There's something about the idea of cooking through an entire cookbook that's very appealing. Like you're going to culinary school for $30. The best-known example is Julie & Julia, née The Julie/Julia Project, which left both Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the whole cook-the-book concept feeling a little overexposed. But many of the most talented chefs of our era — Alice Waters, Tom Colicchio, Alton Brown — started out learning a single cookbook front to back. BuzzFeed asked them and other food celebs to pick one they'd recommend cooking through and explain why. If you're a fan of one of these people, getting to know the cookbook that informed their dedication to food will be fascinating.
1. Anthony Bourdain says: La Technique by Jacques Pépin
La Technique is the most famous cookbook written by Pépin, 78, who was personal chef to three French heads of state including Charles De Gaulle, had a TV show with Julia Child, and is a dean at the International Culinary Center.
2. Padma Lakshmi says: Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born chef with four restaurants in London and a weekly food column in The Guardian. This vegetarian cookbook was hugely popular when it came out a few years ago. It's a good pick if your priority is cooking healthier food — or looking like Padma.
3. Alton Brown says: The Frugal Gourmet by Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith (1939–2004) was the author of a dozen best-selling cookbooks and hosted The Frugal Gourmet, a popular American cooking show on PBS in the '80s and '90s.
4. Tom Colicchio says: Think Like A Chef by Tom Colicchio
You know Colicchio from TV, but this book is a better window into the source of his cred: the time he spent at top NYC restaurants like The Quilted Giraffe and Gotham Bar & Grill, and Gramercy Tavern.
5. Alice Waters says: Summer Cooking by Elizabeth David
British-born Elizabeth David (1913–1992) is one of the all-time greatest cookbook authors. Her books transformed British and American home cooking in the 20th century. It is safe to say that without Elizabeth David, we may have never known about pasta, olive oil, or Parmesan cheese. (The above quote from Waters inspired this post and came out of a larger Q&A in the most recent issue of Lucky Peach.)
6. Andrew Knowlton says: Simple French Food by Richard Olney
Olney (1927–1999) spent most of his adult life in France writing about food and wine. This is his most personal cookbook — a mixture of recipes with dense, informative text that may seem intimidating, but reads beautifully and is as much about eating as about cooking. Olney also edited the famous 28-volume Time-Life book series The Good Cook.
7. Dorie Greenspan says: Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts
According to this fantastic Saveur profile of Heatter, she was discovered by New York Times food editor Craig Claiborne in 1968, during the Republican Party presidential convention in Miami, because her restaurant was serving an elephant meat omelet as a media stunt. Amazing. She eventually won three James Beard Awards because her recipes are so fantastic. But seriously go read this profile of Maida Heatter.
8. Jacques Pépin says: Fast Food My Way, Vol. 2 by Jacques Pépin
Chef Jacques is allowed to recommend one of his own cookbooks (he has written more than 20) because every other person on this list probably considered doing so. This is his most modern day-to-day cookbook, and it comes with DVDs, which sounds silly but is actually very helpful.
9. J. Kenji López-Alt says: River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
In 1997, Fearnley-Whittingstall moved into a former gamekeeper's lodge in rural England called River Cottage and started filming a TV show about his efforts to become a self-reliant farmer. Through that show and the resulting cookbooks he's become a beloved British celebrity chef. (Lopez-Alt's second choice was the same as Lakshi's pick, Plenty)
10. Ree Drummond says: How to Cook Without A Book by Pam Anderson
Anderson is the author of seven cookbooks and is a former executive editor of Cook's Illustrated.
11. Michael Pollan says: In The Green Kitchen by Alice Waters
12. John T. Edge says: Southern Food by John Egerton
Egerton is a highly regarded Georgia-born journalist who has written extensively on education, race relations, and social-cultural issues in the South. He is one of the founders of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of cultural studies at the University of Mississippi.
13. Don Lindgren says: The Gentle Art Of Cookery by Mrs. C.F. Leyel & Miss Olga Hartley
This one would definitely be a challenge, but a fun challenge even for the most jaded food media type. The author, Hilda Leyer (1880–1957) wrote it between the two world wars; she also founded the Society of Herbalists. Miss Olga Hartley, the coauthor, was her assistant.
14. Dana Cowin says: The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater
Slater is the longtime Observer food columnist who's had a bunch of TV shows and cookbooks. This book is a yearlong diary of what he eats and cooks. It was also mentioned by Lindgren, who says, "More than any other book I know, the book unfolds over time the way real people cook: a bigger meal occasionally, perhaps on Sunday, followed by the creative use of leftovers, and then perhaps a sandwich or soup from the same."
15. David Lebovitz says: The Simple Art Of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker
Braker is an award winning Palo Alto-based cookbook author and longtime contributor to the food section of the San Francisco Chronicle. She's also a former president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
16. Francis Lam says: The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook by David Rosengarten
17. Kim Severson says: The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan
Hazan died on Sept. 29, 2013. Severson recommended her cookbook for this post only four days before Hazan passed away, then subsequently wrote Hazan's obituary for the New York Times, "Changed the Way Americans Cook Italian Food." Go read it.
18. Ruth Reichl says: The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook by Alice B. Toklas
Born in 1877 in San Francisco, Toklas was an avant-garde thinker who moved to Paris at age 30. She was Gertrude Stein's lover and the couple hosted a salon that attracted writers like Ernest Hemingway and painters like Picasso and Matisse. This book is her literary memoir and it includes many recipes contributed by the couple's famous friends.