Here’s why I love cookbooks:
- They are focused on deliciousness
- They contain endless opportunities to reimagine food and cooking
- They allow the reader the opportunity to envision a different future and to look more deeply into our shared experiences
- They help us understand how we live – and eat – today
Cookbooks are about recipes. Each also poses a question: where have you been and where are you going?
Below are cookbooks published in 2023 that inspire me and, I hope, you. I’ve grouped them by San Francisco Bay Area, California, and Beyond as food knows no bounds but I live in the Bay Area.
My hope is that these books encourage you to take a journey, a trip that tantalizes your taste buds and your intellect. May one (or two) help nourish you and guide you through the coming year’s uncertainties with grace, deliciousness, and more than a little curiosity.
Cookbooks written by San Francisco Bay Area Authors
By Sara Calvosa Olson
Sara Calvosa Olson designed a book that considers the native foods of California – acorns and crab, rabbit and mushrooms – as well as the foods brought to California by Mexican and Western settlers – corn, duck eggs and tomatoes – weaving them into a story of her personal culinary journey. Calvosa Olson, who is Karuk on her mother’s side, grew up on Hupa lands, and uses food as a connection and bridge to her native and western communities. Her story is a personal one and delves into the foodways of an earlier era, when finding and grinding acorns for flour took weeks. An admittedly “inconvenient cookbook,” chapters are broken into seasons, with summer’s preserved bounty utilized as winter’s larder. Calvosa Olson and I are also neighbors with kids in the same high school.
By John Ash
Hog Island, the renowned, Marin-based oyster and shellfish company, runs six restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area, all dedicated to the briny delights of oysters, shellfish and local seafood. John Ash of the eponymously named John Ash and Co in Santa Rosa, worked with the restaurants’ many chefs, selecting the best recipes of each to feature in this book. There are more than 40 pages of mollusk recipes, including the house’s famous Hogwash and grilled oysters. Chapters are loosely organized by ingredient –Mollusks is followed by Cephalopods, Crustaceans and the Salmon Family –and pictures capture not just the essence of each dish but the flavor of the California Coast where the oyster farm remains to this day. Can you feel the fog breeze blowing over Tomales Bay?
By Claire Ptak
Claire Ptak, who grew up in Point Reyes and runs Violet Bakery in East London, is no stranger to fame. Best known for making the wedding cake for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Ptak brings a California sensibility to the book, doing the recipe development and photography in Point Reyes. Local flavor shows through. Local poppy seeds are soaked in black tea for Black Tea Poppy Seed Muffins and Fig Tartlets with Almond Frangipane draw a throughline from Ptak’s years as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse. The cookbook is as much a love letter to Point Reyes and California as it is an opportunity to make for yourself the goodies available in her far-away shop. Plus, I had the chance to interview Claire about the book this summer and it got me into the Marin Magazine social pages.
By Sylvan Mishima Brackett
Named for his Michelin Bib Gourmand-recognized izakaya restaurant in San Francisco, chef Brackett delves deep into the fried, simmered and dressed dishes that are familiar in izakaya cooking. Headnotes are extensive and recipes run one to two pages. I love the Tofu to Tamago chapter where chef explains Kinshi Tamago (Ribbon Egg) and Dashimaki Tamago (Folded Omelet) where he painstakingly explains the steps to craft a dish that appears simple yet is as exactingly made as an origami swan. This starter kit of ingredients chosen by Chef will help any cook achieve results that emulate Brackett’s.
By Amiee D’Maris
Chef Amiee D’Maris’s Petaluma restaurant quickly developed a following for the Aloha Plates, heaping portions of Hawaiian Macaroni Salad and Coconut Rice alongside Korean Grilled Chicken or Teriyaki Steak. Though the restaurant did not survive the pandemic, the recipes, including D’Maris’s Billionaire’s Bacon and BBQ Pork Sando, Juniper Shrimp and Lemon Blueberry Scones, are as comforting as they are familiar. The slim book includes recipes from the café, dishes designed to pair with neighbor Griffo Distillery’s vodka, gin and whiskey for a cocktail party, and a selection of baked goods, including D’Maris’s locally famous Pop Tarts and Walnut Sticky Buns.
The Oakland-based chef runs fast-casual Teranga in New York’s Harlem neighborhood and co-founded Yolélé, which sells West African ingredients to grocery stores nationwide. An expert on West African cuisine, Thiam’s fourth cookbook features recipes that integrate the region’s ingredients into Western kitchens. Smoky Black-Eyed Pea Hummus, Nachos with Butternut Squash, Coconut Collard Greens with Butternut Squash and Naia’s Jazzy Mac and Cheese represent the African diaspora yet are familiar to many American home cooks. And, if you cannot find certain unique ingredients, Thiam suggests substitutions that do not sacrifice flavor. Phew!
By Seadon Shouse
The Nova Scotia native who now cooks on the wild coasts of New Jersey (i.e,. at Hoboken’s Halifax restaurant), brings his love of old-school cooking techniques to the fore. Chapters are four: Finding (foraging), Catching (fishing), Playing (smoking and live-fire cooking) and Hiding (preserving). There’s a rough-edged look to the book – pages are a pale sepia, text is typewriter font, and the color palate feels like the Atlantic Ocean mid-winter. There’s a recipe for Black Bass tartar with dried kelp and one for Deviled Eggs with Smoked Fish, Oysters with Cucumber Mignonette and Saffron pasta with Lobster. I’m all in on the Beach Plum Negroni which works well with the tiny plums from the tree in my yard. Shouse is also a partner at Timber Cove Resort’s Coast Kitchen in Sonoma County, a gateway to being on this list.
Cookbooks written by California Authors
By Elizabeth Poett
If you’ve watched Poett on “Ranch to Table,” her show on the Magnolia Network, you know the easy grace and Mexican-American flair that she brings to her recipes. Written by the seventh-generation Californian, the cookbook is loosely organized into recipes for seasonal celebrations at the family’s Central Coast ranch. Grilled Fish and Jalapeño Tacos fall into Beach Cookout; Layered Avocado Dip and Rancher’s Beef Chili are included in Tailgate After a Gather. Many of the recipes are familiar from when I learned to cook as a young adult – Cast-iron Cornbread, Peach Buckle with Bourbon Whipped Cream – and there’s classic Central Coast recipes for Santa Maria Tri-Tip and ranch beans, too.
By Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway
The LA-based duo behind the vegan cooking blog, Bad Manners, have cooked up another book. Yes, there are as many F-bombs as before and the cute little icon for gluten-free recipes is a raised middle finger (snort!). There’s nothing revolutionary here – recipes for tofu satay, farro and red bean soup or pineapple upside-down cake are straight-forward and unfussy. The recipe headnotes are ALL worth reading (under Brown Sugar Cookies, p. 184: “Life’s too short to have cookies that can only do one thing. Your dessert should work as hard as you”) and made this writer smile. As long as you don’t mind the incessant cussing, this book would make a nice intro to the world of streamlined vegan cooking.
By Nancy Silverton
The chef-owner of LA’s Campanile and La Brea Bakery got her start as the opening pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. Like everyone, lockdown found Silverton in her kitchen, improving a peanut butter cookie recipe from former Campanile chef Roxana Jullapat. Using Jullapat’s reimagined cookie as inspiration, Silverton, who is already renowned for her sourdough, built an entire book around zhuzhing up classic American baked goods. There are recipes for chewy ginger cookies and coconut macarons, marzipan cake and chess pie. The recipe for Banana Cream Slab Pie runs six pages while gougères runs only three. It’s a book for those who have a passion for baking and want to discover yet another world of flavors. Silverton’s world.
By Monica Lee
I was not familiar with Beverly Soon Tofu, the LA restaurant classic run by Monica Lee before receiving this book. But longtime chef Lee has a dedicated following for her soondubu jjigae, or silken tofu stew, for which her restaurant is named. The book, which includes recipes for the tofu, the many banchan (side dishes served with the stew, numerous kimchi recipes, and recipes for bibimbap. Bulgogi and numerous other family-style favorites are an ode to Korean cooking. There’s even one non-spicy kimchi recipe! An extensive pantry and shopping guide and clarifications for less familiar techniques provide a clear pathway for those who may be less familiar with the ingredients and tools that make Korean cooking unique and delicious.
Cookbooks written by Authors from Australia, France, Italy and Canada
By Hetty Lui McKinnon
When the food people at Penguin-Random House asked me to include this book on my list, I thought it was a cookbook from San Francisco’s Tenderheart restaurant, where Chef Joe Hou leads the kitchen (and whose asparagus salad will be in my Best Bites of 2023 list, coming soon). When the 500+ page book arrived, I saw that it is written by the Chinese-Australian cookbook author, Hetty Lui McKinnon. Oh well – it made it to the list. US-based readers may know McKinnon from her contributions to the New York Times Cooking pages. The cookbook, as much an homage to McKinnon’s father as to the glory of cooking with vegetables, is organized by ingredient. Chapters are dedicated to ginger, broccoli and peas. Every recipe, like Spiced Double Potato Noodles or Spinach and Mint Ruffled Milk Pie, gets a full-page color photo and a page of text. This is a book that needs its own shelf (it’s big) but is inherently accessible.
By Amanda Bankert
Amanda Bankert is originally from Washington, D.C. and spent childhood summers at the Jersey Shore. She now lives in Paris, where her vegan doughnut shop, Boneshaker, is the hottest thing since, well, doughnuts. (Don’t ask me why Parisians are mad for fried dough from an American. They are!) Recipes for Banana Tarte Tatin French Toast (as American a dish as ever was), crème brulee and chocolate chunk cookies shine in Paris and in your home kitchen.
By Evelyn Chick
Toronto-based WSET Sommelier Evelyn Chick loves a well-made drink and sets up her recipes in a way familiar to any cook. Basic tools and a purposeful approach to stocking a bar lead the way, followed by recipes for “Cool” and “Warm” drinks, non-alcoholic and “canna-curious” beverages, and recipes for larger pitchers to easily serve groups. The drinks here may push your boundaries – I’d never heard of lychee lime cordial before seeing it as an ingredient in Not Your Typical Lychee Martini. Same for Bittered Sling Plum or Rootbeer Bitters, an ingredient for Smoked Maple Old Fashioned. But as the cocktail world has exploded with flavor, I’m inclined to keep up. I’m most likely to cook from the Infused & Funky Things chapter where the nori-infused Fino sherry recipe or cacao nib and coffee bean-infused Campari are beckoning like sirens along a wave-splashed shore.
By Tessa Kiros
Born in London to a Finnish mother and Greek-Cypriot father and raised in South Africa, the cookbook writer with 11 titles under her belt now lives in Italy and Greece. Kiros’s latest is as design-forward as her other cookbooks, with gorgeous images of sun-splashed hills and slices of cheesecake with chocolate crust alongside bouquets of flowers and blue-tinted watering cans. I couldn’t resist the flowers that adorn every page and bring to life the connection of food to garden. There are plentiful recipes for savory dishes like vegetable moussaka, bulghur and mango salad, and three-day pizza, and the book is divided into regions around the world where flavors have captivated the author. There’s even some American-sounding fare in a chapter called New Orleans Sojourn – crawfish pie and fried buttermilk chicken and pecan pie for dessert.
Need more gift ideas? Here are 8 Foodie Gift Ideas that I love.