A well-written novel, many classic novels and contemporary highly acclaimed novels, share a human story revealing the journey of struggle, discovery, awakening, undeserved or unwanted pain and navigation to a larger truth that humans of all generations can connect with in some way.
A good cookbook, a classic, one that is and will be pulled from the shelves of our grandparent’s, our parent’s, our aunt’s and uncle’s, friends’ and now repeatedly by you teaches the home cook how to cook diving deeper than just telling.
In other words, a good book, whether a cookbook or novel, is one we continue to return to to learn from as we navigate our own unique life journey.
Today is Julia Child’s birthday, and without question, one of the most signifcant parts of her success with her first and many of her other cookbooks along with her cooking show The French Chef was how she taught the reader and viewer and gave them agency in their own kitchen to find success where they may have thought it would be impossible.
The first moment I saw Julia Child’s La Cornue stove while attending Patricia Wells’ cooking class in Vaison-la-Romaine in Provence in 2018.
When I began cooking, actually I began in the kitchen baking as many of us do with our family as the sweets and desserts catch a child’s eye far more easily than the savory meals (oh, so much growing and tasting that is yet to come!), I followed the recipe to the “T” for I knew that the recipe was the one way to success if only I could understand all that it meant – what does to braise mean? what does julienne mean? what is blanching verses searing?.
Adhering to the recipe without deviation continued through those years when all I wanted was to eat and nobody was making me anything – i.e. college or after school before mom came home as a young teenager. But then you begin to trust yourself. Then you begin to understand how flavors are reached, what your palate prefers, and you first deviate, and then you cook with what you have in your kitchen and then you begin to truly have fun in your kitchen.
When we begin to trust ourselves in our kitchen, in many ways we parallel what we need to do in life. We cannot harness our favorite season of fruits and vegetables and live solely in summer for example with all of its bounty. No, we must move with how life dances, learn how to dance our best “summer” cooking/baking dance and have fun along the way for soon it will be autumn. So too is life. We can choose to strengthen the skills that will enhance our experience, our relationships, our decisions, but we cannot control others or anything outside of ourselves fully or at all. Nor would we want to as the joy needs to come from within us to live well. We are the ingredient our lives need to find true contentment.
Perhaps that is why I enjoy being a home cook so much. Whenever I have come across a cookbook that teaches and wishes for the reader to walk away more knowledgeable, I treasure it and give great appreciation. Such books take time to create as we know it took Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle nearly 10 years to complete Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) and the second volume took nearly as long for Beck and Child (1970).
Today I would like to share with you 10 French cookbooks worth welcoming into your Kitchen Library, each teaching you how to cook as much as offering recipes you will enjoy. Currently my own Kitchen Library is piled on my dining room table as the shelves are being painted (see the photo above), but I highly recommend creating a space near or in your kitchen that is easily accessible for your cookbooks. Not only can the books and their uniquely designed spines be aesthetically appealing, the functionality of pulling a book off the shelf to inspire your next meal or introduce you to a new way of cooking [fill in the blank with that one ingredient that is most frequent in your kitchen cooking] is worth it for the ease it welcomes into the cooking process.
Cooking is fun, and it became more fun as I became a better cook. I still have an immense amount of knowledge to acquire, but I am tickled that thankfully that is the case as being a student is a delight. And being a student of life in so many different areas of curriculum is the secret to life I believe, keeping us ‘young’. As I share when I sign off from each of my episodes in The Simply Luxurious Kitchen, my hope is for viewers to not only enjoy the food they create but enjoy stepping into their kitchens. I am confident this is possible when we are taught how to cook, not just when we follow the recipe.
The following cookbooks have helped and do help me continue to deepen my time spent in my own kitchen learning the skills that I can apply to my own recipes as well as share delicious meals. Let’s take a look.
1.Julia Child and Simone Beck’s Volumes 1 & 2 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Louisette Bertholle, Volume 1)
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 & 2 The tome to have in your kitchen. Each of these cookbooks were laid out for their time in a unique way – ingredients and tools on the margin and the detailed instructions aligned with the ingredient/tool when it would be used. All of the classic French dishes are explained clearly for the “home cook”.
2. Simple French Food by Richard Olney
Richad Olney does not skimp when it comes to details, and his recipes are not necessarily simple, but they are delicious and worth exploring as his skill is impeccable as he breaks down what each herb in your garden can do in your cooking, how to use it and much more. Talking about wine in cooking to explain to readers the purpose and the necessity and selecting the right bottle, with each recipe is an in-depth explanation that teaches as well as lists the ingredients and directions.
3. La Varenne Cooking Course by Anne Willan
If you were so fortunate as to attend a class at La Varenne in Paris founded by Anne Willan (and Julia Child supported and taught classes from time to time) before the famed cooking school closed in 2007, then you know this is a cookbook worth having. Organized by 120 pages of technique teaching, 200 pages of instructions on the classic French creations and 200 more pages on the special French way with foods common in all nations, this is a classic cookbook to teach you what you want to know about the basics and far more about French cooking.
4. The Making of a Cook (the original published in the 1970s, not the updated) by Madeleine Kamman
I am reading this cookbook and skill-book right now and loving it. Kamman breaks down the science behind cooking, what different techniques can do to the flavor, how to make different sauces and substitutes that will work just as well depending upon what you have in your épicerie. There are five hundred recipes as well, but her conversation with the reader is a page-turner.
In 1991 Patricia Wells worked with who she called the best French chef working in France at that time – Joel Robuchon. There are classic recipes elevated to a level of deliciousness that will delight your palate, and there are in detail explanations about classic French ingredients – duck, mussels, and madeleines.
6. Everyone Can Bake: Simple Recipes to Master and Mix by Dominique Ansel
Just published this past spring, I excitedly purchased a copy, and I am glad that I did. Ansel teaches you how to bake classic French patisserie creations you have seen in the windows of patisseries in Paris and beyond. Offering the ability to combine the pastry and the filling and topping you prefer, you truly will learn how to bake and bake delicious creations.
7. My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz
The introduction of Lebovitz’ classic French cookbook is my favorite part. He goes through the necessary list of utensils and ingredients in his épicerie and explains for each why they are helpful in the everyday kitchen. His stories, as we have come to love in all of his books as well as his Instagram account, combined with his talents and experience are what make this a lovely cookbook to have in your library.
Called the Emperor of Chefs and the father of haute cuisine, Auguste Escoffier’s original cookbook is available in an English translation, complete with measurement conversions, and the recipes for the five fundamental “mother sauces” he helped codify: béchamel, espagnole, velouté, hollandaise, and tomato. This cookbook is for the serious cook in your household and absolutely worth having, but make room for its 900+ pages.
9. Sauces by James Peterson (fourth edition)
Speaking of sauces, if you want everything there is to know about sauces on top of the five Classic French sauces shared above, this is the book for your library. It is a carefully detailed dictionary of sauces, and if there was ever a sauce you heard while dining or in a kitchen and didn’t know, this cookbook will clearly explain what it is and how to make it, along with the variations available. Again, make room. 688 pages.
10. The French Kitchen Cookbook by Patricia Wells
I absolutely love this cookbook. Wells takes readers through the kitchen sharing the tools and helpful utensils for cooking everyday French meals, along with the recipes she has taught many of her classes. Beautifully laid out, this book will have you returning again and again for inspiration.
Let me share that as soon as I cut the list off at 10, many readers will want to share what they love, but before you do, please check my Cookbook shopping list in TSLL’s Boutique as I have eight pages of cookbooks I recommend. Many of them could easily have been included in today’s list, but I wanted to limited the list to the Top Ten that would be best to have as you began to build your own kitchen focusing on the fundamentals of French cuisine and the food you love to eat.
Wishing you a wonderful time exploring what piques your curiosity the next time you step into your kitchen. Bonne journée!
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