Toro Bravo’s Favorite Cook Books

Food writer Liz Crain and four-time James Beard nominee John Gorham, owner of the Portland restaurant Toro Bravo, on their favorite cookbooks. Their very own, Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull is out now.

12.17.13 10:50 PM ET

One of my favorite things to do on a lazy weekend morning is to wake up, make a press of coffee, grab a bunch of cookbooks from the kitchen and get back in bed with both. John likes to go through a stack of cookbooks as much as I do although he probably has three times as many as I do. I’m not a strict recipe follower—John obviously isn’t either—and flipping through the books is more a way to prime the pump and generate ideas. We both particularly love cookbooks filled with personal narrative in addition to the recipes—tales of discovery, adventure, debauchery.

I never give myself a hard time about buying cookbooks because unlike other books I revisit most of them over and over again. They’re my favorite type of reference book and the only genre of book that I write in. I don’t write a lot in them but I do make my own indexes of recipes I’ve tried with notes about them—usually on the back endpaper. I think you might want to try that. You’re welcome.

Here are some cookbooks that John and I won’t lend you. We love them too much. Get your own damn copies.

John’s picks:

Ma Gastronomie
by Fernand Point

‘Ma Gastronomie’ by Fernand Point (Author), Thomas Keller (Introduction). 240 p. Overlook/Rookery. $28.88

This book can give the most burnt out chef a fresh look at the kitchen. My favorite part is Fernand Point’s notebook. It’s an inside look at a master chef’s thoughts and beliefs. One of my favorite quotes from the book: “If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.”

Cooking by Hand
by Paul Bertolli

‘Cooking by Hand’ by Paul Bertolli. 288 p. Clarkson Potter. $28.88

I love that Paul tells exact science in this book. It’s is a book for the pros. There isn’t a recipe in it that isn’t awesome.

Culinaria: European Specialties
by Andre Domine and Michael Ditter

‘Culinaria: European Specialties’ by Andre Domine (Editor), Michael Ditter (Editor), Gunter Beer (Photographer). 640 p. Konemann.

This is the two-volume set that spun off all of the Culinaria books and in my opinion it’s the best of the series. I love to travel, and have deep beliefs that travel is the key to being a great chef. The best thing about the Culinaria series is that it’s like taking a food vacation through Europe every time you pick one of the books up.

Liz’s picks:

Wild Fermentation
by Sandor Ellix Katz

‘Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods’ by Sandor Ellix Katz (Author), Sally Fallon (Foreword). 200 p. Chelsea Green Publishing. $18.66.

Thanks to this book I make dandelion wine every year with my friend and her daughter, I made 100 bottles of plum wine this year, I have three-year-old homemade miso in a crock that gets darker, richer and more delicious every year, and I always have fresh ferments like kraut, kimchi and more in the kitchen. I got to interview Sandor for The Sun magazine a few years back and that was a dream come true. This year he came back to Portland for the Portland Fermentation Festival which I co-organize with friends annually. Sandor is my hero. I recommend this cookbook to folks more often than any other.

by Nigel Slater

‘Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch’ by Nigel Slater. 624 p. Ten Speed Press. $21.99

My small 5,000-square-foot lot in Portland produces a good deal of food—everything from kiwi, blueberries, grapes and plums to annual vegetables from the beds and mounds—and I love Nigel Slater’s Tender for focusing on super tasty seasonal recipes inspired by his home garden in London. I’ve been a fan of Slater’s writing in The Observer for years and I’ve cooked so many things from this book over the past several months. I love it. His memoir Toast is excellent as well. There’s a movie based on it with Helena Bonham Carter playing Slater’s not too sympathetic stepmother.