Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain (Bloomsbury)

There is something effortless in Anthony Bourdain's writing that demands you pay attention. It doesn't even seem to matter what he's writing about: Bourdain brings a raw yet silky intellectual honesty to every word he sets on the page. Consider his introduction to his most recent tasty tome, Les Halles Cookbook: "This is not a cookbook. Not really. It will not teach you how to cook. The recipes, for the most part, are old standards, versions of which you can find in scores of other books." This is the sort of honesty that is generally not smiled at in the publishing industry. And yet: isn't it true that we expect no less from this particular food writer? This particular chef? The man who, single-handedly, made a whole section of the population afraid of eating in restaurants after the publication of his wildly bestselling Kitchen Confidential. The same man who took us on a fictional tour of New York restaurants in The Bobby Gold Stories and other novels. The very same guy who has been executive chef at Manhattan's Les Halles restaurant since 1998. And, despite the early caution he sends towards his readers, Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook is, in fact, a cookbook. More: it's a good one. Aside from a great collection of French bistro-style recipes, Les Halles Cookbook brings us more of Anthony Bourdain's wit and no-nonsense style. I, for one, just can't seem to get enough of either. -- Linda L. Richards

A Matter of Taste by Lucy Waverman and James Chatto (HarperCollins Canada)

More than a cookbook. More than a wine and spirit guide. A Matter of Taste is like a complete tour of delights for the palate. And, in post-modern cookbook style, the writing here is spare, the instructions clear, the photography and food styling just as it should be. This is every day food done to the nines: but with panache and in a way that even the most basic of chefs will find accessible. A Matter of Taste is certainly one of the best cookbooks to come out of 2004. -- Monica Stark

Feast: Food That Celebrates Life by Nigella Lawson (Hyperion)

Nigella Lawson is the real deal: a genuine culinary goddess, men's knees go weak in her presence even while she conjures up food that would satisfy anyone's appetites. Her latest cookbook offering, Feast, might just be her best recipe collection to date. With a focus on the sort of feasting best enjoyed in large groups, Feast is the complete package: great recipes clearly explained, world class photo styling and photography, all brought together by one of the world's preeminent television chefs, Nigella Lawson. -- Adrian Marks

Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt by Marlena Spieler (Chronicle Books)

There's something comfortable and inviting about grilled cheese. Even the words sound relaxing. The comfort food of many -- this writer included -- grilled cheese is favored by children and working moms who know that all that high calorie goodness adds up to protein. After a hard day's work, grilled cheese is easy to prepare and at least you know they'll eat it. While few people will argue with all these wonderful qualities of a grilled cheese sandwich, is any of that enough to warrant a whole book? One peek at Grilled Cheese: 50 Recipes to Make You Melt by award-winning cookbook author Marlena Spieler is enough to convince you: in this author's hands, grilled cheese becomes a whole new food group. The names of the recipes alone will convince you: crisp Truffled Comté, Pain au Levain, Crostini alla Carnevale and more and more and more. Sheri Giblin's photographs are wonderful, Spieler's instructions are lucid and concise. A word of warning: don't pick this book up when you're hungry. You simply will not make it home. -- Monica Stark

The Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker (Chronicle Books)

Cooking is one thing. Baking is another. While the former can be about art and feel, baking has more of science about it. Baking is all about precision: precision of thought and measurement, precision of ingredients, temperatures and times. But it's not only about science. Where baking becomes sublime is at the place where science meets art. No one knows this quite so well as Flo Braker. Braker's previous book, Sweet Miniatures, won the IACP Cookbook Award in the best single subject cookbook category. With its back-to-basics sensibility combined with new tech awareness and some really great recipes, I wouldn't be surprised if her latest bible to baking,The Simple Art of Perfect Baking, followed its predecessor to the IACPs. -- Adrian Marks


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