Looking for chef-approved food books to improve your kitchen skills and elevate your culinary creations? These are the titles to add to your library

Professionals of all disciplines study, and chefs are no different, using cookbooks and culinary tomes for reference, information and inspiration. Take chef Peter Find of Hong Kong restaurant Heimat. The German native owns more than 800 cookbooks spanning a wide spectrum of cuisines and courses, which he has organised by colour in his home in Hong Kong, serving not only as inspiration by as a talking point for guests.

We spoke to Find and others chefs across Asia whose focus runs the gamut of international cuisines to find out which tomes have influenced the way they cook, and what books—long renowned or recently released—they would recommend to both budding chefs and seasoned professionals. From mastering the fundamentals, to specialising in specific cuisines, to taking your cooking to new heights, these are the food books beloved by some of the best in the food business.

Related: 19 New Cookbooks and Culinary Titles for Spring 2022

Stephanie Wong, chef-founder, Roots Eatery, Hong Kong

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

Susur by Susur Lee and Frantzén by Björn Frantzen are two of my favourite books. Susur was introduced to me by a dear friend and chef mentor and is an incredibly amazing book because Lee was doing French x Chinese cuisine in the 1990s, back when fusion was not a thing! It really paved the way on how far the two cuisines could be intertwined and re-interpreted and is a constant inspiration for me to dig deeper into my “roots”.

Bjorn Frantzén is extra special because I discovered him during an Amber Hong Kong pop-up in 2013 in my banking days, when I didn’t know much about the cooking world. Frantzén really set the tone of how dining can be fine yet approachable but with intense, memorable and unique flavours.

Which books have changed the way you think about food or your approach to cooking?

The Daniel Humm and Will Guidara books. I Love New York and Eleven Madison Park were my earlier purchases and that’s where I learned how to make French sauces even before going to Paris! I Love New York is particularly memorable because it focuses so much on “local produce”, to know your farmers/suppliers and how to re-apply in classic yet modern dishes. That local concept really resonated with me in how most Chinese eat locally, via buying from wet markets.

Which food books would you recommend?

The Art of the Restaurateur by Nicolas Lander, The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit, The Latin American Cookbook by Virgilio Martinez, and Portugal: The Cookbook by Leandro Carreira. The Art of Restaurateur and The Flavour Thesaurus are more knowledge-based and are great as building blocks, while the latter two country cuisine books are lesser featured cuisines that have so much history, depth and uniqueness to them.

Sonja Ocampo, pastry chef, Cupcakes by Sonja and Cakeshop by Sonja, Philippines

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

Chocolates & Confections by Peter Greweling: An absolute essential for any confectioner, it is complete with all the formulas, theories and techniques.  

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee: The most comprehensive book written on food science, this is an invaluable resource that I always come back to, and a wonderful companion to cookbooks you read for recipes.

The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller: For composed dessert theory

PH10 by Pierre Hermé: For creativity and inspiration on flavour pairings

Fancy Desserts by Brooks Headley: For incorporating acid and vegetables into desserts 

Which books have changed the way you think about food or your approach to cooking?

The Last Course by Claudia Fleming: I was living in NYC when she was the pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern, and I was so in love with her desserts there. They were so fresh, well-balanced and greatly influenced by seasonality. This was a nouveau idea then, but it is still relevant today. This was also the first book that really encouraged me to think creatively about favourite dessert staples like berries, nuts and chocolate. And to not overlook less common ingredients too, like herbs, spices and salt.  

Which food book would you recommend to home cooks?

The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt: The recipes work, and the instructions are very clear and easy to follow for home cooks.  

Any recent recommendations?

I love food memoirs, and recently read Ruth Reichl’s Save Me the Plums. It was a delight from start to finish. I recommend this to anyone who loves food and New York.

Jeff Ramsey, chef, Japas, Malaysia and Kintsugi, Thailand

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

I love the cookbooks put out by [publisher] Shibata Shoten. There are two books that I have found by them, one is 焼く, which means '(To) Grill', and the other is 魚づくし, which I will translate as 'Complete Fish Cookery'. The Grill book features chef Toru Okuda of three-Michelin-starred Ginza Kojyu, who shows step-by-step methods and recipes for grilling all sorts of Japanese fish, seafood and even wagyu, duck and chicken. The other book has signature dishes from many top-rated Japanese chefs using all sorts of fish and seafood with lots of thoughtful and creative twists.

Which books have changed the way you think about food or your approach to cooking?

I typically like to look at cookbooks of different famed restaurants for the pictures and the stories that they tell, but not so much for knowledge and for recipes. However, I learned and adopted a new approach to making stocks after reading Fäviken by Magnus Nilsson. He cuts the vegetables into very small dice and adds them to the stock only in the final 20 minutes before finishing the soup. I also learned that ramen soup has a similar approach too, and that further reinforced this as a way to have a fresher, aromatic soup.

Which food book would you recommend to home cooks?

For someone interested in cooking Japanese food, with such a vast array you want to start with a solid foundation. I recommend Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Mary Sutherland and Shizuo Tsuji.

Any recent recommendations?

A friend of mine recently received Disfrutar in English by Oriol Castro, former head chef of El Bulli. It's a monster of a Spanish cookbook that chronicles the work of a team of three super-chefs at the forefront of cooking pushing the boundaries of food with stunning pictures to boot.

Francis Lim, chef, Tipple and Slaw and Made in Bangkok, Philippines

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

Books by Jereme Leung for Chinese food, and Tartine Bakery books. There are many more to mention, but these are my usual go-tos for inspiration.

Which books have changed the way you think about food or your approach to cooking?

Books on Thai food by David Thompson. Thai is one of my favourite cuisines and having worked in Thai kitchens, Thompson’s books made me change the way I see and think about creating simple dishes by bringing out the best in the most humble ingredients.

Which food book would you recommend to home cooks?

For home cooks, I highly recommend Jamie Oliver books. I have a lot of his collection and most dishes can become instant favourites.

Any recent recommendations?

Books by Enrique Olvera—he has redefined Mexican Cuisine.

Peter Find, chef-founder, Heimat, Hong Kong

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

In the mid 90s, it was definitely Charlie Trotter. His book on seafood (Charlie Trotters Seafood) was really ahead of its time and features a lot of unusual compilations. I bought this book in the mid 90s and it travelled with me from Hong Kong to Singapore, to Bahrain, to Macau, and then back again to Hong Kong. I usually travel light, so it really shows how much I value this book! 

Another book like this is Quay by Peter Gilmore. Quay in Sydney really focuses on nature, beautiful presentations and amazing flavour combinations. 

Larousse Gastronomique is indispensable for any chef. 

The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers features amazing Italian-inspired dishes that I love. 

Rockpool Bar and Grill by Neil Perry is another book that is very produce-driven and shows a lot of respect for produce. 

Which books have changed the way you think about food or your approach to cooking?

The Flavor Bible—both the classic and the vegetarian version (The Vegetarian Flavor Bible). Because as a chef, you think you know most of the time what ingredients and flavours pair best and work well together, but there have been times when I read this book and thought 'wow, will that work? It sounds strange!' But then I would try it and thought 'well, it actually really does'. These books help to increase your knowledge and diversity to create new dishes. They are like culinary encyclopaedias and can help anyone become a more adventurous cook without being too reliant on recipes. 
 
Which food book would you recommend to home cooks/other chefs?

Bouchon by Thomas Keller: it is a classic book featuring very flavoursome dishes alongside some delicious French classics.

Vegetable Simple by Eric Ripert: this book truly respects and focuses on the vegetable itself, without overpowering it or covering up its natural flavours and textures too much. A simple but great book for vegetable and meat fans alike.

Any recent recommendations?

As the trend in the last few years has been towards vegetarian dishes, I found these quite interesting: Mr Wilkinson's Vegetables by Matt Wilkinson, Bar Tartine by Courtney Burns and Nicolas Bala, The Chef's Garden by Farmer Lee Jones, Bazaar by Sabrina Ghayour (Middle Eastern spiced vegetarian dishes full of vibrant flavour), and Farm, Fork, Food by Eric Skokan.

Stephan Duhesme, chef, Metiz, Philippines

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

I don’t rely on cookbooks as much as I used to, but those that I do like are ones with very few recipes, but that delve into ideas and philosophies, such as Relæ: A Book of Ideas by Christian F. Puglisi; Memories of Philippine Kitchens, because author Amy Besa can really transport you through her writing; and A Work in Progress by René Redzepi.

Which books have changed the way you think about food or your approach to cooking?

I personally haven’t found cookbooks that have changed the way I think about food or cook. For something to affect me, I generally need to experience it first-hand, then I start searching for relevant books. Understanding the context in which a cookbook was written is important.

Which food book would you recommend to home cooks/other chefs?

For home cooks and chefs alike, I think The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is great. It removes so many cooking myths and allows people to understand the “why” of the fundamentals of cooking. 

Any recent recommendations?

I really enjoyed Septime, La Cave, Clamato, D'une île by Bertrand Grébaut and Théophile Pourriat.

Chef Rasikan, Shook! at The Starhill Dining, Malaysia

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

My first go-to book for inspiration was a very old book titled Ar-Han-Thai 100 Menu which was a gift to me by my dad when I was seven years old. We used this cookbook as our inspiration for our own family meals as a practice ground and it made cooking my passion.

Which books have changed the way you think about food or your approach to cooking?

Thai Street Food by David Thompson has become my current go-to cookbook whenever I need inspiration as it covers recipes from all regions of Thailand.

Tzi Qin Seow, chef, Brewerkz, Singapore

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

My go-to cookbooks for inspiration are On Food and Cooking by Harold Mcgee, and On the Line by Eric Ripert. Being an inquisitive chef, I’m all about the science and facts behind food and cooking techniques. On Food and Cooking is the bible which provides countless insights into food, its preparation and enjoyment. As group executive chef of Brewerkz, organisation and management are two of the more important qualities to lead a successful team. On the Line is not just about recipes; it also delves deeper into the organisation and orchestration in a kitchen—hiring and training, planning, and the problems of growing a business.

Which books have changed the way you think about food or your approach to cooking?

When it comes to changing the way I think about food and my approach to cooking, Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat was able to summarise the huge and complex subject of how we should be cooking in just four words: salt, fat, acid and heat. I am impressed by how Nosrat was able to teach the fundamentals of cooking in these four elements.

Sustainability is one of my main considerations when choosing ingredients, and Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating is a reminder of how we can maximise every part of the ingredient and utilise secondary cuts of meat

Which food books would you recommend to home cooks/other chefs?

For home cooks to understand more about the industry, I recommend the late Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and A Cook's Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal, and Daniel Boulud’s Letters to a Young Chef. These books convey the priorities and responsibilities of a chef. Most importantly, they teach us to live by these mottos: experience, practice and mastery.

Nate Green, chef, Rex Wine & Grill, Hong Kong

Which cookbooks or food titles have been a constant go-to as a source of knowledge and/or inspiration?

There are a handful of cookbooks I own, which I read time and time again:

The Complete Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson: If you know me this one would be a pretty obvious choice. I just love the way Fergus writes and how expressive he is about food. The recipes are very straight forward making it a fantastic book for the home cook. Every dish makes you salivate. This is certainly a book which has influenced the way I cook today and makes me proud to cook the style of food I cook. Everything about St John defines what Modern British Cuisine is for me.

Rick Stein's Taste of The Sea by Rick Stein: When I left college, I went to do a summer season in Padstow. It’s such a magical place. The passion Rick and his team have for seafood is incredible. This book is probably my favourite book on cooking seafood and it's a book which, in my opinion, really helps show case what seafood cooking is all about in the UK. I never really appreciated what I saw working for Rick until I got older and I developed a passion for just simple dishes using the best ingredients.

La Tante Claire by Pierre Koffman: Most people don’t realise that my true food love is French cuisine. Pierre is a legend in London and several of my mentors worked for him. I was lucky enough to cook for him regularly while I was working in London. The book and its stories are beautiful. I love old school cookbooks and classic dishes, they inspire me a lot and I often find little things in there that I can use to improve my own cooking and dishes.

The Sportsman by Stephen Harris: Steven is another chef I hold in high regard. His book documents how he grew The Sportsman from a run-down sticky-floored pub on the outskirts of Whitstable into one of the countries best gastro pubs. I love how everything he uses is so local and again how simple his food is, when I see the dishes it just reminds that my own food is heading along on the right path.

Rockpool Bar & Grill by Neil Perry: I just love this book. I love the food Neil cooks; it's exactly the sort of food I love personally. This is a book I can say inspired my food and what we do at Rex. You just want to eat everything in there. What I love the most though is how it talks about how Rockpool came about and how they set the whole thing up. The recipes again are straight forward and a great addition to any home cook's library.

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