Best Books of the Year in Cookbooks, Food & Wine
Most "best of" lists begin with a little equivocating about how hard it was to choose a winner. Not so for this one. At six volumes, 52 pounds, and a rather sizable asking price, Modernist Cuisine was easily the biggest cookbook of the year in every respect. With recipes that involve lab-synthesized ingredients and days of sous-vide cooking time (e.g. an 80-hour hamburger), it's not for the faint of heart (or the impatient cook). But in addition to all the foams-and-gels flashiness, Modernist Cuisine also has the most thorough and vibrantly-illustrated scientific look at the process of cooking since Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. Its diagrams of how a charcoal grill or pot roast works are photographic wonders that also make pretty cool desktop backgrounds. So as a source of information, a collection of recipes, and sheer spectacle, Modernist Cuisine took the top spot.
This is no slight on the rest of our list, though. It contains Gabrielle Hamilton's superb memoir Blood, Bones & Butter, one of our Best Books of March, Jacques Pepin's Essential Pepin, a compendium of some of his favorite recpies (including a foolproof method of making French-style omelets), and Garrett Oliver's comprehensive Oxford Companion to Beer, the perfect gift for the beer nut in your life.
Maybe the most surprising book on the list for me was Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty, a book of 120 vegetarian recipes from a renowned chef with restaurants in Tel Aviv and London. Skeptical omnivores like myself will probably find themselves swayed by the gorgeous photography (just look at the eggplant with buttermilk sauce and pomegranate seeeds on the cover) and the fact that this is really wide-ranging, delicious food--not just boring old salads and grilled vegetables. I mean, it's got a dish called "tomato party"--what's not to like?