Continuing Education: The Cookbooks That Shape Us
I never enrolled in culinary school—restaurant kitchens, test kitchens, and cookbooks have long been my classroom.
Back in 2005, a few weeks into a line cook job in New York City, I asked my chef, Jonathan Waxman, for his favorite cookbooks, hoping to better understand the style of rustic Italian cuisine we were cooking at Barbuto, his New York City restaurant. He gave me a list that included works by Alice Waters, Paul Bertolli, Judy Rodgers, Elizabeth David, Paula Wolfert, and two books by Richard Olney: Simple French Food and The French Menu Cookbook.
I never enrolled in culinary school—restaurant kitchens, test kitchens, and cookbooks have long been my classroom. Each book on Waxman’s list contains lessons I still follow (read Rodgers’ Zuni Cafe Cookbook for her treatise on salt alone), but Olney in particular drew me into his world. His voice was uncompromising, evocative, and lyrical, and his obsession with how to strike a proper balance among flavors and textures in a menu was legendary. “Who was this Iowan who moved to Provence and out-Frenched the French?” I wondered. Later, in my first magazine job, I used Olney’s instructional cookbook series The Good Cook as a reference whenever I needed to brush up on a method—making a terrine, say, or sauce gribiche. I’m not alone. In my experience, if you ask chefs of my generation (and Waxman’s) about their favorite cookbooks, Olney’s name invariably comes up.
I was reminded of his influence six years ago, when I moved to Birmingham, Alabama. (We produce Food & Wine in Birmingham and New York City.) Before moving south, I pulled another beloved cookbook off my shelf: Frank Stitt’s Southern Table.
Stitt opened Highlands Bar & Grill in Birmingham in 1982 when he was 28 years old. He’s often called the godfather of new Southern cuisine—a strain of cooking built on pride of place, local ingredients, and a blend of African-American and European traditions and techniques. I knew from cooking his recipes that I would like Stitt’s food; once I tasted it at his restaurants, Highlands, Bottega, and Chez Fonfon, I felt a kinship. And, as I learned later, he had once worked for Richard Olney. This May, Stitt’s flagship restaurant, Highlands, was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as the best in the nation, and in our October issue, Stitt shares the story of how Richard Olney shaped his philosophy of food and drink.
Taking our cue from Olney, this Fall Wine Issue celebrates the magic that happens when good people, good food, and good wine meet at table. Ray Isle visits Georgia to taste wines made in qvevri—clay vessels buried underground—and to feast at the country’s legendary supras, hours-long dinner parties with recipes that you will want to recreate at home. Writer Joel Stein gives in to natural wine, a hot topic in the wine world, and saves his marriage with a few good bottles in the process, and Justin Chapple shares ingenious new appetizers for entertaining. We hope it all inspires you to create some magic and beauty at your own table.