Photo: manthatcooks, Flickr
Choosing the best of anything is a subjective game, but newspaper and magazine editors love to make lists and then let their readers duke it out. The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, recently gathered a mix of Americans and Brits -- including Top Chef Master Chef judge Jay Rayner, "Heat" author Bill Buford, and chef Fergus Henderson -- to judge the 50 best cookbooks of all time.
Coming in at number one is Richard Olney's "The French Menu Cookbook." It's a pretty safe choice, considering Olney's revered status in the food world, but some of their other selections have people scratching their heads. Julia Child isn't in the top 10 (she pops up at 21). Much-loved food writer MFK Fisher is almost at the bottom of the list at 47. And Thomas Keller doesn't appear at all.
Everyone's entitled to their opinion, of course, but to overlook Keller's "French Laundry Cookbook" completely seems odd – it's a huge seller in the states, and has been praised by critics and home cooks alike. Is it a deliberate snub?
Curious about who they put on top instead? Elizabeth David's 1960 ode to classic French fare, "French Provincial Cooking," was the runner-up, followed by Claudia Roden's "The Book of Jewish Food," Nigel Slater's market-centric "Kitchen Diaries," at number four, and "Roast Chicken and Other Stories," Simon Hopkinson's collection of ingredient-driven essays, rounding out the top five.
Olney, an American, was one of the foremost writers on French food and wine. The Iowa native moved to Paris in 1951, and spent the rest of his life writing, editing, and teaching the fundamentals of French cuisine. The "French Menu Cookbook" was published in 1970, is beautifully written, with detailed, seasonal menus. And key for modern cooks: Although his recipes were precise, he encouraged readers to experiment with flavors and seasonings.
The accompanying article says the selection process was grueling, and included "months of planning, hours of meetings, and many, many debates of varying degrees of heat." Bet Keller wishes he'd had a vote.