-true companion in your home bakery.
Take a Deeper Dive into Food
Add these and other books about chefs and food to your shopping cart at Discover Books today. We’re confident you’ll eat up every bit of this reading challenge. There’s something here for every reader to savor and enjoy.
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