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August 15, 2010


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I was astonished to see that they rated the awful "Pork And Sons" by Stephane Reynaud over Stephanie Alexander's "The Cook's Companion". The issue I have with Pork And Sons is that it is a triumph of style over substance. To be fair to Reynaud, I've been told that the French original has far more depth to it than the English version.


Two notable ommissions from the top 50 were "White Heat" by Marco Pierre White and "The Cooking Of Southwest France" by Paula Wolfert.


I have to admit to only having a small handful of the books on the list, but it was an interesting read :)

sophie munns

Hi Luce,
Ok... I went through the list of 50 and I would add some of my own favs to this list....but i still think my all time fave is Patience Grey's "Honey from a weed". Glad to see her name was on the list for another title.
Honey from a weed is not strictly recipes...though one is told how to approach any number of things. She goes to the heart of the cuisine and traditions of remote parts of greek islands and marble regions of Italy and takes her guidance from intact oral traditions via local peasants...
In her intro she talks of good cooking being a balance between frugality and liberality...of being aware of the rhythyms of glut and scarcity and have a deep respect for every single part of what comes to the table and so on. Such an honest book yet so celebratory....
Im more artist than chef in the kitchen... Never would David Thompson's book lure me into the kitchen... even thought i would adore to be at table with him cooking and would delightedly sit for dinner cooked from his recipes.

i have a passion for the med region across to Persia.... partly the romance of the fruit and other menu items .... and the particular palette of tastes and aromas... Diana Henry's "Crazy water and Pickled Lemons painted delightful pictures for me of ingredients... I think books that are produce driven and story telling lure me to develop a certain intimacy with the pallettes ...and from there I like to play.

However to be fair i did learn 20 years ago from borrowing Claudia Roden books and such from Melbourne libraries.
interesting post Lucy...thanks,


Ah, you beat me to it. Am thinking of doing my own top ten later in the week. Lots I didn't recognise from the list. The #1 doesn't sound like my kind of cooking at all - would love to be served it in a restaurant though!
Not so shocked at the Elizabeth David omissions. She's been built upon so much that I tend to read her for reading's sake. But one Nigel? wtf?


Hmmm, it's an interesting list but not one that finds me nodding in agreement. I guess 'best' to me in terms of cookbooks means the ones I use regularly and the ones I enjoy reading for readings sake. Each to his own...

My current reading? I'm enjoying Niki Segnit's The Flavour Thesaurus, in a dipping in and out kind of way


Daniel, I used to own a copy of that Wolfert book...now where did I put it?...Pork & Sons looks so very pretty and yes, I reckon style-over-substance is why it was included. Plus the brits DO love their pork.

There are some oddities and eccentricities in the list (Robert Carrier? Really? Wasn't he a naughty old bloke? I may just be imagining that...), but two Australian books is pretty good going, I reckon.

Jaqueline: Three vego ones made it into the top 50. Isn't that great!

Sophie M: Ah, Honey from a Weed. Love that book. I have never, though, cooked from it, which is largely because I am too busy reading about the marble they were chasing around the Meditteranean and enjoying her very, very unusual writing voice. One of those books that inspires you to get cooking rather than offering detailed recipes on how to do so! Crazy Water... is a fabulous read. Those chapter intros have had a huge influence on me - again, much more than the recipes themselves.

I must admit that I've not actually cooked from a recipe for the last 6 months or so; rather, the books provide a springboard for ideas and it's nigh impossible to replicate anything. The tyranny of recipes, eh?

Wendy: I DO hope you put your list up; mine is ever-changing and I'd love to see what's holding your interest at the 'mo! Olney (#1) is, I've found, hard-going, simply 'cos he is a rambler in the recipe writing department. I have his Simple French Food and it's a great resource, but the kind of book I take away and read but not actually cook anything from...

Sophie: I went back and had a look at the contributors to the list - most of whom are smarty-pants restaurant folk. This is why I, too, found myself NOT nodding along, but man, that Len Deighton book would be fun, wouldn't it? Off to investigate The Flavour Thesaurus, thank you.

another outspoken female

Bugger wrote a huge comment that have just lost to the ether! What a fascinating compilations.
All "best of" lists are contentious
Wonder what the criteria was?
Some books I love for the writing (ah Mr Slater, I loved your diaries and read cover to cover in a couple of sittings, something I'd never do with a traditional cookbook. Too much meat for me but a wonderful read) but not the recipes.
Some are aesthetically pleasing with photos better than the recipes.
Others like Madhur Jaffrey's Eastern Vegetarian paperback - most used cookbook (me too) but not of much to look at eye candy-wise.
Some popular (in sales figures and in the personality stakes) despite the fact the recipes are have a high failure rate (Jamie Oliver comes to mind, I remember an Epicure article giving home cooks different popular cookbooks to cook from and his had the most recipe fails).
Speaking of which I remember David Thompson on a panel on recipe writing at THAT food festival event when he said his recipes weren't tested. Perhaps the Women's Weekly should have got an honorable mention for reproducibility?
Think Stephanie Alexander would have made the Top !0 if she and her book were English.

Current reading - Elizabeth David "An Omelette and a Glass of Wine" lovely collection of her 1960's-80's food writing. She's up there with MFK Fisher and Diana Kennedy (and of course Mr Slater) for my favourite writers on food that I might not want to eat.

Great post Lucy :)


Hi darls, I wonder if the ether ate your comment up 'cos I was fiddling about in there at the time...hmm...typepad can be naughty like that...

Anyhoo, I am thinking of doing a top 10 photo-driven cook book post later this week. Especially if it keeps on bloody raining, which is why there's been more blogging and less garden-tidying than there should have been of late!

I like that the list includes quite a few I've never heard of, many of which are not really my cup of tea, but which, next library visit, I'll have a search for. Especially Diana Kennedy on your recco. Omelette by David is gorgeous (though I find the historical ramblings make my eyes glaze over a wee bit) and I envy you getting to read it for the first time! Lovely writer, David.


I saw the top 50 list and was slightly shocked at how few of them I owned, knew or had even heard of. Was feeling very cookbook illiterate for a while. Am so glad the top 10 includes Claudia, Jane Grigson, Nigel and Ms David. Love them all. They, along with Madhur, are probably my favourite food writers of all time.


Madhur...she's such a gem!

The real reason I want Len Deighton's Action Cook Book is 'cos it would beautifully (ha!) compliment my lovely copy of Barbara Cartland's magnificently kitsch 1984 masterpiece "Romance of Food":


Clearly I'm developing a thing for the weird and wonderful in cook book land...


I was very surprised to see no Elisabeth Luard in there, she's a fecking genius. I've a few of her books, including ones on European peasant cookery, South American food and the latest I picked up from the remainder shop on the food of Spain and Portugal.

Will eagerly await your photolove list, and maybe we should do a veg one too?


i'd put "cooking by hand" by paul bertolli in there. and "the art of simple food" by alice waters. and "in pursuit" of flavor" by edna lewis. but i'm a cookbook whore, like imelda with her shoes. i can't stop.


Zoe: AND it's a British list...how did they miss one of their very bestf? Her South American one is good? I've the other two around here somewhere...in boxes...

Vego list is a great idea - and what about crazy, nutty health books, too? I know you've a penchant for 'em, just like me. My best friend frequents Gertrude & Alice in Bondi (one of the things I miss most about Sydney, G & A) and bought me a copy of the Tofu Book in large format. Lurve.

Ali: "i'm a cookbook whore, like imelda with her shoes. i can't stop."

Farking funny! Zoe, you would absolutely love. Between the three of us, can you imagine the nerdy joy of noodling through each other's collections? Happiness on a stick, that.

Right. I have been being Very Good about new cookbooks of late, but I am off to get me a copy of Cooking By Hand. It's been recco'd before, but as it's in your top list, I'm all over it now.


Oh yeah, health food nut books would make an orsm list! South American is great, but I've found one page has recipes repeated from the previous page in the Spain and Portugal one, which is probably why it was remaindered. A shame because I would totally make fava beans with black truffle for a treat!


After having been to england and having had the worst experience concerning food over there i have to admit that i do not value a list of an english newspaper that much...


Hi Tanja - that's a pity! The Guardian is one of the most well-respected newspapers in the world, and I think their list is pretty good.


(i hate to say it, but i too have had the WORST food of my life in england. hats off to tanya...)


It's interesting - I think British food has improved hugely over the last couple of decades. I had a horrible meal in Oxford last year (which was really expensive, too), but some good ones in Edinburgh and The Lake District, one that made me think they're making huge leaps. I like to think of it as the Jamie (Oliver) Effect - but even he's still facing an uphill battle there.

Here, we eat Very Well and it kinda spoils you for other country's attempts! We threw away our colonial food past a looong time ago (phew) thanks in part to the Greek and Italian immigrants of the 50s and 60s. A-men.

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