I Love Cookbooks and I Cannot Lie

I Love Cookbooks and I Cannot Lie

These days, cookbooks often get a bad rap. Why buy a cookbook when you can find every single recipe you want on the Internet? Here at Goya we feel strongly about cookbooks. We believe that cookbooks form an integral part of the conversation that shapes our views on cuisine and food writing. More than merely a bunch of recipes strung together, a great cookbook offers insight into a particular place, time and philosophy. It documents a vital part of what it means to be human – how we eat, what we eat and why. At Goya, we even have a club dedicated to our cookbook obsession! (More on that here). To add to our rapidly increasing cookbook wish-list, we talked to some of India's best-known chefs, instrumental in shaping the national conversation on cuisine, to tell us about the books that shaped their journey thus far.

Kainaz Messman, Pastry chef & entrepreneur, Theobroma, Mumbai: The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry

“This was the first professional pastry book I bought myself, and where I began all my experiments in the kitchen before I actually went to culinary school. I picked up because I was thinking of going to the CIA and Bo was a teacher there,” Kainaz tells us. “I fell in love with it immediately because a large portion of the book is dedicated to the basics, in terms of understanding recipes, the baker's percentage, and how to make your own jam or mascarpone cheese. And from the basics it moves on to professional recipes. It's a good book to start your career with. Of course, there are hundreds of books that have influenced my cooking and chefs whose writing style I adore – like Nigel Slater, or Chad Robinson. But over the years, I have found that the books I have found life-altering are the ones that focus on the basics - the principles rather than recipes, the ones that talk about the ‘why’ and ‘how’ as starting points.”

A favourite recipe she goes back to? “The recipe I've used the most is probably the Cinnamon-raisin rolls. Also, their praline, Christmas cookies, and stollen. Of course, recipes make for great starting points, but the ratios are changed and the recipes evolve as we use them.” 

Is this the kind of book that makes you want to -
 a) Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session? Or b) Curl up in bed and read all night? 

“Both, actually! The chapters that discuss technique are so interesting, and done so well, that I’m very happy curling up with this book as well as baking from it.”

Girish Nayak, Pastry Chef at Olive and Toast & Tonic, Bangalore: The Modern Cafe by Francisco Migoya & Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

“I used to work for Francisco Migoya as a part-time employee at Apple Pie Bakery-Café, but of course, now he's most well known for Modernist Cuisine,” says Girish about The Modern Cafe. “His approach to the modern bakery is just super: simple, but elegant and creative. At a time when most bakeries were very basic, he took a completely different approach. It is a book that is simple, clean and clear, and still relevant ten years later. The techniques and recipes are modern, yet classic.”

“Tartine Bread, the other book that changed my life, is fantastic for its work on slow fermentation, exploring the possibility of grains, techniques for different kinds of flour, different approaches to bread - things I’d never thought of. Now instead of whole-wheat flour and maida, I use ragi, millet and rye. The book is truly a game changer while being clear and easy to follow. From Migoya's book, I can recommend the chocolate chip cookie recipe, and from Chad Robertson's, the barley-porridge bread recipe.”

Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session or curl up in bed and read all night? 
“The Modern Cafe - definitely take to bed, I could read it all night! But Tartine is so exciting, you just want to get up and start trying stuff out.” 

Rahul Dua, Chef-entrepreneur, Rustom's Parsi Bhonu and formerly of Café Lota, New Delhi: India: The Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant

“The India Cookbook is to Indian cooking what Larousse Gastronomique is to French cuisine. Every serious Indian cook needs to have a copy. Not so much for the recipes, but for the breadth of research that covers such an extensive cuisine, while giving fair representation to each region,” says Rahul.

“I haven't really worked out any recipes from the book, but many ideas have come from here. As you know, Café Lota's menu changes frequently, and flipping through this book always led me to an idea for something, if not the final dish itself. It is such a great collation of Indian recipes, and 70% of that is focussed on home recipes rather than restaurants and chefs. As a source of dishes and recipes, nothing beats this one. Flipping through three pages will take you through eight different states – it is really fantastic that way.  And of course from there, you can continue your journey deeper into regional food.”

Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session or curl up in bed and read all night?
“Definitely a book that makes you want to run into the kitchen and start cooking. Most recipes are simple and made from pantry staples so you don't need to go to the market to try something out.”

Xerxes Bodhanwala, Chef, Red Fork, Bangalore: Happy in the Kitchen by Michael Richard

“It was the first cookbook I got before going off to culinary school,” Xerxes tells us. “All about chefs putting out dishes of fine-dining quality, but using everyday household stuff – no fancy or expensive equipment. It’s about using great ingredients and techniques, and we use those tips everyday in our kitchen.”

“The recipe I love the most? That's hard, we've found quite a few that we love and use frequently. One is them is Figgy Piggy – a pork dish made with port wine reduction and figs." 

Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session or curl up in bed and read all night?
“This is definitely a book that calls for a marathon cooking session.”

Pooja Dhingra, Pastry chef & entrepreneur, Le 15 Patisserie, Mumbai: Bakewise by Shirley O Corriher

"This book goes deep into the science of baking. Many times we do certain things in the kitchen without asking questions; this book uncovers all the mystery of why we do what we do in a pastry kitchen. But it isn’t just recipes, it also covers technique in a lot of detail. The butterscotch meringue pie is my favourite recipe.”

Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session or curl up in bed and read all night?
“Both actually. I enjoy reading the techniques at night and testing the recipes out in the day.”

Kainaz Contractor, Co-Founder & Owner of Rustom's Cafe & Bakery: The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit

“I love collecting cookbooks but I don’t follow recipes,” says Kainaz. She loves The Flavour Thesaurus because it provides flavour combinations rather than recipes, which is a great starting point when creating recipes for the café or for a catering project that involves developing recipes that are the outside the box. 

The book is divided into flavour themes that include Meaty, Cheesy, Woodland, Floral and Fruity. Under each section, popular ingredients are listed alphabetically, along with pairings that are both traditional and unconventional. “The book is so unique, every time I open it, I find something new. That’s what I love about it – it’s unexpected,” says Kainaz. 

For someone who knows her way around the kitchen and is in the business of coming up with new recipes for a living, this book is pure inspiration. Although there are a few recipes included, it is the flavour pairings that make the book special.

Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session or curl up in bed and read all night?
"The former, without a doubt! Every read is so inspiring and eye-opening that you can't wait to try out the various suggested pairings. And in the process you unknowingly discover a couple of new ones as well."

Anahita N Dhondy, Chef-Manager at SodaBottleOpenerWala: Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Although this isn’t a traditional cookbook, in that it is more a story told through food, than an actual cookbook, Anahita believes this is the book that changed her perspective on food, put her at ease and convinced her to even take a stab at write a book of her own someday.

Like Water for Chocolate is unique in the way it combines narratives and recipes. “Its recipes that have life and soul,” says Anahita. The book, which is a novel set in Mexico, has a recipe at the end of each chapter, that is of significant within the story. “It gives recipes more meaning, knowing that someone somewhere is eating it,” says Anahita. “When I share a recipe, Akhuri with buttered toast, for example, I always send a note with a backstory along.”

Although she hasn’t cooked from the book yet, Chef Anahita hopes to try the Christmas rolls, and the Quail with Rose Petal sauce sometime soon.

Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session or curl up in bed and read all night?
“Definitely the latter.”

Kelvin Cheung, Owner of Bastian and One Street Over: Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan

Chef Kelvin’s favourite cookbook, Momofuku by the legendary chef, David Chang, is the book that chronicles the birth of his wildly popular New York restaurant, Momofuku. He calls it a must-have for anyone interested in the fun, playful, yet formidable style that Chang has developed with his multiple restaurants. 

“Chef David Chang had an incredible story to tell and I loved every minute reading his journey of building the Momofuku empire. You find the same storytelling in his Milk Bar cookbook as well; it’s his voice behind every line in the book, written in his words (hello, profanity!) instead of being filtered for the masses,” says Chef Kelvin. 

The recipe for Momofuku Ramen, which may be intimidating to most home cooks, is Chef Kelvin’s favourite from the book. 

Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session or curl up in bed and read all night?              
“This one calls for a marathon cooking session.”

Megha Kohli, Head Chef at Lavaash by Saby: White Heat by Marco Pierre White

White Heat by Marco Pierre White, a book that chronicles life in his kitchen, with black and white photographs by Bob Carlos Clarke, sheds light on what life in an international commercial kitchen is really like. 

“Unlike the typical photograph that depicts a white-aproned chef serenely plating flowers on his dish, this book captures what it’s really like to be a chef – the sweat, the pressure and the joy. As a result the photos are raw, gritty and candid.” Megha also loves the recipes in the book, and warns us not to be intimidated. “It may sound complicated, but the recipes take a simple approach. That's what cooking is about – getting the basics right, and then combining methods. In that way, this book is really quite symbolic of what it means to be a chef.” Her favourite recipe from the book is Turbot with Baby Leeks, a Ravioli of Scallops, Charcoute of Celery with a Grain Mustard Sauce.

Run to the kitchen for a marathon cooking session or curl up in bed and read all night?
“Makes me want to be in a really busy kitchen and cook!”