Cookbooks - Why Bother?


Why bother?  With the emergence of the interwebs and the Google I gave up buying cookbooks for recipes years ago.  Search, print, cook. Pretty straightforward.

Let’s wind this back, almost everyone started out with the Betty Crocker Cookbook: 1500 Recipes for the Way You Cook Today or Better Homes and Gardens: New Cook Book, 16th Edition or even Joy of Cooking].  I remember vividly handwriting in 10 year old script the recipe for ‘Schil’s Famous Beef Stew’ in the back of Big Red.  I don’t often refer to it or The Joy of Cooking anymore but they hold a nostalgic place in my cooking memories.

I started cooking in the pre-internet era (I know it’s difficult to remember what that was like).  Coincidently it was also the pre-celebrity chef era (well I’m not that old but the celebrity chefs in the popular consciousness could be counted on one or two hands).  Julia Child et al’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 Volume Set).

Even in the internet everywhere era, cookbooks sales continue at a steady clip - the rise of celebrity chefs and food bloggers turned cookbook authors have contributed to a steady market in cookbook publishing.  But why would anyone buy a cookbook when almost every recipe I’ve ever seen in a cookbook is a google search away?

Ivan Orkin in the opening pages of the excellent Ivan Ramen: Love, Obsession, and Recipes from Tokyo’s Most Unlikely Noodle Joint says

I’m a chef.  I don’t really open a cookbook to cook from it, and I don’t know if many people do.  I read cookbooks because I want to know why someone cooks the way they do, how they arrived at their recipes….I want to know why the author’s excited about it Ivan Ramen, pg 3

And for me, that’s it in a nutshell.  My return to cookbooks is found not in the individual recipes (although I do cook from many) but in the narrative, the ideas behind the food.  Reading a cookbook is a very different activity than looking up a recipe.  The patterns of ingredients across many recipes contributes a deeper appreciation for a cuisine, those signature elements that define a style or taste.

The final motivation that I have for continuing to buy cookbooks is when I’m endeavoring into new cooking territory.  Whether it’s a new cuisine or a new approach (modernist cuisine, sous vide, etc) I’ll use the internet to help find quality reviews and recommendations on the definitive books in the space and then pursue those.

Finally, and while not strictly cookbooks, I buy and read a lot of food history, food politics and food in contemporary culture works.  I almost uniformly buy these used and almost always emerge with a few new ideas or insights.


More delicious recipes

This one of the many fanastic recipes available on this blog