VisitVineyards.com's Top 12 Cookbooks of 2011
Kitchen travel, Michelin stars, funky health at home and a taste of old
By Robyn Lewis
What’s made the VisitVineyards.com Top Dozen food books in 2011? Which inspired us, made us want to rush into our kitchens, and filled us with dreams?
It's an interesting collection in 2011. We found that the cookbooks we liked are in two distinct styles: those from fine dining restaurant chefs, often inspired by molecular gastronomy, and those focussing more on achievable home cooking, sustainability and (hurrah!) healthy eating.
In between there are a number of ‘kitchen travel’ cookbooks; these are also more about at-home attainably – plus a dose of vacation dreaming – and less about food as curiosity than in previous years (recall the massive cultural anthropology of Thai Street Food by David Thompson).
There are some must-haves in this list for sure, and any would make great gifts for the cook or foodie in your family.
Our Number One of 2011 falls into our new ‘kitchen travel’ category: accolades to Indochine by Luke Nguyen, published by Murdoch Books.
This beautiful book just invites you to pick it up, kick back and savour. Backed by an SBS TV series, sumptuous scenic backdrops, and to me, the best cuisine in South East Asia, Indochine ticks all the boxes, and makes Vietnamese cuisine – with its mixture of French and Oriental techniques and flavours – irresistible and approachable.
Subtitled Baguettes and bahn mi: finding France in Vietnam, anyone into food, Asian travel or who can’t get enough of Luke Nguyen (founder chef of Sydney restaurant The Red Lantern, author of The Songs of Sapa and the TV series My Vietnam), will be thrilled to receive this as a festive season gift. It's clever, creative and a knockout.
RRP A$69.99 (Murdoch Books, NSW; hc, 320 pp). Read our review of Indochine by Luke Nguyen here »
Number Two isn’t a print book, it’s an iPad app phenomenon. Titled Great British Chefs, this is mobile publishing at its current best, marketed by a slick online campaign on Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels.
The design, the photos, the recipes, everything about this app is amazing, and at A$4.49 at current special prices (or even double that) it’s well worth it. As they say: ‘12 chefs, 15 Michelin stars, 180 recipes, one app’. If only every country had one of these! It’s a huge tribute to British cooking, and certainly makes me want to visit again.
Recipes range from (relatively) easy to hard. You can create your own ingredients lists, learn more about the chefs, watch instruction videos …. And you can easily prop up your iPad in the kitchen. The steps are very clear and it’s easy to see and use. If this is the future of mobile publishing, then bring it on. In an overused – but in this case, totally warranted – word: awesome.
Published by Great British Chefs Ltd, UK. Download it from iTunes app store.
Also just published by Murdoch Books and recently arrived on our desks is MoVida Cocina by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish, which comes in as Equal Number Three.
The mainly tapas-style restaurant recipes look great (I haven’t had the chance to make any yet, although I’ve eaten a few in situ), if more dream-about-making-one-day-but-probably-never-will. And why would you, if you live in or can get to Melbourne and experience the MoVida food phenomenon for yourself? For this book is as much about celebration of this successful restaurant group, the chefs and team that makes it great, their philosophy, and the MoVida contribution to the Melbourne and Australian food scenes as it is about their recipes. In a word: inspiration.
I can't imagine Melbourne without MoVida now. My favourite is MoVida Aqui, main subject of this book, tucked between Bourke St and the law courts. From business lunches to post AFL matches and summer tennis, it’s a year-round wonder, for all tastes, locals and visitors alike. Buy MoVida Cocina to inspire, dream over, as a souvenir, or to sample their happening cuisine if you can't make it in person.
RRP A$49.99 (Murdoch Books, NSW; hc 288 pp). Read our review of Movida Cocina here »
Sharing Third Place is a product of the 2010 MasterChef series, Two Asian Kitchens by series winner Adam Liaw, published by Random House.
Yes, food snobs may laugh, but this is a very good cookbook, as befits the skill of the TV series winner. Having lived in Asia myself for many years, and studied, cooked and taught its cuisine, I can attest to the recipes, and also to the intellectual, almost engineering, approach that Liaw has taken, which will appeal to those seeking a more structured approach to cooking than many books provide, as well as those who wish to update or broaden their cooking skills.
It’s a very practical cookbook that draws on Asia's culinary legacy and the author’s multicultural life, then turns the 'rules' on their head, with innovative and delicious results. If you're learning to cook, or grew up in the 'meat and three veg' school, or seek some easy, new culinary creations, Two Asian Kitchens will help you break free.
RRP A$49.95 (Random House, Sydney; hc, 240 pp). Read our review of Two Asian Kitchens by Adam Liaw here »
Home Made by Yvette van Boven is our Number Five, first published in the Netherlands and USA earlier this year, with an Australian edition released in October, also by Murdoch Books.
This book is firmly in the at-home, comfort food camp – but with a contemporary twist. It’s broad in scope and great if you seek variety. There’s something for every season and taste, and Home Made will suit beginners through to more seasoned cooking veterans.
Home Made is put together intelligently and artfully. It's also fun, and attractive to look at. Recipes are sometimes accompanied by messages from the author giving the book an intimate, European – and frequently humorous – feel, and it has simple-to-follow instructions, most accompanied by a photo. Another sure winner under the Christmas tree, for home cooking lovers and those with families especially.
RRP A$49.95 (Murdoch Books, NSE; hc 430 pp). Read our review of Home Made by Yvette van Boven here »
In similar style is Winter on the Farm by the SBS’s Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans, at Number Six.
Murdoch Books are certainly cleaning up in our awards this year! This book perhaps lacks some of the wow factor of its much-hyped predecessor The Real Food Companion, but is nevertheless a highly recommended comfort food cookbook, whose usefulness extends well beyond the short days and chill of winter.
Winter is a time of year when food can seem boring, gardens appear empty and inspiration is lacking. Winter on the Farm is full of ideas, and is especially good if you live in the southern states and have access to garden produce, a farmer’s market, or like the author, your own farm. Nice to dream about if you don’t.
RRP A$49.99 (Murdoch Books, NSW; hc 256 pp). Read our review of Winter on the Farm by Matthew Evans here »
In Seventh Place is Ferrara: The Hidden Culinary Jewel, from the creative Italian Chef Gianfranco Chiarini, who last year brought us the amazing first place winning, molecular-inspired The New Renaissance of Italian Fusion Cuisine 1.0.
Ferrara has written together with Chef Davide Diolaiti. Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna in northern Italy is the authors’ home town, and this book is very much in the philosophy of VisitVineyards.com: showcasing a region’s cuisine, and bringing previously hidden gems into the national (and international) spotlight.
In this case, Ferrara’s culinary history extends over 500 years, like many of its World-Heritage-listed buildings. Chefs Chiarini and Diolaiti have updated many of its traditional recipes, which focus on the regional flavours of sage, pumpkin and nutmeg, and the ragú, one of their staples (like that of the nearby Bologna).
The city’s signature first course is cappellacci di zucca, a kind of hat-shaped ravioli with a filling of butternut squash, Parmigiano-Reggiano, flavoured with nutmeg and served with butter and sage, which they record and reinterpret. Now, you can try it at home.
There are many more such dishes, some also reflecting the city’s Jewish history, in a book as slim and slick as an iPad, all illustrated with superb contemporary photographs.
UK Chef Gordon Ramsay has this to say about Chef Chiarini: “ Without a single doubt, (he is) one of the great culinary masters of our century, and probably the greatest in (his) home country.” Expect to see more great things from this culinary master in years to come.
Ferrara: The Hidden Culinary Jewel is (deliberately) not at the same extremely high level as our 2010 equal first place winner by Chiarini, but then neither is its price. This collection is aimed at the home chef. If you are looking for something different, truly authentic, and with genuine Italian culture and history, it’s one for your collection.
RRP A$68.39 (€50), plus postage to Australia (Blurb.com, USA; hc, 80 pp). Our full review to follow.
iPad/iPhone version available for A$14.09. Both can be ordered here »
Our Number Eight of 2011 could not be a greater contrast in style to the previous title: Possum Pie, Beetroot Beer and Lamingtons by Australian author Victoria Heywood.
However, it’s equally authentic, drawing on the culinary legacy and make-do attitude of regional Australia from 1868 to 1950. Heywood authored the beautiful Vineyard Cookbook, our number one foodie’s book of 2009. Possum Pie, Beetroot Beer and Lamingtons is a quirky collection of old recipes from our pioneering past, some totally redundant in our health and environmentally-conscious times, others still valid today, and many inspiring. It’s full of hilarious tips and advice, much of it useful for those prepared to delve.
This book is aimed at those who treasure CWA cookbooks, but its audience deserves to be far wider. Find out how to use beer and wine in your cooking, make many preserves and cakes,to cook kangaroo (a low-fat meat), and much, much more….
RRP A$25 (Slattery Media Group, Melbourne; sc 384 pp). Read our review of Possum Pie, Beetroot Beet and Lamingtons by Victoria Heywood here »
Now we see a definite trend toward healthier eating. From Harper Collins in Australia (Collins in the UK) comes Donal Skehan’s Kitchen Hero: Great Food for Everyone, our Number Nine for 2011.
Hailing from Ireland and looking not a day over eighteen in the cover shot, Skehan is not widely known (yet) in Australia. although Lyndey Milan is a fan. His book has evolved out of his popular Good Mood Food blog, and is for the kitchen novice. Skehan is not the self-appointed hero; the idea is that you will be when you master at least a few of his 100+ easy and healthy recipes.
It’s a book aimed at Uni students and computer geeks subsisting on burnt toast and instant noodles, new cooks and those who idea of a cooked dinner barely extends beyond takeaways, as its UK subtitle attests: Bringing Cooking Back Home. Like Skehan appears, it’s fun, and approachable. A good gift for a culinary beginner.
RRP A$49.99 (Harper Collins, Sydney; hc, 224 pp). Also available in e-book for A$39.99. Read our review of Kitchen Hero: Great Food for Everyone by Donal Skehan here »
Number Ten is Veg in: simple vegetarian dishes from around the world by Flip Shelton, published by Wakefield Press.
If you are vegetarian, or are thinking of eating more vegetables for your health, the planet, and/or for ethical or other reasons, Veg in by Flip Shelton is a good, inspiring place to find easy ideas.
It’s a far cry from preachy, boring veg cookbook, and features a range of dishes from around the world, including Indian, Malaysian, Japanese, Greek, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Italian (pizza) and other western. You might begin by adding one or two dishes to your weekly diet, and seeing where that takes you as your veg confidence increases.
As food critic John Lethlean says on the rear cover, ‘Flip Shelton radiates energy and it comes through in her food. If it’s true that we are what we eat, … most of us could do with a bit more of what Flip eats, on a regular basis.’ Another good stocking filler.
RRP A$29.95 (Wakefield Press, South Australia; sc, 156 pp). Read our review of Veg in: simple vegetarian dishes from around the world by Flip Shelton here »
Number Eleven takes us back to kitchen travel, this time to Mexico, where we join My Abuela’s Table with Daniella Germain, published by Hardie Grant.
Whether you're a fan of, or just starting to explore Mexican cooking, My Abuela's Table provides a lavishly illustrated, whimsical journey to the heart of real Mexican food. Daniella Germain’s abuela (grandmother) and mother handed down the recipes, all of which are traditional, no nonsense and mouth-watering.
For fans of Mexican cooking this is a great, if not essential, cookbook. For those who have not delved into real Mexican cuisine, this book provides a fantastic start. The instructions are simple to follow and most of the recipes are quite straightforward. My Abuela’s Table is beautifully presented. The author has illustrated the book herself, drawing on her graphic design experience to artfully draw most dishes. Charming and attractive.
RRP A$35.00 (Hardie Grant, Melbourne; hc, 125 pp). Read our review of My Abuela's Table by Daniella Germain here »
Making it a baker’s dozen this year are Michele Curtis’ What’s for Dinner? and swimming legend Ian Thorpe’s Cook for Your life, both from publisher Hardie Grant.
Described as the' perfect solution to the mid-week dinner dilemma', Michele Curtis’ What’s for Dinner is a cookbook for anyone who struggles to think of everyday meal solutions.
What’s for Dinner is a professionally presented cookbook with recipes that are clear and easy to follow. There are limited photos throughout the book but descriptions are full of detail making it easy to imagine the finished product. Grouped by key ingredients such as rice and pasta and by cooking method (On the Stove, In the Oven and On the Grill) it is easy to choose and whip up a meal in no time.
RRP A$35 (Hardie Grant Books, Melbourne; sc, 296 pp). Read our review of What's for Dinner by Michele Curtis here »
In Cook For Your Life, the first cookbook by champion Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, he shares the recipes that keep him trim and healthy, plus his philosophy on diet gathered from experts on nutrition and diet over his years of elite sporting success.
A lifetime love of cooking teamed with a refusal to give up the flavours of his favourite meals led Thorpe to develop a plan that allowed him to eat the delicious foods he loves and to maintain a healthy, lean, strong body.
Don’t expect recipes for comfort foods as this book stays true to its aim of providing healthy recipes. Cooking from this book is guilt free, the recipes are generally easy to follow and the ingredients are not out of reach.
A great cookbook gift for those keeping or getting fit, right through to elite sportspeople.
RRP A$39.95 (Hardie Grant, Melbourne; sc, 207pp). Read our review of Cook For Your Life by Ian Thorpe here »
- A book that would have been in our Top 12 list, if only we’d been able to get our hands a copy in time, is Michael Moore’s Blood Sugar – restaurant-quality recipes for diabetics and the health conscious. It’s currently being reprinted after its sell-out release in mid-year, and there’s a waitlist…. it's nearly as beautiful as his Moore to Food (New Holland Publishers) and is one of the first attempts to tackle the need for healthy but gourmet recipes. Sugar-free and low GI eating awaits.
- Ditto The Urban Cook by Mark Jensen (published by Murdoch Books), which was a big hit with inner-city foodies.
- Also just out are Heston Blumenthal's Heston at Home and Andrew McConnell's Cumulus Inc, which we'll review for 2012.
- Another contender was Produce to Platter: Geelong and surrounding regions by Jonette George and Daniele Wilton, which was published in 2010, so just missed our 2011 cutoff.
- A late arrival from last year was Claire Richard’s Tropical Cookbook, a product of North Queensland. Despite the name, it’s applicable to temperate climes as well, and Richards is obviously a very talented and innovative cook. So good, we’ll review it in 2012 too.
- Also received a little late for consideration was Hungry: Food from my heart by Mornington Peninsula restaurateur Guy MIrabella. It's excellent, and a feast for the eyes as well. It's sure to receive a high place in our 2012 list.
We hope you enjoy our menu of top food and cookbook selections for 2011. Of course, there are more titles being released over Christmas and the New Year – it seems that nothing can satiate Australian’s appetite for cookbooks, and the quality just keeps getting better and better! Enjoy, and happy cooking.
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