's Top 12 Cookbooks of 2010

Our Top 12 picks for inspiration and great cooking!

By Robyn Lewis
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The Real Food Companion by Matthew Evans

The Real Food Companion by Matthew Evans [©Murdoch Books]

Degustation by Alain Fabregues
Noma by Chef Rene Redzepi
Culinary artist and chef Gianfranco Chiarini
must eat by Russell Blaikie


Despite – or because of? – Australia's MasterChef TV phenomenon and the incredible interest in cooking and fresh ingredients that resulted, of the huge wave of cookbooks that followed, it was harder to pick twelve standouts from the class of 2010 than in 2009.

In '09 we were really struggling to keep the list below twenty. Cynics might say (and I’ve heard them) that publishers may have been cashing in this year, in particular with celebrity cookbooks: thick on chef and family photos, thin on recipes and technique.

This year we’ve seen cookbooks containing recipes with incorrect ingredients, recipes with listed ingredients not referred to again in the method (thereby losing less experienced cooks), photos of dishes containing ingredients not listed in the recipe, even basic recipes that are just wrong – and worst of all, one that had made-up ingredients altogether, either put there to take the proverbial out of the reader, or to see if anyone noticed.

Well, we did. I won’t tell you the title in case the publishers take offence, but needless to say it’s not in our Top 12 list. Save your money for one that is.

One of the best cookbook publishing directors in the country, Julie Gibbs of Lantern Press (a Penguin Books imprint), says: ‘a good cookbook should take you on a journey’. Of one I wrote a one-line review: ‘this one didn’t’. Needless to say that doesn't appear on the list either – our space and your time are too valuable.

That said we can’t review every cookbook in Australia – they have been appearing in bookstores at a rate of several per day, so some beauties have slipped us by. However, somewhat amazingly in 2010, some print publishers still don’t get the existence of the online audience and the fact that 90% of customers now look online before purchasing; we can’t review what we aren't sent....

So what do we we look for?

We select those that we think you our readers might enjoy, that are a pleasure to pick up and read, whose recipes are an advance in cooking and not a reprint from some earlier volume given a different name (yes, we’ve seen them too; some even with the same name and recycled photos, ten years on), and with recipes that work. (Disclaimer: lacking a flame-proof chemistry laboratory I haven’t tried Heston Blumenthal’s). An element of fun and surprise helps.

But overall, the enthusiasm and competence of the author or editor(s) should shine through, plus his/her desire to genuinely share their expertise. You can tell when they're faking it.

Usually, and fitting the theme of, there’s also a connection to wine or other beverages, and frequently, to the country and use of regional produce, all factors we promote and which are now fast gaining currency.

The author should show a very sound grasp of technique, and be able to communicate that, whilst showing respect to the reader, no matter what his or her skill level. Some chefs may well be arrogant, but in our opinion it’s not a trait that comes across well in a book. A generous nature usually shines through, in the taste of the food as well as in the book.

The recipes should also work, and hopefully the results will be as good as the pictures (we can’t test them all, of course, but we read them from cover to cover, and always try some).

All that said, the titles at the top really stood out, but the tail seemed to get a bit thin towards the end.


So, what made our Top 12 list this year? There are a few surprises and some fresh faces:


The first two aren't Australian but are absolute standouts on the world stage and anyone seeking to stretch their culinary repertoire should ideally have both.


Equal 1st. Noma by René Redzepi and The New Renaissance of Italian Fusion Cuisine 1.0 by Culinary Artist and Chef Gianfranco Chiarini


Both these books have only recently arrived on our desks, the latter from Chef Gianfranco Chiarini personally signed and couriered – it was originally scheduled for publication in early 2011 but online demand brought forward its release to November. Several nailbiting weeks in transit saw it arrive only last week. It's a stunner.

Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine by René Redzepi arrived mid-week also. But as with The New Renaissance of Italian Fusion Cuisine, it is a work of culinary artistry. I've spent several days immersed in both, and the full reviews are coming very shortly, but what I can tell you is that both will expand your skills and stretch your thinking about food and where we may be heading, both in restaurants, and at home.

Each chef is generous in detailing their technique, in the case of Chef Chiarini right down to the gram, every detail of technique, a very useful 'degree of difficulty' scored out of 5 (and yes, there are recipes at level 1 and 2), approximate time for preparation and cooking, and (the first time I have seen this) the approximate time for serving, so essential when contemplating presentation of this nature.

If you thought that elements of molecular gastronomy  were not achievable at home, think again. There are recipes that are quite doable in a home kitchen, if not in full, then in part. Certainly there are new ideas and inspiration in plenty.

The New Renaissance of Italian Fusion Cuisine should be in every thinking chefs' library, too. Absolutely packed with inspiration – more details and how to purchase here »


Noma, as its subtitle describes, is very much a product of place and time as well as the talent and expertise of Chef René Redzepi, who trained under Ferran Adria and Thomas Keller amongst other luminaries, and who this year saw his Danish restaurant Noma catapault to Restaurant magazine's World's Best Restaurant and depose the crown from Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck.

In this case the place is Denmark and greater Scandinavia, including Greenland. Until recently their culinary traditions were not only facing extinction but were derided, viewed rather as we might look at Scottish or northern English cooking at present – relics of a harsh seafaring and agrarian past, rich in time but poor in resources, that have no place in the modern world of fast food, curries and (with respect to Chef Chiarini) the ubiquitous nature of Mediterranean and French cuisine.

Why? Because it's harder. A lot harder. Take away the tomato, the chilli, a year-round suply of onions, various spices (including pepper), noodles and pasta and many chefs and cooks would founder, if not starve.

René Redzepi took a massive risk, and turned the spartan natural Nordic larder into a point of difference. In Noma he has made it his own.

A Danish food historian, Bi Skaarup, is quoted in the introduction. In her view 'the post-war boom in the export of meat and dairy produce to Britain helped to undermine Danish food culture. All the nice things were rushed over the English Channel, so that the Danes were left with second-class goods.... They were no longer self-sufficient on the farms, either... If you ate your own butter, you would lose the income from selling it.'

Sound familiar? This is one man and his culinary team's attempt to reverse the perhaps unintended outcome of globalisation: mediocrity and sameness at home, and the all-pervasive 'West Coast USA' cuisine that we now see as far afield as Nairobi and Wellington, and in many, many cookbooks. Recipes that could be from anywhere. Global beige.

That this should be accomplished in such a work of art as the book Noma, with many recipes that are also achievable at home (although substitution of your local ingredients will be required; it will certainly test your ingenuity and foraging skills) is testament to the author's huge creativity and style.

Both authors are clearly culinary geniuses, artists and communicators of the highest order. Food is their palate, and they use it well. Congratulations to both.


A full review of Noma will follow. Details of where to puchase can be found here »

Noma is published by Phaidon, UK and The New Renaissance of Italian Fusion Cuisine by, USA.


Top of our list published in Australia is:


3. The Real Food Companion – Matthew Evans

Not just a cookbook but a way of life, with recipes and food philosophy from Matthew Evans, the Gourmet Farmer. With facts and flavours all in one condensed volume, The Real Food Companion could well change your life »

Published by Murdoch Books, NSW.


4. CountryStyle, Country Chefs – edited by Victoria Carey

This book of stories and recipes from Australia's best-loved country chefs takes you on a sumptuous culinary journey at home. A great food souvenir or lure for intending culinary travellers to our shores. Enjoy this true visual feast »

Published by Lantern Press (Penguin Group), Victoria.


5. Degustation – Alain Fabrègues

A master chef's life through menus. Alain Fabrègues, founder of The Loose Box restaurant in WA, is certainly one of this country’s premier French chefs and Degustation is the first book of his long and highly decorated career »

Published by University of WA Publishing, Western Australia.


6. Cuisine de Temps – Jacques Reymond

Melbourne chef Jacques Reymond gives us an inspiring modern classic cookbook with stunning photographs by Sharyn Cairns. A triumph of quality presentation, this cookbook melds French and Asian cuisines, and is one to seek out and treasure for many years »

Published by New Holland Press, NSW.


7. Heston's Fantastical Feasts – Heston Blumenthal

Not your everyday cookbook, and contains far more than revealed in the TV series.

Some of chef Heston Blumenthal's culinary creations seem almost from another planet – indeed a number in his book certainly are! Delve into the mind of this culinary genius and be amazed and inspired. Nothing is as it seems »

Published by Bloomsbury, UK.


8. Jamie Does...Spain, Italy, Sweden, Morocco, Greece and France – Jamie Oliver

Yes, this surprised us too. I used to be a bit of a Jamie O cynic until I picked this up. The recipes are fantastic for home cooks who want to ramp it up a bit, and touch on other cuisines without going the whole hog, salmon or goat.

Join Jamie Oliver as he discovers the real joys of culinary travel where the love of food and life blossoms. Easy twists on classic dishes inspired by his travels »

Published by Penguin Group, UK.


9. Salades – Damien Pignolet

Just when you think cookbooks can’t get any more niche – or appetising – along comes one like salades. Step inside and you are in another world, as far from the tired trio of  tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber as you can get »

Published by Lantern Press (Penguin Group), Victoria.


10. must eat – Russell Blaikie

must eat by Russell Blaikie is a must buy book and when you do, you're sure to be hankering for a trip to Western Australia to enjoy even more of their fabulous food and wine. Another must read cookbook from Australia's burgeoning foodie west »

Published by University of WA Publishing, Western Australia.


11. It Tastes Better – Kylie Kwong

I have so many stickytabs in this book that it looks as it if has sprouted centipede legs. I've been too busy trying the recipes to write the review yet (yes, I know, it was published in June... ). The recipes are fabulous, and reflect Kwong's food philosophy: keep it (relatively) simple, and let the freshest, best ingredients you can get speak for themselves.

It Tastes Better draws on her Asian heritage, which is now so much a part of our multicultural nature, and combines this with the produce and tales from her favourite sustainable producers around the country. The Australian equivalent to The Real Flavour of Tuscany by Lori de Mori and Jason Lowe.

Published by Lantern Press (Penguin Group), Victoria.


12. In Search of the Perfect Partner – Ryn and Cordie

A first time, self-published wine and food matching cookbook from a dynamic Brisbane duo Karyn MacDonald and Cordelia Smiley – two girls who are clearly going places. How did it get here? Because it's fun, the food is good, and you don't need much time or expertise to cook up most of these fail-safe recipes. And the wine matching advice is fantastic.

Challenged by the task of remaining enthusiastic about everyday cooking and the unanswered question 'What wine DO you serve with roast chicken?', authors and best friends Ryn and Cordie set out on a food and wine matching quest. Follow it here »

Published by Red Candy, Queensland.


Honorable mentions:

Having said above  that the tail wore a bit thin, this certainly does not apply to Saraban by Greg and Lucy Malouf, just published by Hardie Grant, which is as much a sumptous travel publication, documenting their journeys through little-known (to us) Iran, as a cookbook. I'll put it in the 2011 list, perhaps!

You can't judge a book by its cover but Italian Food Safari by Maeve O'Meara and Guy Grossi (also published by Hardie Grant) is probably as good too, although we don't have one so can't say. However judging by the competence of the co-authors it's sure to be a winner.

One Hardie Grant publication that we do have and is a very worthy addition to your kitchen collection is We Love Food: Family recipes from the backyard  by Peta Heine and Kirsty Manning-Wilcox, which caters for families and teaching your kids how to grow food, cook it and  to eat well.


Other honorable mentions include:

  • Table by the River by Dietmar Sawyere, documenting the life and cuisine of Berowra Waters near Sydney (New Holland NSW)
  • Family Italian by John Lanzafame (Murdoch Books, NSW)
  • My bread by Jim Lahey (W. W. Norton & Company and John Wiley & Sons Australia)

and two  books which are as much about travelling around this beautiful country of ours as cooking its produce:


We hope you enjoy this year's pick of the best from

Note that we have over 30 of these and other titles to give away during our summer months to celebrate the opening of our new Win tab page at – scroll down to the BOOKS section and enter now for your chance to take one home.



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December 07th, 2010
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