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10 Best Food Books That Aren't Cookbooks

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The author is an engineer by profession and a lover of food. In his free time, he likes to tinker around in the kitchen.

Love food, but don't always want to read a cookbook? One of these books will be perfect for you.

Love food, but don't always want to read a cookbook? One of these books will be perfect for you.

These 10 unusual food books include recipes, but they definitely aren't cookbooks! In the pages of the books below, you will find a healthy dosage of wit and humor, photographs, poems, drawings, and various other nontraditional elements not typically found in culinary works. These are books every food lover should read. You may want to buy them as a gift for your favorite foodie or keep them for yourself to satisfy your hunger for great literature.

10 Best Food Books to Read or Give as Gifts

  1. Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses by Isabel Allende
  2. Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater
  3. Notes From a Kitchen by Jeff Scott, Blake Beshore, Sean Brock and Michael Laiskonis
  4. Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
  5. Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller
  6. Off The Shelf: Cooking From the Pantry by Donna Hay
  7. Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas
  8. Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater
  9. Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life by Julia Rothman
  10. Hero Food: How Cooking With Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better by Seamus Mullen
From the pages of Julia Rothman's Farm Anatomy

From the pages of Julia Rothman's Farm Anatomy

1. Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses

Explore the delights of food and sex in Isabel Allende's Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses. This is a very sensual read with a combination of great recipes, tips on lovemaking, advice on how to attract a partner, poems, stories drawn from international literature, and even paintings.

Does smell has any effect on libido? You will find this answer in her food book. For readers suffering from flagging virility, there is a section on how to revive it with the aid of, you guessed it, food! It includes some good aphrodisiac recipes, fresh storytelling, and added spices of humor and insight.

Isabel Allende was born in Peru but raised in Chile. She is the author of several novels, including some children's novels (though she successfully ventures into the very mature territory with this book).

She currently lives in California. Most of her books are international bestsellers, and many have been translated into several languages. After the death of her daughter, Paula Frias, Allende started the Isabel Allende Foundation in late 1996.

Paula Frias spent most of her 28 years doing charity and volunteer works helping the poor in Venezuela and Spain. Her mother started this foundation to continue her work and funded it mostly from the sales of her cookbooks. For more information, you may visit the Isabel Allende Foundation website. It feels good to know your book purchase is helping a good cause as well as providing entertainment!

Editorial Review

"Like a slow, seductive lover, Allende teases, tempts and titillates with mesmerizing stories and legends about gluttony, sexual and otherwise." —The Washington Post

Nigel Slater, author of 'Toast' and 'Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard"

Nigel Slater, author of 'Toast' and 'Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard"

2. Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger

Nigel Slater's Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger is an extraordinary tale of a childhood remembered through food. In the book, the author takes you to his kitchen with talk of bourbon biscuits and mince pies. It is an amazing story of his unhappy childhood reminisced through food, as well as a brilliant recreation of daily life in suburban England in the sixties.

At the tender age of nine, Nigel was deprived of affection after his mother died of asthma. He could not relate to his occasionally violent father. The situation was made worse when his father finally married the cleaning lady who was hired to tidy up the house and ended up seducing his father with her cooking.

Nigel Slater is an English food writer, journalist, and author who became known to a much wider audience after this food book was published.

Toast was a winner of the British Book Award for Best Biography and was adapted into a telemovie starring Helena Bonham Carter as his stepmother. His real-life stepsisters, however, accused him of creating lies about their mother and claimed that much of the book was untrue.

Editorial Reviews

"Slater's raw honesty has a delicious flavor." —The Guardian

The review from The New York Times had the amusing headline: 'Toast': Boy Meets Grill.

From the pages of 'Notes From a Kitchen'

From the pages of 'Notes From a Kitchen'

3. Notes From a Kitchen

Notes From a Kitchen: A Journey Inside Culinary Obsession by Jeff Scott, Blake Beshore, Sean Brock, and Michael Laiskonis is a two-volume, 932-page cookbook that focuses on 10 brilliant, food-obsessed chefs.

This book is not a cookbook with recipes. Rather, it is a brilliant and vibrant book with beautiful photographs, cooking notes, documentary film footage, and original artwork that explains what happens before a meal is served to you in a restaurant.

It is a beautifully crafted book that explores the work of several world-renowned young chefs. It will take you to these chefs' kitchens and into their daily creative life. Among the many celebrity chefs featured are Sean Brock, Matt Gaudet, George Mendes, Neal Fraser, Johnny Luzzini, Zak Pelaccio and Jason Neroni.

Editorial Reviews

Huffington Post voted this book one of the 11 Best Food Books of 2011.

Recipient of the 2011 James Beard Award for Best Photography by renowned artist and photographer Jeff Scott.

"The ultimate foodie gift book for the foodie that has everything." —Forbes

4. Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant

Edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant is an amusing and delightful cookbook that everyone must have as part of their book collections.

If you have always wondered what to cook when you are alone, this book will help you answer this burning question.

She invited 26 foodies and writers (including my favorite writer Nora Ephron) to relate their experiences and stories of cooking for one and dining alone. They share secrets of their indulgences in food, including their comfort foods. Written with wit and humor, it is a delightful read. If you have to eat alone, then after reading this book, you will be more prepared.

Editorial Reviews

"A balanced literary buffet, seasoned with whimsy?" —Wall Street Journal

"Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is a moreish book, best consumed at the dining room table when a more conventional companion can't be found." —NewStatesman

5. Extra Virginity

Learn about the scandalous and fraudulent world of olive oil in Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller.

Do not be fooled by the taglines and photographs of beautiful Italian countrysides on the labels. The cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil you are looking at may not be an extra virgin after all. It may be adulterated olive oil mixed with low-grade vegetable oil. Even worse, it could also have artificial coloring. Hence, it is no longer 100% pure and healthy. To quote a critic, "it has lost its virginity."

Technically, bottled olive oils labeled as "extra-virgin olive oil" must be made from crushed olives without using any chemicals or heat during the refining process. The oil has to taste and smell almost like real fresh olives.

It is claimed that almost 50% of the olive oils that are sold in America are adulterated!

This food book will lead you into the shady world of olive oil, and it teaches you how to tell the real stuff from the phony.

Editorial Reviews

"Extra Virginity does for olive oil what Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation did for hamburgers. Mueller traces the history of this valuable product from antiquity to the present, but the really disturbing part is his exposé of the inferior quality control and outright fraud among today’s oil producers." —Andy Lewis of the Hollywood Reporter

"Passionately written yet clear-headed. Mueller builds a convincing case for olive oil as one of the most miraculous and versatile substances in all of nature." —Jerry Shriver of USA Today

"In covering an industry that has its heroes and villains, author Tom Mueller does a splendid job of sorting out the players and demystifying the product." —Russ Parsons of the Los Angeles Times

6. Off The Shelf: Cooking From the Pantry

Create simple, stylish, and delicious meals from the recipes in Off The Shelf: Cooking From the Pantry by Australia's bestselling food writer Donna Hay.

Hay writes and shares simple and easy recipes in this cookbook, providing great tips and solutions to the "there is nothing to serve for dinner" dilemma.

There are 190 recipes with each section offering tips on cooking methods and ingredients. It has basic food recipes as well as fancy dinner course recipes that are simple to prepare. All these are accompanied by beautiful photographs, which provide visual help.

This book will give you the inspiration to come up with a great and delicious meal on short notice.

Editorial Review

“No need to spend hours at the store. Find gastronomic bliss with no fuss, no muss, no bother.” —New York Times

Award-winning chef Grant Achatz developed skin cancer on tongue and chooses chemotherapy radiation instead of surgery

Award-winning chef Grant Achatz developed skin cancer on tongue and chooses chemotherapy radiation instead of surgery

7. Life, on the Line

Face death in Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas.

Grant Achatz, one of America's celebrity chefs, shares his story of how he overcame tongue cancer in this book. Despite suffering an illness that deprived him of his ability to taste, he continued to work as a chef at one of America's best restaurants.

Earlier in 2002, Food & Wine named him one of the best new chefs in America. In 2003, he was awarded the James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef of the Year Award. In 2005, he and a partner opened the award-winning restaurant, Alinea. In 2007 he was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer.

He consulted several cancer centers and all recommended invasive surgery that involved removal and reconstruction of 70% of his tongue.

This would mean the removal of his entire tongue. Determined to overcome this cancer, he went for alternative treatments at the University of Chicago. This treatment started with chemotherapy to tame the tumor and was followed by chemotherapy and radiation. This alternative treatment saved his life but took away his sense of taste.

Despite this loss, his intensity and dedication to cooking pushed him to cook using his other senses: sight, touch and smell.

Read this amazing story of his battle with tongue cancer as well as his memoir as a chef in the fiercely tough restaurant industry.

Editorial Reviews

"Writing with the panache of professionals, Achatz, chef and owner of Chicago's Alinea, and his business partner, Kokonas, relate the story of Achatz's life and work in a memoir that lives up to its expansive subtitle. Achatz and Kokonas share an engaging, well-written, and informative description of what it's like to work in commercial kitchens along with the stirring story of Achatz's fight for his life." —Library Journal

"Life, on the Line may be the best, most inspiring chef memoir ever written." —American Way

From Nigel Slater's 'Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard'

From Nigel Slater's 'Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard'

8. Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard

Learn how to use fruits from the garden in Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater. This cookbook is the companion to Slater's Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch.

In the UK, Ripe was published as Tender: Volume 2. There are 24 chapters and each chapter is devoted to a particular fruit from the author's garden. The chapters include apricots, blueberries, apples, cherries, grapes, elderberries, gooseberries, figs, etc.

The beautifully photographed chapters offer recipes for each of these fruits, tips on flavor pairing, info on the various varieties of each of the fruits, and other useful tips.

Editorial Reviews

“Mr. Slater’s prose is so evocative that it will tap into the collective yearning that courses through cities and suburbs across the county, into our need to be disconnected from the ‘virtual’ and reconnected to the rhythms of nature.” —Wall Street Journal

“Nigel Slater’s masterpiece is a quiet, gorgeous, slow-motion riot where nature teaches the hungry gardener everything about beauty. But this is a cookbook? Absolutely and deeply, starting with how great fruit happens. From there, the sublime recipes seem inevitable. When I thumbed upon the blackberry focaccia, I tore out the page to tuck in my July calendar, whispering ‘genius.’” —Judy Rodgers, author of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

From the pages of Julia Rothman's Farm Anatomy

From the pages of Julia Rothman's Farm Anatomy

9. Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life

Take a look at rural life in Farm Anatomy: The Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life, a unique food book by Julia Rothman.

This is an amazing and brilliantly-illustrated guide book to the intricate and fascinating side of rural life. All the illustrations and the handwritten text in the book were done by Rothman.

She was inspired to write this food book after her first visit to the farm where her husband grew up.

As you read, look at the beautiful illustrations. You will be educated on life in the country, on plants in the garden, animals on the farm, and even on how to make cheese. This charming food book will appeal to people of all ages.

Editorial Reviews

"The book she wrote was her way of teaching herself about farming. The result is a kind of Country Life 101 textbook, graced with warmth and good humor." —Dallas Morning News

"Utterly charming and thoroughly researched, Farm Anatomy is one of those rare treats that speak to your eyes and your heart, and in the process manage to expand your mind." —The Atlantic

Seamus Mullen's Hero Food

Seamus Mullen's Hero Food

10. Hero Food: How Cooking With Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better

Learn how to cook with healthy food in Hero Food: How Cooking With Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better by Seamus Mullen.

Mullen is a chef, restaurateur and a finalist in 2009's The Next Iron Chef.

He came out with this cookbook after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. His diagnosis led him to study various food properties and nutritional values as well as the causes of rheumatoid arthritis.

These extensive studies lead him to eighteen "hero foods" that offer vital and important nutrients for good health. The book is packed with recipes using these eighteen "hero foods."

Some examples include almonds, squash, olive oil, berries, eggs, anchovies, fish, leafy greens and more. You'll just have to read this cookbook for the rest of his hero foods!

Each recipe has a complete write-up with beautiful imagery. Many of the recipes have an exciting Spanish influence.

Editorial Review

"With Hero Food: How Cooking With Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better, Mullen has composed a health-conscious food bible, with recipes more like that of a French laundry cookbook than ones you’d find in the wellness section of your local bookstore". — Men's Journal

© 2012 Mazlan A