Brainfood: A reading list for curious foodies

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Aside from the usual fitness resolutions that send people flocking to the gym at the beginning of the year, many also take on intellectual goals. These often come in the form of reading lists.

Books about food have greatly evolved since the “Joy of Cooking” and Julia Childs’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The food genre no longer only consists of endless tomes full of recipes.

On a recent visit to Barnes & Noble, I discovered a whole section on food in the Sociology section, of all places. The medium of food now spans categories of science, art as well as compelling storytelling.

Here are five books that foodies should read in 2018.

Disclaimer: The books featured in this list were provided to me by publishers upon request.

"Chasing Bocuse"
by Philip Tessier

In 2015, Philip Tessier became the first American to make the awards podium at the Bocuse d’Or competition, which is held every two years in Lyon, France.

In “Chasing Bocuse,” Tessier, silver medalist at the 2015 competition and coach of the gold medal-winning team in 2017, shares the challenges that Team USA faced in going from 7th place in 2013 to the top of the podium four years later against some of the best chefs in the world

“We didn’t have any success to build on from 2013, so we were pretty much starting over,” says Tessier. “We slowly began to realize that we have to build tools for the food that can enable us to build a higher level of refinement.”

The book gives an inside look at the Ment’or organization, headed by chefs Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Jerome Bocuse, which manages and supports USA’s Bocuse d’Or team. Their perspectives on the team's struggles add to those of previous competitor Richard Rosendale and 2017 gold medalist Mathew Peters.

“Chasing Bocuse” is an inspirational read, with lessons on hard work, perseverance and overcoming adversity that can be applied to all aspects of life, both in and out of the kitchen.


“Bread Is Gold”
by Massimo Bottura

Massimo Bottura is regarded as one of the best chefs in the world and his restaurant, Osteria Francescana, is perennially ranked among the world's top three. This made him highly sought-after as Italy prepared for a 2015 expo themed Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.

In “Bread Is Gold,” Bottura points out the irony in the amount of food waste created by an event meant to promote feeding the world.

“Food waste is one of the biggest problems of our century and our generation’s cross to bear,” writes Bottura. “Almost one billion people are undernourished. One-third of the food we produce globally is wasted every year.”

This inspired him to open a refettorio (soup kitchen) that utilizes food waste to feed the less fortunate, and he invited other world-renowned chefs to help him do the cooking.

While the message about reducing food waste is sobering, that is not the most intriguing aspect about this book.

“Bread Is Gold” is a collection of stories of how chefs like Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, René Redzepi of Noma, Ferran Adria of El Bulli and Alex Atala of D.O.M. used food waste in unexpected ways to cook amazing meals for individuals who need it the most.

keeping with the waste reduction theme, this book is printed on recycled paper and resembles a phone book. It contains great behind-the-scenes photos in the kitchen, anecdotes about the chefs and easy-to-follow recipes that leave space for note-taking as you cook.

When I got the opportunity to interview Bottura, I asked him about his favorite recipes from the book. 

“I love them all,” he says emphatically, “but the banana peel chutney by Gastromotiva is my favorite because it is totally unexpected. By making resourceful even something that we usually throw away, you’re making visible the invisible.”

Other favorites he mention are two pesto recipes, one made with breadcrumbs instead of pine nuts and the other made by Redzepi utilizing popcorn. “Both results are lighter than the original recipe,” says Bottura, “and give more attention to the herbs.”

“Bread Is Gold” is a great companion to Bottura’s Netflix documentary, “Theater of Life,” which also tells the story of his refettorios. Both book and documentary enable us to take a hard look at our food communities, and remind us to not take for granted how fortunate we are to have the meals that we eat.


by Charles Spence

There are a lot of books that deal with the science of cooking food. “Gastrophysics” is the first book I have read that delves into the psychology of how we perceive food.

Author Charles Spence explains how things like the color of the plate, the sounds we hear, and even the shape of cutlery can change the taste of our food.

The most entertaining parts of this book are in the recounting of mind-bending experiments conducted during special dinners. Things like sonic seasoning, in which guests are played different pitched tones that can change their perception of what they are eating from savory to sweet. Or questions like what does a shape taste like?

Don’t be intimidated by the title. Although "Gastrophysics" deals with scientific principles, this book is an easy read.

If you are interested in more of the science, check out Spence’s previous book, “The Perfect Meal,” which is basically a collection of all of the studies referenced in “Gastrophysics” printed in book form.


“Molecular Gastronomy At Home”
by Jozef Youssef

Molecular gastronomy is fun to play with in any kitchen, and chef Jozef Youssef has made it approachable for even the most novice of cooks with “Molecular Gastronomy At Home.”

I’ve been able to use various forms of molecular gastronomy during my culinary career, including spherification, foams, sous vide and using liquid nitrogen. All fun stuff, but I never fully understood the science behind the techniques.

There are lots of books and websites that tell you how to execute molecular gastronomy, but Youssef’s book stands out in that it explains why techniques work.

“The book isn’t about the recipes; the book is about educating people about the techniques,” says Youssef. “If I teach you how to do a recipe, you can probably replicate it, but once you understand the basic science, you then can really start to innovate a lot more.”

As a professional, I found that “Molecular Gastronomy At Home” has given me a better understanding of molecular gastronomy. It's a fun book for anyone who likes to play with their food.


“Eat Wheat”
by Dr. John Douillard

I received an advance copy of “Eat Wheat” from the publisher in 2016, and I have been reading it off and on ever since.

Being a baker, there was a time that the words gluten-free rang in my ears like the screech of nails on a chalkboard. In the early 2000s, the concept of gluten sensitivity was just entering mainstream culture. No one really knew what celiac disease was, and to many, the concept of gluten-free anything was joke.

Over a decade later, gluten-free diets are all the rage, people still don’t really understand what celiac disease is, and the concept of gluten-free is, well, still kind of a joke, but for a different reason.

In his book, Douillard explains what it really means to have a gluten sensitivity, and dispels many of the myths surrounding it.

As I mentioned before, I’ve been reading this book off and on for a year. That is because this is not what you would call, "light reading." Sections of the book dealing with things like lymph nodes and circadian rhythms, although interesting, can get a little heady.

However, the subject matter as a whole keeps bringing me back, and Douillard’s contention that it is processed foods and not gluten that cause most digestive problems usually attributed to food sensitivities.

If you are even mildly curious about food sensitivities in general, then “Eat Wheat” is worth a read.