As 2023 comes to an end, the Guardian asked an inspired group of chefs from around the US to share the cookbooks that have resonated with them during the past year. The diverse group of book recommendations, which range from a colorful cookbook that celebrates the Arab diaspora to bold-flavored recipes from a New York restaurant known for its tropical comfort food, have one thing in common: they all showcase the power of food to bring people and communities together. Whether you’re a novice in the kitchen or an experienced home cook (or checking off your holiday shopping list), these tried-and-true cookbook picks are welcome additions to any collection.
The Korean Cookbook by Junghyun Park and Jungyoon Choi
Recommended by Kiki Aranita, chef and owner of Poi Dog
When not working as a chef, a fiber artist, an award-winning food writer or the entrepreneur behind the Hawaiian-style sauce collection, Poi Dog, Kiki Aranita likes to turn to cookbooks for escapism. This year, she found The Korean Cookbook by Michelin-endorsed chef Junghyun “JP” Park and culinary researcher Jungyoon Choi to be extraordinarily soothing reading material. “It’s encyclopedic. It’s austere and beautiful. It’s also useful and its recipe instructions are exceptionally clear,” Aranita said of the nearly 500-page tome that Bon Appétit named among the best of fall 2023 releases. “I deeply appreciate a cookbook that presents gram and ounce units simultaneously and with ease. It forces me to reconsider ingredients that I’m familiar with (I personally would never have independently thought to add anchovy broth to my repertoire of broths) and gives me traditional, but exciting ways to use Korean ingredients that are a little less familiar to me.” Inside The Korean Cookbook, you’ll find more than 350 traditional recipes spanning Korean staples such as fermented foods, noodles, grilled meats, hotpots, noodles, dumplings and more.
Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora by Reem Assil
Recommended by Michael Rafidi, chef and owner of Albi and Yellow
Written by Palestinian-Syrian chef and community activist Reem Assil, Arabiyya: Recipes from the Life of an Arab in Diaspora is a celebration of being Arab and connecting to culture. The thoughtful book is a recent favorite of the chef and owner of Washington DC’s beloved Albi and Yellow restaurants, Michael Rafidi. “I’m lucky to call [Assil] a friend, and so many of the recipes and stories she shares in this book remind me of the Palestinian flavors of my own childhood,” Rafidi said of the cookbook, which won a 2023 award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. “It’s nostalgic for those who grew up around this cuisine and a perfect intro for those who didn’t.” Inside Arabiyya’s colorful pages, you’ll find more than 100 recipes for dishes such as falafel mahshi, mujaddarra, shish barak and hummus bil awarma mixed in among original artwork and passionate personal essays on family, food and identity that stay with you well past mealtime.
Scheckeats – Cooking Smarter: Friendly Recipes With a Side of Science by Jeremy Scheck
Recommended by Priyanka Naik, chef and author of The Modern Tiffin: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes With a Global Flair
A little over a year ago, Priyanka Naik was laid off from her role leading partnerships at Twitter, now X, which gave her more time to focus on her side hustle as a popular plant-based food blogger and influencer. The self-taught chef and author of The Modern Tiffin: On-the-Go Vegan Dishes With a Global Flair has recently been cooking from the newly released Scheckeats – Cooking Smarter: Friendly Recipes With a Side of Science. “It’s not completely vegan, but what it offers is quite smart and there’s a lot of vegetable-forward and plant-forward dishes,” Naik said of TikTok star Jeremy Scheck’s new book, which features dishes such as Coca-Cola braised brisket, sheet pan teriyaki salmon and mac and cheese orzo. “He studied food science at Cornell so there’s more of a scientific approach to how to actually cook recipes, why you’re adding certain liquids or why you’re only using a certain amount of baking soda or baking powder. It’s a very educational book for folks who are learning how to cook or trying to get the basics down.”
Rintaro: Japanese Food from an Izakaya in California by Sylvan Mishima Brackett
Recommended by Geoff Davis, chef and owner of Burdell
For Geoff Davis, the chef and owner of Oakland’s modern soul food restaurant Burdell, taking the bounty and tenets of California and making something that’s true to tradition but fresh and new is nothing short of inspiring. That’s why the veteran chef thoroughly enjoyed Sylvan Mishima Brackett’s debut cookbook, Rintaro: Japanese Food from an Izakaya in California, which features more than 70 recipes across categories such as sashimi and yakitori to agemono and udon that translates the Tokyo izakaya to the home kitchen. “I love how the book really dives deep into the simplest of techniques and dishes – there’s so much confidence and boldness in that simplicity,” said Davis of the cookbook from the Kyoto-born, northern California-raised chef behind the groundbreaking Rintaro in San Francisco’s Mission District. “There’s a homeyness to the recipes, but they are refined in the technique and ingredients. It’s such a great way to think about food and adaptation of a cuisine to a different region. That really resonates with me.”
Please Wait to Be Tasted: The Lil’ Deb’s Oasis by Carla Perez-Gallardo, Hannah Black and Wheeler
Recommended by Telly Justice, chef and co-owner of HAGS
There was one cookbook HAGS executive chef and co-owner Telly Justice reached for most frequently this year – Please Wait to Be Tasted: The Lil’ Deb’s Oasis by Carla Perez-Gallardo, Hannah Black and Wheeler. Authored by the artist-chefs behind the eclectic tropical comfort food restaurant Lil Deb’s Oasis in New York’s Hudson valley, the award-winning cookbook centers bold and vibrant flavors alongside meditations on food, love, sex, friendship and fashion. “I just love their perspective, eye for aesthetics and reverence for the queer community. Their love of explosive flavors and joyous plating styles and how much they talk about food as a means of communing and congregating and celebrating one another is so inspiring to what we do at HAGS,” said Justice, who recently received the Michelin Guide New York 2023 Young Chef award. “I can’t help but read this book at least once a month to refresh on their voice and perspective and the qualities they hold near and dear to them.” Please Wait to Be Tasted highlights dishes such as charred octopus in the ink of its cousin, sweet plantains with green cream and abuela’s flan.
Corn Dance: Inspired First American Cuisine by Loretta Barrett Oden
Recommended by Sean Sherman, chef and co-founder of Owamni by the Sioux Chef
Sean Sherman, author of the James Beard award-winning cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, counts Potawatomi chef, TV host and Native foods historian Loretta Barrett Oden as a friend and mentor in his culinary journey. The co-founder of the Indigenous and decolonized restaurant Owamni in Minneapolis said Oden’s new book, Corn Dance: Inspired First American Cuisine, is more than a collection of recipes. “It’s a narrative interwoven with Loretta’s unique philosophy and the captivating stories behind each dish,” said Sherman, who was named on Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2023 list. “Her work is a beacon for those of us seeking to reconnect with the traditional foodways of our ancestors. The world of Indigenous North American cuisine has been significantly enriched by her dedication and expertise.” Recipes for spicy sage popcorn, creamy grits with roasted squash and cornmeal pinion cookies reflect Oden’s Oklahoma childhood, Indigenous heritage and the south-western flavors once served at Santa Fe’s iconic Corn Dance Cafe, where she was chef-owner for 10 years.
Sohn-mat: Recipes and Flavors of Korean Home Cooking by Monica Lee and Tien Nguyen
Recommended by Bricia Lopez, chef and author of Asada: The Art of Mexican-Style Grilling
Los Angeles-based chef, author and michelada and mole entrepreneur Bricia Lopez, whose latest book is Asada: The Art of Mexican-Style Grilling, was a fan of Beverly Soon Tofu, the legendary Koreatown restaurant that opened its doors in 1986. Although owner Monica Lee closed the beloved location in September 2020, her recipes and the K-town restaurant’s storied history lives on in Sohn-mat: Recipes and Flavors of Korean Home Cooking thanks to a collaboration with food writer Tien Nguyen, who co-wrote Roy Choi’s bestselling book, LA Son. “This book immortalizes her recipes and the impact she had in this city,” said Lopez, a partner at Guelaguetza, LA’s James Beard award-winning Oaxacan restaurant. “Beverly Soon was a special place for my family and I and this book is a must for anyone who loves Korean cooking.” Sohn-mat, which means “hand taste” or “flavor in the fingertips” in Korean, teaches home cooks to make bubbling hot bowls of soondubu jjigae, the famed Korean soft tofu stew, and all that goes with it: kimchi, banchan, grilled meats and more.