You know what holiday gift never tanks? A cookbook that could kick any other art book’s ass. No offense to TASCHEN—we love you, and would die for your torso-sized monograph of Bosch works—but there are also some big, beautiful cookbooks being assembled these days by the kinds of chefs we would trust to cater our funeral, should we ever be so lucky as to snag Sheldon Simeon. These cookbooks aren’t just recipe compilations but road maps to endless Flavortowns packed with as much personal wisdom, creativity, and down-home recipes as one could hope for in this age of 60-second TikTok recipes that are ohhhh so satisfying to watch, but often leave us going, “Wait, wah?” It’s kind of a weird time to be a famous chef, in that sense, but it certainly means that bringing authenticity to the table is more important than ever.
As far as cookbooks go, we think the best titles should feel both elevated and accessible, with the kind of glossy imagery we might just lick from the page [rips bong], and personal reflections that make us feel like the winner of Top Chef is right there beside us in our funky railroad kitchen, glazing ribs like
the father we never had a champ.
The following cookbooks are some of our favorites from 2021, and in addition to giving us all the ~feels~, they take our taste buds around the world in a little hand-blown sugar glass boat with a warm apricot compote.
Whether you’re shopping for the best gifts for the food lover in your life, or your crush who always smells like BBQ sauce (hot), here are our favorite cookbooks to scoop this holiday season and beyond.
Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora
Curated by food activist and author Bryant Terry, Black Food is as much a cookbook as it is a celebratory tome of Black culture and storytelling that combines a rich blend of photography, spiritual reflections, and history. It brings the reader recipes for jerk chicken ramen and sweet potato pie on one page, intended to be washed down with the words of Toni Morrison and Sarah Ladipo Manyika on another. “[An understanding of the] sense of legacy is just one of the many beautiful qualities about Black Food,” writes one reviewer on Amazon, adding, “[it’s] a collection of essays, recipes, and reflections of the Black experience.” Definitely one to live on the coffee table.
Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ: Every Day Is a Good Day
Yum, dude. There’s no other word for this finger-licking, bone-sucking offering by BBQ pitmaster supreme Rodney Scott. The man is a James Beard Award-winning chef, the co-owner of the Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ restaurants in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Charleston, and now he’s given us access to some of his most delicious recipes and technical tips, from grilling a whole hog to building a cinder-block pit. “I'm amazed at how much Mr. Scott has shared with us,” writes one Amazon reviewer, “Not only his story, but everything he makes and what he went through to get there. I have quite a few books on Carolina BBQ, but none are as comprehensive as this one.”
Cook Real Hawai’i
If you’ve always wanted to learn more about Hawaiian cuisine in all its fusional glory, two-time Top Chef finalist and fan favorite (fight me) Sheldon Simeon is an amazing guide. His cookbook offers a smorgasbord of flavor-forward recipes like wok-fried poke, pork dumplings made with biscuit dough, huli-huli chicken, and more, so you can taste the ways in which indigenous Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Portuguese cooking are woven together in the real (and really delish) food that locals love to eat.
Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food
No one knows San Francisco’s Chinatown quite like Brandon Jew, the Michelin-starred chef behind the iconic restaurant Mister Jiu’s and the steward of this book and its 90 bangin’ recipes, such as banana black sesame pie, roast duck, squid ink wontons, and more dishes that populate our lucid dreams. Every recipe is made all the more special by Jew’s reflections on the neighborhood’s history. “I’m impressed with the anecdotes and interesting stories that Mr. Jiu shares,” writes one Amazon reviewer, “who knew that the Bing cherry was named after a Chinese immigrant who was refused reentry to the U.S.?” It’s the perfect gift for anyone curious about learning more about the city’s history, and especially for anyone craving a sensory trip down Chinatown’s fog-filled streets.
Everybody’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health
Do you and/or your giftee not really cook often, but have a number of dietary restrictions and love to munch? Do you usually need an extra boost of inspiration to spend a Saturday gathering ingredients, and getting jazzed about cooking gluten-free dishes that even your Boomer dad will love? Well, Gregory Gourdet is your hype man. The Top Chef star’s cookbook will hold your hand through eclectic, globally-inspired recipes that are often gluten- and dairy-free, focusing instead on centering various superfoods. You’ll be sippin’ on coconut lemonade, biting into juicy glazed garlic chicken thighs, and cooking up hundreds of other recipes.
The Latin American Cookbook
Gordon Ramsey called this book “extraordinary,” and we’ll be getting its recipe for Chilean Disco Fries tattooed on our stomach. Lovingly compiled by Peruvian chef and restaurateur Virgilio Martinez, this is another coffee table-worthy stunner of a book that walks you through the basics of making a solid quesadilla or taco, as well as recipes like Nicaraguan squash stew that may be new to you. And when we say he takes your tongue on a trip around Latin America, we’re not kidding; the recipes dive into the flavors of various chef’s recipes from Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, [takes deeps breath] Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients
Maybe you love Middle Eastern cuisine, but don’t know how to build out your spice cabinet with everything you need to make a great spread, or perhaps you’re well-seasoned in the ways of the sumac and harissa, and want to learn even more ways of getting creative with Middle Eastern plates. Either way, this book by Christine Sahadi Whelan makes the perfect gift, because it’s comprehensive, playful, and damn tasty. Whelan is behind the James Beard award-winning Sahadi's market in Brooklyn, New York, so you know she’s only going to be giving you the best advice. “What I liked most was the ‘Ten more ways to use’ sections for things like pomegranate molasses, orange blossom water, dukkah, ras el hanout, etc," writes one Amazon reviewer, "I found this super informative and helpful.”
The Japanese Art of the Cocktail
Because with all of this munching, you will also need a crafty cocktail. Michael Anstendig and Masahiro Urushido, that latter of which is the libation mastermind behind NYC cocktail bar Katana Kitten, have given us a gorgeous breakdown of what sets apart Japanese cocktail-making methods, including an unscrupulous commitment to quality ingredients, creativity, and presentation, without ever feeling pretentious. There are clever twists on classics—think shiso gin and tonics—and clever tips for taking a Japanese highball to the next level using frozen whisky. “I make a lot of cocktails,” writes one reviewer, “But this, this book is different. It has all the cocktails that I know and love from Katana Kitten, right down to the boilermakers and some of my favorites that have been pruned over the years.”
Happy cooking. Excuse us as we pound some Tums and fernet.
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.