Good Question: Best Book for Learning How To Cook?

Here's a great question from reader Laura. She writes:

I love to cook, and my boyfriend is really interested in learning. I try to teach him things as I think of them, but I'm no cooking instructor. He can read a recipe; he's just not confident winging it.

What I'm looking for is a tutorial-style cookbook that would help him understand flavors, science in cooking, what equipment is used for what. Not quite as wordy as Harold McGee, and not quite as French as Le Cordon Bleu. Is there anything like this out there?

Laura, this is a great question. I personally am partial to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, since he covers nearly all the basics, and I often refer to it with basic cooking questions. It isn't set up in a tutorial style, though, and it doesn't have a lot of photos. If you're looking for something with more lavish illustration, I've heard that Martha Stewart's Martha Stewart's Cooking School is another good choice for a new cook.

How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, $16.50 at Amazon.com
Martha Stewart's Cooking School: Lessons and Recipes for the Home Cook, $22.50 at Amazon.com

Also check out this similar question at Serious Eats:
Cookbooks for a real newbie

I agree that Harold McGee and a Cordon Bleu style of book are not so helpful in the beginning process. McGee is great as a resource and reference for a really serious cook who wants to understand things in-depth, but I probably wouldn't turn to him to learn how to cook from scratch.

One other tip is to follow the lines of what your boyfriend is already most interested in. Pasta? Get an Italian cookbook or one of Marcella Hazan's great books. Seasonal and organic? The Chez Panisse cookbooks will inspire him and also really teach a lot about what flavors go together naturally. Grilling? Seafood? Baking? Encourage him to just start somewhere and try things, and refer to books on that topic as he goes.

The knowledge of techniques and flavors really are learned by doing, and a book can't ever duplicate that. It's good to just have a book to refer back to and to support you when you have questions.

Readers - how did you learn to cook, and what books were most helpful in the process?

Related: Recipe Staples: Best Recipes for a New Cook?

(Images: via Amazon.com)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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