Book Recommendations for a Solid Foundation

Joined Aug 10, 2010
I looking for recommendations of books the will help me to build a solid culinary foundation.

My favorite cuisines are French and Italian.  I am a fairly good cook, and I have a lot of recipe books.  But what I'd like to learn more about is the theory of cooking:  the why behind things.  I want to know not only how to do tings but why I'm doing them that way rather than another.

Any and all recommendations are appreciated.
Joined Jan 6, 2011
How much cooking experience do you have at the moment?  If it's little-to-none, the books put out by the various culinary schools (CIA, FCI) might be good for you; they introduce each section with an explanation of basic technique and easy-to-understand science, and there are tips next to every recipe to help you along.  Alton Brown (both the show and his books) are also good at presenting foundation in a non-threatening, easy-to-read way.
Joined Jan 8, 2010
Le cordon blue's complete cooking techniques is quite handy.
As the title indicates it takes you through a lot of different techniques (tunnel boning, spatch cocking, stock making etc etc)  and contains some recipes as well.

I also like Mark Bitman's: How to cook everything. This doesn't focus on techniques, but gives recipes and how to change recipes. I don't think I'm describing it very well.... His "recipes" are a bit like my way of cooking, I chop and change ingredients according to what I have in stock and what I feel like. That's more or less what this cook book does as well

If you want to go more into the science behind cooking: Harold McGee: The science and lore of the kitchen
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Shavy and Foodpump: It's important to differentiate culinary school professional textbooks from their similar consumer-oriented versions.

We recently completed a look at CIA's complete At-Home series. The last of them is posted right now, as a matter of fact. Overall we found them seriously wanting. In general, although the techniques material was good (which, of course, is what the OP is looking for) the recipes were not. Wouldn't matter much in a ten dollar book. But at $35/pop it makes the good info rather expensive.

WillThereBeFood, I have just two words for you: Harold McGee!
Joined Oct 10, 2005
Ah, never thought of that.  I have CIA's "Professional Chef" wich I find to be very good.  Think I paid $80 for it in Chapters, a  large bookstore chain in Canada 10 years ago.

Actually one of the first books that really got me started was a copy of Pepin's "la technique" for Christmas when I was 12.  Even grainy  B&W photos are worth a thousand words....
Joined Oct 9, 2008
I should note that Pepin's work has been reprinted (and slightly revised) as Complete Techniques. Very, very good book. James Peterson's book of basics -- the name escapes me just at the moment -- is also good, but much more limited; on the other hand, it's got color pictures. Julia Child's The Way to Cook is excellent, but I find the organization unhelpful, and prefer her original Mastering the Art volumes superior. If you can find them, Pepin's The Art of Cooking, in 2 volumes, is marvelous, but it is hard to find and often expensive.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
The why and wherefores are best found in Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. Also Cook's Illustrated books and magazines usually discuss the development of the recipe, what worked, what didn't and why, with science outtakes along the way. Many like Shirley Corriher's books Cookwise and Bakewise, but I didn't.

James Peterson offers a number of books that cover topics well. For me, much of their value is more between the lines and understanding the pictures. Again, for me, this would seem to be books better suited once you have some time and experience. Books to look at after 6-12 months of learning. His Essentials of Cooking is perhaps the exception. This is a book I'd recommend revisitng a number of times. Certainly early on, then every few months again and again. You'll have some epiphanies this way as technique and explanation coalesce with your own experience. 

Pepin is a talent and well worth watching on TV, Video and Youtube. Much like Peterson however, you learn more from him once you have some experience so you know what to watch for for improving yourself.

Latest posts

Top Bottom