As more and more cookbooks are penned by professional chefs, celebrities, self-proclaimed lifestyle gurus and ghostwriters hired to do the heavy lifting, Paula Forbes, senior editor and cookbook critic at Epicurious (a website devoted to food and drink), acknowledges there is very little room for variations on any given theme.
“At the end of the day,” she says in a phone interview from her home in Brooklyn, “there are only so many ways to make a biscuit. But if a book has great photography, compelling stories and the author shares an interesting technique, then that’s a special cookbook!”
Recipes that are thoroughly tested, well-researched and fun to try at home also earn high marks in Forbes’ mind. All of which came into consideration when she curated “The 21 Best Cookbooks of 2015” for Epicurious this week.
The winners cover a broad range of genres from barbecue, to baked goods, to perfect picnics. Bold-faced names like Emeril and Lidia are represented, as are regional cuisines from the Middle East to the American Southwest. And two Georgia-based chefs made the cut.
Topping the list is Hugh Acheson’s The Broad Fork (Clarkson Potter, 336 pp), which Forbes calls her favorite cookbook of the year. Inspired by a neighbor who once asked, “What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?” the chef/partner of Atlanta’s Empire State South restaurant and judge on Bravo’s Top Chef series responded with a comprehensive guide to preparing 50 ingredients, including kohlrabi, demystified or reintroduced through 200 recipes.
The book’s title was inspired by the broadfork, a simple farm tool used for tilling soil. “The analogy to me,” explains Acheson, “is that we need a really broad fork to eat well. We need to be scooping up food and food knowledge in ways that encompass history, a multitude of backgrounds and cultural diversity.”
Steven Satterfield’s debut effort, Root to Leaf (HarperWave, 496 pp), received high marks for its homegrown sensibilities. “I really liked the amount of care that went into how to think about the vegetable, how to select a good one at the farmers market, how to prepare it and how to store it,” explains Forbes. “That kind of information really empowers cooks in the kitchen.”
A James Beard Foundation Award nominee and executive chef at Miller Union, Satterfield has made an unwavering commitment to honoring the South’s agrarian past. Likewise, Root to Leaf gives fresh, seasonal, locally sourced produce a place of pride on the plate, elevating not only the food, but also the hands that bring it from farm to table.
“The preparation of these gems that farmers have grown,” offers Satterfield, “and put so much time and attention into — seeding, tilling, trimming, pruning and harvesting — when you think of all that time and energy, if we don’t treat it with the ultimate respect then we’re doing farmers a disservice.”