Some cookbooks can do more than teach—they can change lives. Food & Wine's Emily Carrus reports.

Food professionals often credit cookbooks among their greatest influences—and still rely on them for inspiration and ideas. "I didn't go to culinary school, so I learned from books," says chef Joanne Chang of Myers + Chang restaurant and Flour Bakery + Café in Boston. "My education came from trial and error, and reading about other chefs' experiences." Here, Chang and four other culinary luminaries share their favorite cookbooks.

1. Joanne Chang, chef-owner of Myers + Chang restaurant and Flour Bakery + Café, both in Boston

Her pick: Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

"When my husband and I opened Myers + Chang, a Chinese restaurant, I got into the thick of things with landlords, electricians and painters, and I would get really discouraged. Then I would pull out this book—and every time I reopened it, I was reminded of why I was doing this. It's inspirational, really well written and filled with so many varieties of Asian food. My background is Taiwanese, and our executive chef spent time in Thailand, and we both still look at this book from time to time for great ideas."

2. Pichet Ong, chef-owner of P*ONG restaurant and Batch bakery in New York City and author of The Sweet Spot: Asian Inspired Desserts

His pick: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham

"This is a really great reference for me. Food trends change all the time—spaghetti carbonara is 'in' and then 'out' and then 'in' again—but there are so many basic recipes you need to know, even if they're not the fashionable dishes you're seeing in fine-dining restaurants. Things like why you brew tea at a certain temperature, or how to make meat loaf and shrimp cocktail and salad dressing. Even how to store ingredients. This book explains everything in a way that's easy to understand. Plus, I love the measurement references behind the jacket on the front cover. When I forget how to make the basics, this book is very handy—and then I can spin things my own way."

3. Jeremy Fox, chef and partner of Ubuntu restaurant in Napa Valley and an F&W Best New Chef 2008

His pick: Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

"When I first started cooking [in the late 1990s], this book was really helpful to me in learning about seasonality and flavor combinations. In the beginning, I didn't know what fruits and vegetables grew during what time of year, and what flavors went well together in a dish. I still refer to it every once in a while if I have ingredients in the kitchen that I don't know what to do with."

4. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and author of What to Eat and Pet Food Politics

Her pick: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

"When I was a young mother in 1962, I traveled in a circle of friends who did competitive home cooking. Into that world dropped Julia Child's book, and we all tried to outdo each other at dinner parties in the elaborateness and deliciousness of the meal. If you do anything that Julia tells you to in her book, the food comes out great. Many years after I began cooking, I was invited to a dinner at her house. I brought my copy of the book with me to show her how the pages were stuck together at the hollandaise recipe—she was beyond humorous about it and wrote a pretty cool dedication to me in the front."

5. John Besh, executive chef and co-owner of August, Besh Steak, La Provence and Lüke, all in Louisiana, and an F&W Best New Chef 1999

His pick: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

"This book is tried and true: There isn't a recipe here that doesn't work perfectly, and every one comes out looking like the pictures! Marcella embodies the theory of women cooking—that is, the ingredient speaks for itself, and there's no need to manipulate it. (I love to keep things simple, but I'm cursed by the cheffy thing!) It's so refreshing to turn to a book where everything is based on common sense, the love for food and the love for the people you are cooking for. It's about taking a simple ingredient and using it to its fullest."