My 10 Favorite Books of 2006

Here’s a list of 10 books, in no particular order, that I’ve enjoyed this year.

Since I don’t have easy access to English-language books, I chose mine carefully. Although I usually like to read books about food, I got a bit literate and discovered few books about Paris that were truly enlightening…which is really saying something for someone that hasn’t lifted the lid on a history book since high school.

In addition to the books I’ve listed below, I’ve also enjoyed La Bonne Cuisine de Madame St-Ange, the updated On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, and Rememberence of Things Paris, some of the greatest food writing from Gourmet magazine from the past sixty years that is still some of the freshest and liveliest food prose happily back in print.

And on a sad note, I’ve finally given up on La Poste and assumed the two cases of cookbooks I shipped three years ago probably aren’t going to ever show up (hope is no longer springing eternal…), so I ordered a fresh, brand-new copy of Julia Child’s classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

A few books I’m looking forward to reading in 2007 are The Sweet Life: The Desserts from Chanterelle by pastry chef Kate Zuckerman, and books from my favorite bloggers, including Shauna, Adam’s untitled masterwork, Chocolate & Zucchini by Clotilde Dusoulier, and Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson of 101 Cookbooks.

by Bill Buford

The most talked-about food book of the year, New Yorker writer Bill Buford starts from scratch in the kitchen of Mario Batali, then learns to make pasta by hand from an Italian master, and ends up butchering in Tuscany.

The first part of the book is a great read, although it loses steam near the end when I found it hard to sustain interest once he left New York.
And there’s an overuse of colons: they’re everywhere.

Still, for the behind-the-scenes look at life at Babbo and all the backstabbing that goes on in a professional, combative restaurant kitchen, it was spot-on.

by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

Is there anyone in America who doesn’t who Julia Child is?
If you stop and think about it, that’s rather amazing. How this six-foot-plus towering woman who taught Americans how to fry crêpes and makeboeuf Bourguignon without fear, endeared herself to everyone from school teachers to sanitation workers, was quite a feat. Here’s the tale of how her career began here in Paris, and the anguish and birth of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, still considered the best cookbook ever published. A terrific read.

by Colin Jones

Finally, a comprehensive, exhaustive history of Paris that’s highly-readable and fascinating. Beginning in the middle ages, when Paris was a muddy swamp, this books takes you right through the revolutions, wars, famines, and liberations. What I liked most about this book was how Jones brings the social aspects of the city to life, not just reciting historical facts but revealing much about daily life in the city. This is far from a dry history book, but a intimate look at what life was like from the beginning, which explains much of the Paris that we know today.

by Mort Rosenblum

Newly released in paperback, Mort Rosenblum’s award-winning book features a series of stories covering the world of chocolate, from the growers in tropical regions, to the fine chocolatiers from around the world, including Paris, New York, and San Francisco.

by David Downie

A long-time resident of Paris, David Downie has lived in the city since 1986, and adeptly presents thirty fascinating vignettes of the city. Included are essays on what caused the demise of Les Halles, why the Marais is changing for the worse, and how Pompidou almost killed Paris. There’s also a noteworthy chapter on the people who make Paris shine so brightly after dark. (Quelle surprise!: It’s all part of a government agency.) I loved his collection of essays and anyone who’s visited Paris in the past, or plans to visit in the future, will be equally charmed as well.

by Daniel Young

The heart, and belly, of Paris lies in the various bistros, brasseries, and wine bars that line the streets and boulevards. Many have disappeared, but plenty still thrive and Daniel Young not only profiles many of them (including addresses) but he coaxed the best recipes from his favorites. You’ll find the Panna Cotta served at Le Régulade to the famed French Onion Soup from Au Pied de Cochon in here. But this is more than just a book of recipes; there’s pages and pages of useful information about the bistros listed, including what’s best there to eat once you’ve secured your seat. And I learned my favorite bistro will fry up a batch of homemade French Fries to order, if you simply ask. How useful was that to me last time I went? You tell me!

by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg

The long-awaited book from ScharffenBerger chocolate is here, including recipes from pastry chefs, bakers and cooks from across America…including me! And who can resist a book with a shiny pour of chocolate like that on the cover? I’m looking forward to baking my way through many, many of the recipes.

by Dorie Greenspan

There isn’t a more meticulous baker in America. Dorie Greenspan, who’s written books with Julia Child and Pierre Hermé, presents a collection of her own recipes intended for the home baker. What makes Dorie’s book stand apart for all the others is that although she always includes many simple recipes, she also has a knack for making even the most complicated recipe projects completely do-able.

by Elisabeth Pruitt

Lastly, I know doing this may be wrong, but I’ve heard so much about the Tartine cookbook, that it’s probably worth picking up since all I’ve heard are raves. Chad’s bread is perhaps the best in San Francisco, but Elisabeth’s pastries, from biscotti to bread pudding, having people lining up daily.
My only regret is that the space in San Francisco where Tartine is located, was once offered to me…but I moved to France instead!

What was I thinking?

I only mentioned nine books in this years Top Ten!
Check out the comments, where readers posted their favorites..for the tenth.

Previous posts featuring cookbooks in 2006:

Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob

Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri

The Chocolate Connoisseur by Chloé Doutre-Roussel

What To Drink With What You Eat by Karen Page & Andrew Dornenburg

Cooking At Home On Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis

Award-Winning Chocolate Books

Never miss a post!


  • Alain Q.
    December 6, 2006 8:49pm

    Does Julia Child really speak of “Boeuf Bourgogne” ?

    I hope not since there no such dish or animal. As you may know, the name is ” Boeuf Bourguignon ”

  • December 6, 2006 10:32pm

    No matter how you speak of it, it’s good, non?

    What an engrossing book the Julie Child book is! Next time I am in Paris, one of my first stops will be Julia’s Roo de Loo neighborhood, to pay hommage.

    Mort Rosenblum’s book is fascinating, too. I am falling behind on my required reading, it seems. . .thanks for the tips.

  • December 6, 2006 10:33pm

    Oops, make that Julia Child.

  • hilary
    December 6, 2006 11:12pm

    I’m really enjoying “The Sweet Life”… Kate Zuckerman’s Spiced Apple Sour Cream cake is excellent.

  • December 7, 2006 3:05am

    Alain: Since La Poste messed up my delivery of cookbooks (and a recent one of chocolate, but I won’t get into that now…), I’m entitled to mess up la langue française at least once in a while, non?

    Mimi: ‘Julie’ Child?
    Don’t tell me you’re missing a case of cookbooks too? ; )

    Hilary: There’s no sour cream here, but we have radically-good crème fraîche, as well as lots of good apples. Will give it a try.

  • December 7, 2006 7:17am

    I’m missing something, but it’s not cookbooks. Maybe the typing gene? The proofing gene?

    BTW, I was just paging through “Cooking on Rue Tatin,” looking for a weekend project. Any suggestions?

  • December 7, 2006 10:23am


    Thanks for the wonderful list of books to add to my ever-growing “must-read” list. I absolutely loved My Life In France. It was fascinating to see just what she put herself through to become an American icon and change the way we think of food and television – forever. She will be missed indeed.

  • December 7, 2006 12:50pm

    What a great list, David! And I wholeheartedly agree about Heat – it started off with a bang, but then it sort of puttered to a stop. Sadly, I put mine back on the bookshelf with the bookmark still at its halfway point.

    As for me, one of my favorite books of the year is the U.S. edition of Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries. Such a pleasure to read…

  • Elizabeth
    December 7, 2006 1:00pm

    An important book that received a lot of attention in The United States this year is “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. The New Yorker published a joint book review, discussing it along with three others that focus on diets and the American food industry. Subsequently,”The United States of Arugula” was added to the number of books by articulate journalists who are interested in the history, politics and culture of food.

  • Alain Q.
    December 7, 2006 1:57pm

    David, la langue française forgives you..she’s been messed up before, and too often by her own children !

  • December 7, 2006 2:59pm

    Probably the most fun food read I’ve had this year was Jeffrey Steingarten’s book It Must Have Been Something I Ate. Published in 2002, it’s a fabulous collection of entertaining essays by Vogue’s food editor. Note–am I the only person stunned by the fact that Vogue magazine, a publication filled with anorexic models, not only has a food editor, but a test kitchen as well? If you write about food–or just like to read about it–the funny, food-obsessed Mr. Steingarten is a must read.

  • December 7, 2006 5:13pm

    Alain: Yes, she can be tough, but she is indeed forgiving to those of us who love her.

    Terry: I liked his first book, The Man Who Ate Everything better. The first chapter, how he became the food critic for Vogue, was great.

    Mimi: If you have her book French Farmhouse Cookbook, I strongly suggest the Roast Chicken with Shallots. It’s the roast chicken recipe in my house.

    In Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin, try the Tapenade with the drained yogurt underneath–that was a revelation to me! The Madeleines on pg 207 is the only recipe I’ve ever made that taste truly authentic.

    Elizabeth: Sometimes those books make me rather sad (and a bit upset), although I read the many reviews of it and think I got the gist. But I’ll put it on my list for 2007!

  • December 8, 2006 5:19am

    I just received my copy of My Life in France. It is just amazing to see how she can remember every detail of every dish she tasted. Her husband’s photos scattered throughout the book makes it just perfect.

  • Elizabeth
    December 8, 2006 12:14pm

    David: Don’t be sad; you live in Paris and know all the best chocolatiers. As much as recent books disparage the industrialization of small, organic farms, they would not have been written were many Americans not able to shop at new farmers markets, buy locally grown chard, Heirloom tomatoes, Spanish ham and French cheeses that aren’t called Brie. It would be interesting to read what Europeans have to say about recent developments in their own food culture.

    There are stories here and there about baguettes, wine, supermarkets and pre-packaged food, but a book addressing the Big Picture would be welcome.

    (So sorry to hear about the books that never made it to Paris! I’ve had similar problems, including the shipment of a carefully gathered gift of food that was sent to the correct street address to the only place in France with the district’s name. However, since the newly emigrated recipient was given the wrong postal code–by the French postal service, I believe–it was not delivered. Three months later, the box appeared at my front door, white cheddar cheese puffs unbroken, Reese’s peanut butter cups intact, but stale.)

  • December 8, 2006 4:29pm

    My list is so long, I would fill up your comment lines. But eh you forgot one, what about David Lebovitz’s cookbook???

  • Patty Jean
    December 8, 2006 6:26pm

    Working in the kitchen somewhere DwownUnder, doing something like 60-85 hour/week – excluding time spent on purchasing ingredients/equipments & researching, I do not have much time for books lately. However, I know I am way behind time (so is this country), I like: Tender to the Bone by Ruth Reichl (1999!); The French Laundry (everyone’s favourite?); What Einstein Told His Cook (1 & 2); and my most used book The Roux Brothers on Patisserie. And I just ordered Grand Livre de Cuisine: Alain Ducasse’s Desserts and Pastries (English Ed). I guess at least I have mentioned one book that is published this year, even though the French version is over 4 years old.

  • December 8, 2006 10:54pm

    David, I’m so honored that you mentioned my book in your “looking forward to reading next year” list. My goodness, I’m struck with a pernicious flu and can’t read my favorite blogs for a few days, and this is what I miss? I hope I can finish the durned thing in time so I can read it.

    I’m looking forward to yours, of course. Can’t wait.

    The Julia Child book. I just couldn’t put it down. Every other page is dog-eared.

  • December 8, 2006 10:55pm

    Of course, I meant to write, “…so you can read it.” I can read the unfinished manuscript right now.

  • December 9, 2006 7:39am

    I’ve got chicken and I’ve got shallots so I think that one is do-able over the weekend — great idea, David. BTW, the Julia Child book is so engrossing to so many people — might there be another in the works?

  • December 9, 2006 9:56am

    Elizabeth: There was a book published recently, called something like ‘Market Day in Provence’ written by a French woman, that reportedly blew the lid off what French markets really are stocked with.

    I haven’t read it, but in my experience, many French people and chefs I’ve spoke with share the attitude of M. Depardieu in The Independent article on French food that I was interviewed for as well. But, of course, it’s hard to make generalizations about attitudes. There’s plenty of Americans living in denial about the quantity and effect of pesticides in their food too.

    Also, there were some curious comments in my blog entry Paris Organics that raised quite a stink (scroll to the comments section.)

    Shauna: If you’re stuck in bed, you should be working! No procrastinating. Welcome to the ‘At-Home’ workforce…xx

    B�a: Fortunately, I have all my own books. And I didn’t release one in 2006. I’ve been too busy with the blog. But keep an eye out in the spring of 2007 for the next one…

    Cenk: I tend to remember all the great things I’ve eaten as well, in addition to a few of the bad ones, which I’d rather forget.

    Mimi: I don’t think they’ll be another autobiography…unless Julia rises from the beyond.

    (Which would actually make it quite the blockbuster!)

  • December 9, 2006 7:15pm

    Thanks for the tips, I’m always looking for new books to try out in the kitchen. Just finished going through The Essence of Chocolate and was very pleased with how the recipes I tried came out – include their variation of your Orbit cake!

  • Tommy
    December 10, 2006 2:03am

    I too love Dorie’s “Baking”. My tenth book would be Susan Goin’s “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” so many good menus in there and she lays it all out seasonally.

  • veron
    December 12, 2006 3:44pm

    I currently have Tartine and Sweet Desserts enroute. Now you are making me want to go home to see if it has arrived in the mail yet!

    I am currently going thru Dorie’s book but I must say I like “Bittersweet” ( I just bought it this year) the best so far. I think “The Essence of Shocolate” is next on the list