This year has been notable for cookbooks not meant for use; books that give an inside view of kitchens that produce food most of us could never afford, much less cook. They are dream books for epicures and aspiring professionals as well as for the thousands of people who avidly watch Top Chef and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Yet, many of these titles are owned by very few libraries.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Raymond Sokolov takes a look at the trend in  A Bumper Crop of Cookbooks: From Adrià to Keller, some of the world’s top chefs open a window into the future of food. Sokolov writes the paper’s “Eating Out” column and has written several books, including cookbooks.

He decided to highlight these “non-cookbooks” because they,

…give an idea of what these chefs do that gets them all the fame and also because their books show the way the wind will soon be blowing in dozens and hundreds of ambitious kitchens from Dubai to Dubuque.

Earlier, the LA Times took a much dimmer view of the trend, preferring “user-friendly” cookbooks.

Sokolov, has little regard for contemporary French cooking and dismisses two recent titles by famous French chefs, saying,

…if you want an explanation for France’s loss of influence in the culinary world in the past 20 years, these books will show you how a great food culture got trapped in its own bubble, while foreigners who admired the French food of the ’70s and ’80s learned all its maneuvers and gave it a future on their home ground.

But not all is lost for French chefs; a couple have redeemed themselves by moving elsewhere and adopting influences from their new countries.

Escape from France

On the Line 

Eric Ripert and Christine Muhlke 

Ripart runs the famous New York seafood restaurant, Le Bernardin and was also a judge on Top Chef, where he made contestants weak in the knees. Sokolov says, “Any epicure interested in learning the nuts and bolts of the way great food gets to her table should read [this]…detailed rundown of life behind the scenes at Le Bernardin.” WorldCat shows the book is owned in just 17 libraries.

  • Hardcover: $35; 240 pages
  • Publisher: Artisan (November 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1579653693
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579653699


The Complete Robuchon 

Joël Robuchon 

  • Hardcover: $35; 832 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; (November 4, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0307267199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307267191

Sokolov calls Robouchon, “the best living culinary intelligence” and says this book actually works for the home cook; “an encyclopedia of winners for the amateur cook.” WorldCat shows 62 libraries own it.


The Radicals

Sokolov describes the following as radicals, whose

…fascination with lab equipment, with gels and foams, with Mr. Wizard stunts like reconstituting an olive as an olive-seeming ovoid of pure olive taste, has earned them the unwelcome group monicker of molecular gastronomers. And while they are interested in science and razzle-dazzle, they each harness the gee-whiz stuff to create startlingly delicious food that makes the fuss and cost of worshipping in their shrines worth the detour.


Adrià, Ferran

A Day at elBulli: An Insight into the Ideas, Methods and Creativity of Ferran Adria

  • Hardcover: $49.95
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press; (October 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0714848832
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714848839

“For the two million queued-in diners who fail to get a rez at the world’s most famous and farthest out eating place, an obsessive photo essay showing 24 hours at the enchanted cove where Mr. Adrià presides north of Barcelona.” Anthony Bourdain featured elBulli on one of his shows. According to WorldCat, no libraries own this one [later: Seattle Public reports that they own this titles and found that my info. was wrong — WorldCat shows it’s owned by 84 libraries. Thanks for the correction! Seattle has 6 copies with 30 holds. I double-checked the other titles in this post on WorldCat and the information for them is correct].



Grant Achatz with Nick Kokonas, Mark McClusky, Michael Nagrant, Michael Ruhlman, Jeffrey Steingarten 

  • Hardcover: $60; 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (October 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1580089283
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580089289

“… boy-wonder Achatz [is} an icon of invention. 100 detailed recipes for gasping at, but don’t even think about cooking them at home.” WorldCat: 76 libraries own copies.


Heston Blumenthal

Big Fat Duck Cookbook

  • Hardcover: $250; 532 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (November 11, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1596915501
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596915503

“With three Michelin stars for his small Thames-side hyperbistro, the amiable Mr. Blumenthal tells all, in a fantastical collection of cartoonish illustrations, science lectures and steroidally imaginative recipes.”  At $250, it’s probably unsuprising that just 5 American libraries own it.


Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide

Keller, Thomas

  • Hardcover: $76; 304 pages
  • Publisher: Artisan (October 15, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1579653510
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579653514

“The great man demonstrates how the revolutionary technique of slow, low-temperature cookery known as sous vide (under vacuum) works wonders of tenderness and visual brilliance. All it takes is a vacuum bagger, a circulating water bath with a very precise thermostat and these provocative recipes.” Owned by 40 libraries.

One Response to “Non-cookbooks”

  1. Kristin Cole Says:

    I know that The Seattle Public Library owns A day at elBulli, so I checked OCLC and found that it’s owned by 84 libs… Just an FYI.