Our Chefs Dish On Their Favourite Cookbooks

With restaurant restrictions lifted in Hong Kong, Black Sheep Restaurants has been abuzz lately with new additions to our stable (The Last Resort, our soon to be open SoHo dive bar; and the upcoming unveiling of BELON’s elegant new space), while our chefs have been busy at work rolling out seasonal menus to welcome back dinner guests this month. Spring is almost here, signalling new beginnings and a chance for our culinary team to flex their creative muscles with new dishes and menus celebrating the harvest of the season. But where do our chefs turn to for inspiration?

Whether filled with artistically plated photos or fastidious textbook-style recipes, cookbooks are a valuable resource for the restaurant professional as for the home cook: from the essential manuals teaching vital tricks of the trade, to comprehensive tomes written by the all-time culinary greats. Showing wear and tear from spattered grease stains to dog-eared recipes, these are the cookbooks that have been the most influential and instrumental in the journey of our Black Sheep Restaurants chefs. Serving as a constant source of inspiration for them, you will want to save a spot on your own kitchen shelf for these indispensable guides.

Palash Mitra, New Punjab Club
My all-time favourite book is The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit. This is an essential cookbook to start your collection, teaching you all you need to know about flavour pairings—what works and what does not work, and most importantly, why. This book delves into the science behind food pairings, and is full of imagination and insight.

For those interested in Indian cooking, I would also recommend Modern Cookery (Volumes I and II) by Thangam Phillips, a food legend in India. This encyclopaedic cookbook introduces the fundamental theory of Indian cooking, with meticulous recipes detailing step-by-step instruction for the home cook or professional chef.

Jowett Yu, Ho Lee Fook
Essential Cuisine by the French chef Michel Bras is a timeless classic that was published in 1996, but is just as relevant today. You can see the influence of this book in many chefs around the world to this day. It is a study on locavorism, an endorsement for the simplicity and merits of vegetable-forward cooking, and features a treasure trove of beautiful photos emphasising plating technique. Even just flipping through the pictures can serve as inspiration when you find yourself in a cooking rut.

Joshua Stumbaugh, Associazione Chianti
Nancy Silverton is a dear friend and mentor to me. She trained under the influential chef Jonathan Waxman, before becoming a living food legend herself, one of LA’s most prolific food figures. I spent a lot of time at different culinary events and charities with her. One thing I looked forward to every year was the fundraiser for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation because we would get together and host a big barbecue in her backyard the night before the event with culinary legends from across the country. I have always loved her work and her cookbook Chi Spacca: A New Approach to American Cooking is an insightful introduction to her cooking style, as well as a methodical resource for butchery techniques.

Billy Otis, Taqueria Super Macho
Nobu: The Cookbook is a wonderful book about flavour pairings by one of the most successful chef-restaurateurs of our generation. This was a very inspirational book for me as I was coming up in cooking, detailing many of Chef Nobu’s trend-setting techniques at the time. Another one is Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook. This book has excellent photos and detailed guidance on composing dishes and layering flavours. This one was helpful to me as I was practising my own food and experimenting with different approaches to dishes I had already learned. EMP was, and still is one of the best restaurants in America.

For a newer generation cookbook, I would recommend picking up a copy of LA Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi. He is a Korean-American chef who came up in classical French and hotel kitchens, and is now prominent on the Los Angeles scene. In his book, he talks candidly about the hardships involved in rising through the culinary ranks and how he went on to pioneer his innovative Korean-Mexican “Kogi” cuisine. If you ever find yourself in LA, definitely give his food a try!

Braden Reardon, Carbone
I have been really into my newest cookbook, The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland (2020 James Beard Book of the Year). It is full of exciting highlights for meals, covering sourcing, dry-ageing, butchery and utilisation of whole animal techniques within the seafood world. He is bringing an awareness to conscious seafood consumption that is very underrated in our industry.

Gizzy Alesbrook, Hotal Colombo
To be honest, I do not really have any particular cookbook that I love, as all the recipes I have collected along the way are from my mother, grandma, aunts, friends and family. Some of them I have adjusted to my taste; some are perfect just the way they are. But if I have to pick one cookbook, it is Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook. I always look through it for new recipes to try out for our family meals, and it is nice to do something different each time and give my guys a chance to try something new.

Hungry for more cookbook inspiration? Check out more of our chefs’ favourite books here.

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