The Books Issue: Kitchen lit

Cookbooks on culinary gurus, Southern pigs and eating like you give a f*ck.

click to enlarge CREATIVE COOKERY: Bottura's "Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart" dish references artist Ai Weiwei's Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn. - PHAIDON PRESS
Phaidon Press
CREATIVE COOKERY: Bottura's "Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart" dish references artist Ai Weiwei's Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn.

It’s a great year for cookbooks. There literally is something for everyone. If you’re shopping for a super foodie friend, however, Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef (about $40 on Amazon) is the way to go. Chef Massimo Bottura of the acclaimed Osteria Francescana (No. 3 in the world on the famous San Pellegrino best restaurants list) in Modena, Italy, shares the magic behind his unforgettable food. I know because I was lucky enough to have one of the best meals of my life there last year. There are nods to the traditional cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, but the sheer brilliance and boundary-breaking technique boggles the mind.

Few of us may actually cook from the book, but each recipe comes with an enchanting backstory. It’s a chance for the food obsessed to get inside the mind of an avant-garde culinary genius. A perfect example is the dish, “An Eel Swimming Up the Po River.” In 1598, Pope Clement VIII forced the local dukes of Ferrara up the river north to Modena. Bottura’s dish represents a fable about a displaced eel “who is willing to do anything to find her roots.” Ingredients gathered on the eel’s journey (similar to the dukes’) are highlighted on the plate.