Good cookbooks are something of an obsession and a ritual for the WA Good Food Guide team.
The Guide’s editor David Matthews has a hand in at least one of the books we’re tipping this year (Ester, if you were wondering) and Georgia Moore, our director has established a pre-awards tradition of gifting herself a new cookbook. Georgia’s pick this year was CDMX: The Food of Mexico City, by Sydney based but Mexico born restaurateur, Rosa Cienfuegos.
Contributing editor, Max Brearley has corralled his favourite titles of the year from his groaning bookcase-come-Zoom-background. Representative of a swathe of talent across Australian publishing and hospitality, most titles are from these shores. They’re perfect for the home cook looking to raise their skills game, with an eye to sustainability. But the first consideration is whether the outcome is delicious.
The list could easily have doubled or trebled in size, so our polite nudge is to hit your local bookstore, browse the shelves, and stock up with abandon.
Sustain by Jo Barrett
It would be easy to characterise Sustain as a book for the younger cooks in your life, as it is they who seem more readily switched on to issues of sustainability and the challenges that face us in the future. But this is a book for all, and perhaps for those in your life who are the most resistant to change. Subtitled as “Ground-breaking recipes and skills that could save the planet”, it could so easily slip into a virtuous tone. It doesn’t, Barrett coming at things from a we’re all in this together angle. Putting the sustainable message aside, and why seasonally grown and eaten food is better, this is a collection of recipes that you’ll repeat again and again. My perennial question of “what should we do with all this rainbow chard?” is finally answered: stuff it with olives, capers and preserved lemon, and serve in tomato sugo.
There’s Always Room for Cheese by Colin Wood
Perth-born chef turned cheesemaker Colin Wood guides us through cheesemaking at home, but the book in fact offers much more. Wood first walks the reader through fresh cheese, creams, yoghurt, and butters. It’s sympathetic to the limitations of a home kitchen, and in addition there’s what to do once you’ve made it. Sweet and savoury dishes give the book further utility. Think burrata curd with peas, broad beans and bottarga, or goat’s-curd brûlée.
Sohn-mat by Monica Lee and Tien Nguyen
You’d be forgiven for not knowing of Beverly Soon Tofu, Lee’s beloved but now shuttered Korean restaurant in Los Angeles. I find that the magic of cookbooks is that they can take you to places that you’ve never been to, and in the case of Lee’s place, never will. It’s a book with real heart, Sohn-mat in Korean meaning “flavour in the hands.” You don’t need it to be a good cook but if you do, Lee writes, you have a natural instinct for flavour. Surely the goal for us all? A collection of home-style dishes like bibimbap, there’s also the soon tofu chigae that made Lee a favourite of Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Gold, Ruth Riechl and Roy Choi. Just in case you needed extra persuasion.
Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking by Danielle Alvarez with Libby Travers
A book that’s close to all our hearts, Danielle Alvarez being a friend of the guide; having mostly recently hosted a Master of Senses experience with Miele Australia at the Winning Appliances demonstration kitchen; and announcing our two star recipient restaurants at this year’s awards. But there’s no favours given here; it’s a book that seems to capture everyone who picks it up. Speaking to Danielle or Libby, they’ll tell you about their friendship which comes through in the pages of the book, and perhaps they’ll mention at least once that the title could be considered a little grand. But it is a book that will last you a lifetime, and possibly even a book that you’ll pass on to a new generation in years to come. It’s classic yet approachable, with no air of “currently trending” about it. Choosing one dish to highlight is difficult so we’ll go with the less obvious, a sardine katsu sandwich with curry mayo and lime. And, just squeezing into the final pages of the book, Danielle’s closer on how to cook an octopus is worth the cover price alone.
Sweet Enough by Alison Roman
If you loved Nothing Fancy or Roman’s regular “Home Movies”, then you’ll doubtless be all over Sweet Enough. The Brooklyn based writer, presenter and now shop keeper has cultivated a legion of fans by crafting recipes for the home that could sit on a menu at your favourite wine bar. Casual, flavour packed, and repeatable. Her latest is dubbed as “Desserts for People Who Don’t Do Dessert”. I put myself firmly into that category but Sweet Enough is a game changer for me, and incidentally feels strangely Australian in its outlook. I will never not want to make Bonnie’s Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.
Fish Butchery by Josh Niland
What to say about Josh Niland that hasn’t already been said? Fish-savant, waste warrior, and James Beard Book of the Year winner, he’s changed the way that many Australian chefs look at our ocean catch, and increasingly the outlook of chefs globally. One reason that we’ll be sending our Austral Young Chef of the Sea, Yu Hung Cheng to work briefly with Niland in Sydney. Over the course of three books Niland’s scale to tail philosophy is now also becoming embedded in the home kitchen. His latest work Fish Butchery, is heavy on the skills that he employs in his own ground-breaking fish butchery. Perfect for not just the home cook who buys whole fish but also recreational fishers.
Ester by Mat Lindsay with Pat Nourse
Restaurant cookbooks are a funny beast; sometimes very much coffee table dwellers and a reminder of meals past, or so cheffy in their outlook that they’re unusable without a heavily stocked pantry and a term at Le Corden Bleu. Ester skirts the line. It is, if Instagram is anything to go by, already a chef favourite. Much the same could be said of the restaurant of the same name. A few chefs have told me that it’s a book that’s sparked many new ideas. Not that they’ll lift them wholesale, more they’ll take it somewhere else. The power and beauty of good books. But home cooks aren’t ruled out. Simple dishes like pickled mussels would work well while entertaining or as they suggest on toast. In fact, the section titled “things to put on toast” is a five-word book pitch in itself.
Rumi by Joseph Abboud
An unassuming book, primed for kitchen service. You could also say it is a restaurant book, modelled on the Lebanese eatery that Abboud has owned for over 16 years in Melbourne’s Brunswick East. Amongst its pages, a perhaps definitive shakshuka, and Rumi meatballs. Both could become a staple of your kitchen. There’s also the quail that Anthony Bourdain ate when he visited with Matt Preston back in the day. We’re all very well acquainted with Middle Eastern food, and you may wonder if you need another book with its lens on the region. The answer is yes, you do.