It seems pretty straightforward, in essence: a cookbook’s purpose is to provide recipes and instructions on how to properly prepare various dishes. That’s why we were giddy when it was announced, seemingly years ago, that one of our favorite New York restaurants, the vegetable-focused Dirt Candy, would be releasing its first cookbook in the form of a graphic novel. Now that it’s finally out, the book has proven itself to be worth the wait: this may be the first and only cookbook to elicit the amount of joy and tears usually reserved for a compelling piece of literary fiction. To celebrate this truly unique work, we rounded up some of our other favorite quirky spins on the “cookbook” concept. Spoiler alert: you’re gonna get a lot of Harold McGee. Ever used any of these? Did we miss your favorite cookbook oddity/treasure? Let us know in the comments.
Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey
Amanda Cohen, the brilliantly insane proprietor of New York’s Dirt Candy, is one of our favorite people in the food game. Her restaurant’s blog is as outspoken as a public Facebook post, captioned at the very top with her modus operandi: “Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave vegetables to the professionals.” She makes the distinction that Dirt Candy is a “vegetable” restaurant, not a “vegetarian” restaurant, and seeks to redefine the way the modern palate approaches eating veggies. It’s no wonder, then, that Dirt Candy as a cookbook redefines the way a traditional printed collection of recipes works. A graphic novel format tells of Cohen’s history in cooking, her team’s loss on Iron Chef, and her personal/professional methodologies in a refreshingly frank and honest way that’s very much her style. Then, of course, there’s the recipes: everything from the jalapeño hush puppies to Cohen’s own mushroom take on foie gras comes explained, step by admirably difficult step. We hope Dirt Candy starts a revolution, one in which everyone eats and enjoys vegetables and no one’s mean about it.
The Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemmons
The Flavorpill office goes through more than its share of Sriracha, the spicy sauce, due in part to your author’s obsession with it. It’s truly a condiment worthy of a cookbook, and Randy Clemmons brings the heat, with a history lesson on the stuff, vital recipes for Sriracha ranch and mayo, and even instructions on making your own. Probably the most important thing you’ll ever hear in your life: if you’ve never made a Bloody Mary with Sriracha, you aren’t living.
The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adria by Ferran Adria
“Family meals” in restaurants have become, in the rise of foodie culture, the stuff of legend. It’s fascinating to think about what the chefs we venerate serve to the staff that act as their right hands (see the aforementioned Dirt Candy cookbook for a hilarious anecdote regarding this). It’s difficult to think of a chef more universally idolized than Ferran Adria, so this, The Family Meal, is quite interesting. You won’t find crystallized foam egg yolks; instead, Adria presents simple recipes made with inexpensive, readily-available ingredients and loving, tender commentary. This isn’t the cookbook people wanted or expected from Adria, but it’s a gift.
Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young and Maxime Bilet
This massive six-volume set of self-published cookbooks set the world on fire when they hit shelves last year. It is at once a complete lesson on the basics of food and cooking, a veritable hand-holding through the world of molecular gastronomy and, with its absolutely epic, jaw-dropping photography, food porn of the highest caliber. The steep retail price makes it something to be admired from afar, but the work the team at The Cooking Lab has done and is continuing to do is changing what we understand about the very nature of food itself.
On Food And Cooking by Harold McGee
Before our beloved Richard Blais and Ferran Adria, there was Harold McGee, one of the OGs of modern molecular gastronomy. On Food And Cooking is the ultimate intersection of food and science, breaking down everything, literally everything, about the cooking process. For those who like their food writing brainy but accessible, this is a bible. In fact, for everyone who has ever eaten food it should be a bible.
Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach
Taken from Jenny Rosentrach’s blog of the same name, Dinner: A Love Story is an answer to a simple question: how the f*** does a working family of two manage to actually ever eat dinner together? What could be a cloying concept (“awww honey let’s have dinner together awww”) actually turns into an intricate, well-done and emotionally affecting study of the hows, whats, and whys of a modern relationship and how to feed, both literally and figuratively, that relationship.
Balzac’s Omelette by Anka Muhlstein
As a writer, Honoré de Balzac was notoriously focused on the acts and arts of food and eating. Anka Muhlstein uses Balzac’s work, particularly The Divine Comedy, as a starting point to analyze classic French cooking and food history, including the start of what we today would consider a “restaurant.” It’s a sparkling little piece of history that goes down well with wine.
My Last Supper by Melanie Dunea
What’s the last thing you want to eat before you die? It’s not something most of us think about, but take just a second and do it. No, really, we’ll be here.
This is the guidance given to the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay in this fascinating coffee table book, which includes ephemera like desired guest lists to each chef’s last meal, and huge, gorgeous portraits of everyone. So no, really, what would your last meal be?
The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn
“Everyone buys crappy food,” goes the all-too-common assessment of modern eating. It’s the same old song, one that many chefs sing but few choose to change. Le Cordon Bleu graduate Kathleen Flinn decided to do her part to help a few women eat better by teaching them to cook. It sounds like a simple premise, but it actually proves life-changing.
Lucky Peach by McSweeney’s
Not a cookbook per se, but probably the best ongoing food writing in the world righy now. A project of McSweeney’s and Momofoku’s David Chang, with frequent guest spots by Anthony Bourdain and wd-50’s Wylie Dufresne, this whip-smart, inventive and absolutely addicting food magazine is like a Highlights for adults (minus the whole “being in a dentist’s office” thing). Games, puzzles, trading cards, even a food-based play all often accompany awesome essays, recipes and narratives. Bonus: they have Harold McGee doing an ongoing column, where he proves to be just as wonderful and lovable, not to mention vital, as ever.