These are the books I have perused over many years, for inspiration, motivation, or pure joy. When you start cooking as a kitchen illiterate, you need all the props you can find. I found mine in the works of all sorts of cooks: from marvellous professionals, geniuses even, through to mere hard workers, compilers of tradition and detail. Those here are not listed in any particular order.

The Great Chefs of France
Anthony Blake, Quentin Crewe (Artists House/Mitchell Beazley)

This book hit me between the eyes with the power of a sledge-hammer, its marvellous journalism allowing for a rare insight into the way great kitchens operate.

Cuisine Spontanee, The Cuisine of Fredy Girardet
Fredy Girardet (William Morrow)

We went to Girardet’s place just outside Lausanne in Switzerland and discovered all the PR was right: this is one of the greatest restaurants in the whole world. I loved it because the chef was a man of the people, willing to converse in detail, to admit ‘possible’ error, to be generous, and loyal to his customers. After lunch there, I told him I thought one of his dishes was overcooked, and he zoomed to the kitchen to provide a personally cooked replacement. He then not only signed my French copy of this book, but gave me the English translation. The two signed copies sit proudly at the top of my collection.

Lenotre’s Ice Creams and Candies, and Lenotre’s Desserts and Pastries
Gaston Lenotre (Flammarion, Barron’s)

These were the books that developed my love for desserts, that taught me some of the detail, that showed me the way to display and organise recipes.

Roger Verge’s Cuisine of the Sun
Roger Verge (Robert Laffont, Papermac)

Verge was one of the heroes of the new way of cooking. The simplicity of his book is marvellous, holding dearly as it does the traditions of the home and the hearth. Much later, I had the misfortune to write a scathing attack on a Verge meal during a promotional visit by him to Melbourne. I met him and put my concern to him. It was one of my bravest moments in journalism. He was charming.

Michel Guerard’s Cuisine Gourmande
Michel Guerard (Robert Laffont, Papermac)

For Verge, read Guerard. Guerard’s book has the most wonderful explanation of the background and basics of cooking: stocks, roasting, sauces and the like. I’d like to read it weekly.

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen
Paul Prudhomme (William Morrow)

We pinched Prudhomme’s signature dish, the blackened spice mix, and made it a restaurant constant.

The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris (and the follow-up, The Food Lover’s Guide to France)
Patricia Wells (Methuen, Workman)

Wells is something of an oddity – a female, and a foreigner, writing about food and restaurants for a Paris newspaper. No wonder they took her on with such gusto. I can’t afford France these days, but a few hours with these books are next best.

The French Kitchen
Di Holuigue (Methuen)

This is where all cooking started for me. We went along when we decided to start a restaurant, having no previous experience, or, in my case, knowledge of food or cooking. The restaurant idea came after a flamboyant trip to France, an eating extravaganza, a marvellous time of bright-eyed love. We came back sure we could do anything, as long as it was together. A restaurant seemed the obvious choice. What we learnt during a brief session at the French Kitchen was not so much a technical appreciation of cooking, but an understanding that organisation and coolness have more to do with good cooking than just about anything else.

New Classic Cuisine
The Roux Brothers (Macdonald)

I flicked through this book thousands of times during our restaurant days, picking an idea here, taking in a technique there, re-interpreting, pinching. This is one of the most careful, most detailed, most professional cook books there is. Entirely relevant then, remaining so today.

Microwave Gourmet
Barbara Kafka (William Morrow)

The microwave meant nothing to me until I picked up this book. Suddenly we had a truly professional, comprehensive assessment of the microwave. Kafka went into it with an extraordinary amount of detail and perserverence, opening floodgates for me and millions of others. All at once, the microwave was another hand in the kitchen, something to work miracles.

The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook
(and other books emanating from this famous restaurant of California)
Alice Waters (Random House)

I reckon every professional cook in Australia had a copy of this book when it arrived in the early eighties. It offers an intense appraisal of food it its simplest level, and an insight into the complexity involved in running one of the great restaurants of the United States.

The Simple Art of Perfect Baking
Flo Braker (William Morrow)

This book examines baking from all conceivable angles, suggesting a person of all-consuming passion. For some reason, it has never been available in Australia. Lord knows why.

The Taste of France
Robert Freson (Webb & Bower, Exeter)

This was/is a constant source of inspiration, not so much for recipes, but for faces. Take up this book and look at the faces of the people of France, the people who cook as though their lives depend upon it; and they do, of course. This is a book which draws on the tradition of fine cooking through generations.

The Foods of Italy
Guilano Bugialli (Stewart, Taboori and Chang)

Bugialli is a passionate proponent of the Italian way with cooking, and this book puts flesh and bones on to that passion.

The Good Cook
(Time-Life Books) edited by Richard Olney

There are more than twenty of these, twenty books which started on stream in the late seventies and are still dribbling into the market. I cannot look at these without shaking my head in wonder at them – the concept development, the photography, the simplicity of instruction, the flawlessness of the detail. These are the ultimate in home education, still unbeaten; perhaps unbeatable.

The Italian Baker, and Celebrating Italy
Carol Field (William Morrow)

The first book is all any baker would need, forever; and the second may well be one of the great ‘travel’ books I have read, given that travel writing should be, must be, the incorporation of culture into words. Praise be to Ms Field.

La Cuisine Italienne Reinventee
Gualtiero Marcbesi (Robert Laffont)

Marchesi is the man who reached the top of the Michelin Guide re-interpreting Italian cooking. The traditionalists have been inclined to scorn the philosophy, but I’m one who loves the concept of enhancing traditional cooking through new thinking and detail and presentation. I can’t wait to hoe into Marchesi’s food, in situ.

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art
Shizuo Tsuji (Kondasha International)

Japanese cooking is about the exultation of the ingredients, and few books exult on that basis as well as this work. It examines scrupulously and heartily the background and layered detail of the cuisine of this great nation.

Stephanie’s Menus for Food Lovers
Stephanie Alexander (Methuen Haynes)

Cooking is Stephanie Alexander’s art and passion and love. Her writings on food have been inspirational to me over a long period – her essential Aus- tralianism rushes through; her joy in her country is plain for all to see. May she live forever.

Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book (and Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book)
Jane Grigson (Michael Joseph, Penguin). The joy of food and writing is most evident in these superb collections of historical detail, anecdote and recipe. If there is anything you wish to know about any fruit or vegetable, these are the books you turn to.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking (volumes 1 and 2)
Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle, Julia Child (Penguin)

The incredible thing about the first volume is that it was written in 1961. It was fifty years ahead of its time, so if you, like me, have a well-worn, stained copy, with pages starting to yellow – it’s still got twenty years in the tank. This was the book I went to the first time I attempted to cook for show, and tried on the beef Wellington. I had no idea what I was doing, but it worked perfectly. To this day there has not been a book with better detail in the writing of the recipes.

Beard on Food
James Beard (Alfred Knopf)

This is my greatest bargain. I picked it up at a library disposal sale for 20 cents. It is an ideal reference book, written by a man who has influenced generations of cooks. When you want to know something, you go to the index and hope that Beard has written about it. Chances are he has.

On Fasting and Feasting
Alan Davidson (Macdonald Orbis)

Towards the end of 1990, I was starting to wonder whether my slightly left of centre, intensely personal, and passionate style of food writing was the way to go. Then I read this book, a collection of writings from all over the world, from all over time, and I was reassured.

Marcella’s Kitchen
Marcella Hazan (Macmillan)

This is a wonderful appraisal of Italian cooking from its best source, the home and the hearth. Hazan puts down recipes that take you from the toe to the top of Italy, drinking in its smells and style. All with no apologies or compromise.

White Heat
Marco Pierre White (Pyramid)

All young chefs in the world love this book, because it helps them to challenge authority and the old ways.

La Varenne Cooking Course
Anne Willan (William Morrow)

I paid a fortune for this back in 1982.1 remember as if it were yesterday: $48. Years later, I saw it in a remainder shop for $12. I nearly bought the lot to save the author from the ignominy of an appearance in that deathly environment. This is a wonderful work, taking a technical, yet friendly look at all aspects of cooking. It does what all classic books should do: it demystifies, then motivates.

The Fruit and Nut Book
Helen Radecka (Sphere)

A lovely book, filled to the brim with great recipes, marvellous information and some terrific (nonsenical) home remedies which have been tried with all sorts of fruit in all sorts of times and cultures. I love the rhubarb hair lightener, the pear hand or foot bath, and plenty more.

The Food of Italy
Waverley Root (Vintage)

Want to know anything about anything to do with food in Italy? This is your book. I can’t imagine the research which went into this massive tome.

The Woman’s Mirror Cookbook
(The Bulletin)

This book keeps me well in touch with the roots and traditions of Australian cooking. It is a collection of recipes published in this indubitably useful journal for women, circa 1930. This is one of those books which you pick up in op shops, hoping that something will jump from its pages. This one achieved that and more. It’s even better than a pristine original, coming as it does with pen and ink notes scribbled here and there by the original owner.

On Food and Cooking
Harold McGee (Scribners)

The more you cook, the more you wonder why. Harold McGee provides the answers to all the questions you have ever posed. What’s happening when yeast and water and flour get together? Why does meat become more tender when allowed to age? What holds sauces together? How seeds germinate …

Christian Teubner, Sybil Grafin Schonfeldt (Rigby)

A grand assault on grand desserts. Every professional cook has a well-worked copy of this book, not so much for the recipes, but for the marvellous examples of presentation, taken from great restaurants across the globe.

Eating Well is a cooking magazine from the United States which has been published specifically for me. It’s a mag which lets you know well and good that a sensible, balanced diet is vital for a long, happy life. That’s the bad news; the good news is that it does it with wonderful common sense, providing food with all the flavour of ‘bad’ food, with all the sense of an intelligent diet. It’s worth getting hold of. It’s published by Telemedia Eating Well Inc.

If you want to phone about subscriptions, call US(800) 344-3350. Subscriptions are US$30, and inquiries should be directed to Eating Well, Ferry Road, Charlotte, VT 05445.