Before immersing myself in the world of professional cooking, I dabbled in cooking projects during my free time away from work. Usually this meant that during late nights and early mornings, you could find me trying out new pie recipes or figuring out the best way to cook the rainbow chard I impulse bought at the Santa Monica Farmer's Market. I spent more of my 20's working and cooling pies on windowsills than I did partying. I used almost all of my personal time on culinary exploration, whether it was seeing the Nordic Food Lab crew speak at UCLA, finding a good taco truck spot, or going to a weekend food writing conference in New Orleans. During this time of exploration, I started to collect cookbooks. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, as it turns out, could provide me with a basic cooking method for almost every vegetable from the farmer's market. And Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table was an amazing resource for discovering the alchemy of pate a choux, and a guiding voice that cheered me on when I made my first pear tart with almond cream. My curiosity led to more and more experiments and (after a lot of soul-searching) to the eventual realization that culinary school was the place for me.
I will admit that like many people in my generation, I love the internet for all of its fast-paced, informative, and visually appealing food content. But cookbooks will always have a place on my shelf. Part genuine works of art and part functional kitchen tools, I will always treasure and value them. Over the last ten years, I have been lucky to amass a substantial cookbook collection, including many gifts from friends and family members. I have baked and cooked from a lot of these books, and I have also used them as a menu brainstorming tool for work. I have gained valuable boosts of encouragement and practical advice from reading cookbook authors' tips and anecdotes. However, over time the collection has gotten away from me, though I continue to treasure each new book added with all of the best intentions of cooking from them frequently. There are quite a few books that I was genuinely thrilled to receive recently, only to have them sit on my shelf and collect dust. The demands of full-time culinary school, work, and a stint on a competitive cooking team prevented me from that free-spirited exploration of recipes. With that insane schedule in my rearview mirror, and in the spirit of life's next chapter, I'll choose one featured cookbook per month from my collection to cook or bake a recipe from. My goal is to keep collecting, but to give my books some serious wear and tear over the next year-- and I encourage you to do the same. Stay tuned for the first Cookbook of the Month in April.