The 20 essential cookbooks

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the James Beard Foundation, and to honor the occasion, the institution's book-awards committee worked feverishly to distill a list of 20 essential cookbooks still in print that could serve as the dependable core of any kitchen library.

As the committee chairwoman, Kathleen Purvis, puts it: "We tried to make the list both broad and deep by including various types of cooking, major international cuisines, and reference. We've included several general cookbooks, too, which could be considered 'the core of the core.' That group of books contains answers and inspiration for just about any cook, any day, in any kitchen."

(You may recall a complementary Top 10 foodie books list, not including cookbooks, right here on Epi-Log.)

Want to see the James Beard list?

First, a little more discussion.

Because you should always know who came up with any Top Whatever list before you take it seriously, here's who came up with the James Beard's magnificent 20: Pat Adrian, formerly editor-in-chief of The Good Cook; Pat Brown, former editor of Bon Appetit and Cuisine Magazine; Lee Svitak Dean, food editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune; Doralece Lipoli Dullaghan, director of strategic partnerships for Sur La Table; Jan Turner Hazard, former food editor of Ladies Home Journal; Martha Holmberg, food editor of The Oregonian; Kathleen Purvis, food editor of The Charlotte Observer; Irene Sax, food writing instructor for New York University and a reviewer for The New York Daily News and Epicurious (I've heard of them); Nach Waxman, owner of Kitchen Arts & Letters; and Rita Wolfson, a former editor with Doubleday & Co.

You just want to see the list now, huh?

American Cookery (BBS Publishing Corporation, 1996), James Beard
Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2007), Rick Bayless
Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (Better Homes and Gardens, 2004)
Classic Indian Cooking (William Morrow Cookbooks, 1980), Julie Sahni
Complete Techniques (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2001), Jacques Pepin and Leon Pererr
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (Macmillan, 1995), Marcella Hazan
How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (Wiley, 2006), Mark Bittman
The Joy of Cooking (Scribner, 2006), Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook (Countryman Press, 2003)
Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1999), Maida Heatter
Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook (Clarkson Potter, 1999), Martha Stewart
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume One (Knopf, 2001), Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck
The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes (William Morrow Cookbooks, 1996) Barbara Tropp
The New Food Lover's Companion (Barron's Educational Series, 2007), Sharon Tyler Herbst
The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford University Press, 2007), Jancis Robinson
Rick Stein's Complete Seafood (Ten Speed Press, 2004), Rick Stein
The Silver Palate Cookbook (Workman Publishing Company, 2007), Sheila Lukins and Julie Rosso
The Thrill of the Grill: Techniques, Recipes, and Down-Home Barbecue (William Morrow Cookbooks, 2002), Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway, 2007), Deborah Madison
The Way to Cook (Knopf, 1993), Julia Child

So. What did the James Beard Books Awards Committee get wrong? What did it get right?

Michael Y. Park is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. He studied medieval history as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, and journalism as a graduate student at New York University. His stories have appeared in publications including The New York Times, the New York Post, and the Toronto Globe and Mail.


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