10 Pretty Gifts That Happen to Be Cookbooks

December  6, 2016

This year saw cookbooks with rare forms: comics, recipes for "rain after cloud," under-the-microscope studies, and National Geographic-worthy travel photos.

Here are 10 cookbooks for people who like coffee table candy and take the word "cookbooks" loosely:

1. The Del Posto Cookbook

Del Posto is one of the most lauded restaurants in New York (and the first modern restaurant to get a 4-star review from The New York Times), so its reputation precedes itself. The good news about its cookbook: If you get past the opulence, you'll learn—as our editor Amanda did—that the recipes are indeed quite cookable.

2. Dalí: Les Dîners de Gala

This reprint of Dalí's limited edition cookbook is fantastical and bizarre in every great way—anyone who loves surrealist art will love this one. The exotic, luxurious recipes are more poetry than method, and the visuals—well, see for yourself.

3. A Treasury of Great Recipes: Famous Specialties of the World's Foremost Restaurants Adapted for the American Kitchen

Another reprint of a coveted, previously out-of-print cookbook, the 50th anniversary edition of actor Vincent Price's grand cookbook-travelogue has a perfect title; story time from the Prices' travels; recipes untouched by time; and no end of absurd, wonderful photos.

4. The Photographer's Cookbook

The book is exactly what it sounds like—a compilation of recipes and images from well-known photographers—and nothing like what you expect. Some of the recipes are oddly good—Ansel Adams made eggs in the microwave with beer and sherry—while others wink and nod. Les Krims explains his “Formalist Stew”:

It has 185 ingredients and takes 31 days to prepare. The only problem is, you die of hunger and boredom before it’s ever finished.

5. Far Afield: Rare Food Encounters from Around the World

Shane Mitchell and photographer James Fisher traveled the world over to unearth some of the oldest living cooking traditions and the people who are still upholding them today: taro farmers in Hawaii, fishermen in Kenya, gauchos in Uruguay. While each destination is accompanied by recipes, it's the stories of people dedicated to their craft that captivates.

More: Shane Mitchell, the author of Far Afield, gives us a tour of Grand Central.

6. Cuba!: Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen

Cuba! is full of the people and places the authors met and saw during their travels to Cuba: The farmers of the organoponicos (organic farms), the elderly woman who invited the crew in off the street to cook a one-pot slow-simmered stew with her, and the fisherman lined up on the Malecón, a 5-mile stretch of seawall on the coast. Their stories bring personality and joy to the recipes within, justifying that exclamation point on the title—!

7. The Spice Companion: A Guide to the World of Spices

Sure, The Spice Companion is part fascinating history of spices, part encyclopedia, part cooking companion, but the glory shots of each spice mean it's a pleasure to peruse—regardless of what you might be cooking. Never has salt looked so glacial or cinnamon so woodsy.

8. Studio Olafur Eliasson: The Kitchen

This book chronicles the food artist Olafur Eliasson prepares in his studio's kitchen. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. It's a complicated melange of words, ideas, diagrams, and images that makes you think, but also keep turning pages in awe.

9. something to food about: Exploring Creativity with Innovative Chefs

Another in the category of "creative cookbooks that make you think but maybe not cook," Questlove's book features conversations with chefs and food authorities on the topic of creativity in the food world—food for thought, if you will. As Francis Lam put it: "This one's for cooks, chefs, musicians, artists, fans of the above and anyone into creativity."

More: Our review of Questlove's something to food about.

10. Hot Dog Taste Test

Lisa Hanawalt's new is more comic than cookbook, but it's hilariously poignant. In poppy illustrations, she divulges:

  • a new food photography terminology: burgview (75% of frame is a burger), 'prout (rogue sprout), and so forth.
  • snack tips: mix thing-flavored snack (gummy cola candy, popcorn jelly beans) with actual thing (Coke, popcorn).
  • a list of sassy foods, which includes yogurt, Gogurt, spinach, oranges.

More: Last year's picks for coffee table cookbooks are still beautiful and great gifts!

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Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.