The James Beard award winning cookbooks you need to add to your library include everything from the Book of the Year, The Whole Fish Cookbook by Australian chef Josh Niland to American Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin and The Whole Okra by Chris Smith, a perfect companion book.

The James Beard award winning cookbooks we recommend you add to your library range from the groundbreaking The Whole Fish Cookbook by Australian chef Josh Niland, pictured above, to two very timely books, American Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin, which has been called “a celebration of African American cuisine right now” and The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration by Chris Smith, which includes recipes from some of the American South’s most influential chefs and scholars.

If you’re not familiar with the James Beard Foundation’s media awards, which include cookbooks, food articles, podcasts, and videos, they’re the USA’s most prestigious awards for food media and this year they are celebrating their 30th anniversary. The awards were announced on 27 May, 2020, just two days after the murder of African American George Floyd in the US, and the eruption of protests around the country, so we delayed this post as it was inappropriate to share anything celebratory at the time.

The list of James Beard award winning cookbooks includes two books that provide great introductions to the centuries of African American cooking in the American South, which is essentially what we know as American cooking, so if you purchase these you’re supporting African American writers, culinary historians, chefs, communities, and culture. Now seems like a good time to cook the delicious dishes of the USA’s African American community and celebrate its important culinary contributions to US food culture.

James Beard Award Winning Cookbooks to Add to Your Library

The Whole Fish Cookbook: New Ways to Cook, Eat and Think by Josh Niland, Hardi Grant Books

If you only buy one of the James Beard award winning cookbooks for your kitchen library make it the top prize-winner, the Book of the Year, The Whole Fish Cookbook: New Ways to Cook, Eat and Think by trail-blazing Australian chef Josh Niland, pictured above. Niland is the owner-chef of critically-acclaimed Sydney restaurant, Saint Peter and Fish Butchery, Australia’s first sustainable fishmonger, where he sells dry-aged, cured and smoked fish and offal to the general public, as well as some of Sydney’s best restaurants. In The Whole Fish Cookbook, Niland inspires readers to think about fish in entirely new ways, challenging everything we thought we knew about it, and inviting us to give fish the same kind of nose-to-tail reverence we might give to meat. Called “a revelation” by chef Rick Stein, “a game changer” by chef Nathan Outlaw, and “equal parts comprehensive technical manual and a giant porthole into creativity” by chef Grant Achatz, The Whole Fish Cookbook covers everything from sourcing and butchering to dry aging and curing, with over 60 recipes making use of everything from fish eyeballs to bladders of dozens of different species, such as Cod Liver Pate on Toast, Roast Fish Bone Marrow and the Perfect Fish and Chips.

American Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin, Clarkson Potter

If you can buy two James Beard award winning cookbooks then American Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin should be the second. Called “a celebration of African American cuisine right now, in all of its abundance and variety” by food critic Tejal Rao of US newspaper The New York Times, American Jubilee introduces readers to the long history, depth and breadth of African American cuisine, which isn’t only Southern Cooking and Soul Food, but is essentially American cuisine. Toni Tipton-Martin, a culinary writer, community activist and founder of the Southern Foodways Alliance, drew upon her collection of some 400 African American cookbooks, the oldest dating to 1827, to share the recipes and stories of often-forgotten pioneering figures in American food, from enslaved African-American cooks to food writers and entrepreneurs who contributed to creating the country’s national cuisine. Some of the 100 recipes include American classics such as Seafood Gumbo, Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Pecan Pie with Bourbon.

The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration by Chris Smith, Chelsea Green Publishing

This rich guide to the history of okra and its importance to the food of the American South makes a fantastic companion to American Jubilee. The Whole Okra: A Seed to Stem Celebration by Chris Smith is on the list of James Beard award winning cookbooks for its scholarship, although you’ll find plenty of recipes inside from some of the South’s most influential chefs and scholars. There’s Limpin’ Susan by African-American chef BJ Dennis, historian, farmer and ambassador for the Gullah Geechee community, descendants of enslaved West Africans who re-created dishes from home in plantation kitchens. There’s Okra Soup by African-American culinary historian Michael Twitty, author of The Cooking Gene, which explores how his captive ancestors enriched the Southern diet with ingredients that travelled with them on slave ships (rice, peanuts, cowpeas, and okra), creating an “edible jazz” of jambalaya, fried chicken, barbecue, spicy peanut stews, and crispy okra. And there’s Bhindi Masala by Indian chef, restaurateur and storyteller Meherwan Irani, who, among other things, started a dinner series called ‘Brown in the South’ that aimed to bridge the American South with South Asia. British writer Smith has grown 75 varieties of okra and began experimenting with ways of cooking with okra after an encounter with slimy okra at a greasy spoon. His book includes history, growing advice, craft projects, and recipes. Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation, who believes the much-maligned vegetable is much underrated, said “If you are an okra lover, this book is an affirmation, filled with interesting stories and great ideas for using pods, flowers, and more. If you are not yet an okra lover, Chris Smith’s enthusiasm may well convert you.”

Pasta Grannies, The Official Cookbook – The Secrets of Italy’s Best Home Cooks by Vicky Bennison, Hardie Grant Books

Who doesn’t want to learn to cook Italian recipes perfected over time by Italian nonnas. If you’re a fan of the popular YouTube channel Pasta Grannies then Pasta Grannies, The Official Cookbook – The Secrets of Italy’s Best Home Cooks by Vicky Bennison, this is another of the James Beard award winning cookbooks you need in your library. A collection of more than 80 recipes from all over Italy, Pasta Grannies takes you into the welcoming kitchens of Italian grandmothers to learn to make everything from quick and easy pici, a hand-rolled spaghetti, to the more time-consuming, lumachelle della duchessa, small cinnamon-scented, ridged tubes. Author Vicky Bennison, who co-wrote Seasonal Spanish Food with chef José Pizarro, also shares the stories of these women who have spent a lifetime cooking for love – although as one pasta granny, 85-year-old Lucia, says “When you have good ingredients, you don’t have to worry about cooking. They do the work for you.”

American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta by Evan Funke and Eric Wolfinger, Chronicle Books

Sfoglia (pronounced ‘sfol-EE-a’) is a sheet of fresh pasta rolled by hand and a sfoglino or a sfoglina (‘sfol-YEE-no’/‘sfol-YEE-na’) is a maker of fresh pasta, a position of honour in Italy’s gastronomic capital, Bologna, where pasta-making is deeply rooted in the city’s long rich culinary history. Sfoglini, as Bolognese pasta masters are called, have rolled out dough and shaped pasta by hand in workshops all over the city for hundreds of years. They’re the very foundation of a cuisine boasting centuries-old pastas, such as lasagna and tagliatelle. The sfoglino in this case is Evan Funke, author of American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta, and owner of Felix Trattoria in Venice, California, USA. However, this beautiful tome is on this list of James Beard award winning cookbooks for Photography and Eric Wolfinger’s rich imagery that captures the art of a master at work. Funke’s comprehensive guide to the classic techniques he gained in Emilia Romagna, demonstrate how, with just flour, eggs and a rolling pin, you can craft traditional pastas, and what the right sauces are that they should be match with. Starting with four foundational doughs, Funke and Wolfinger take us step by step through recipes for a variety of specialties including the essential broth, Brodo di Carne (meat broth), Passata di Pomodoro (tomato sauce) and Lasagna Verde alla Bolognese (green Bolognese lasagna).

Whole Food Cooking Every Day – Transform the Way You Eat with 250 Vegetarian Recipes Free of Gluten, Dairy and Refined Sugar by Amy Chaplin, Artisan Books

Australian-born New York-based chef, recipe developer, educator and writer Amy Chaplin’s book Whole Food Cooking Every Day won its James Beard award for Vegetable-Focused Cooking and of all the James Beard award winning cookbooks this is the one for vegetarians and vegans to buy. It’s the follow up to her first book, At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Celebrating the Art of Eating Well. The former chef of Angelica Kitchen, a now-shuttered beloved East Village vegan restaurant, and private chef to the likes of Nathalie Portman and Liv Tyler, Chaplin has succeeded where many other books of this genre have failed, in making vegetarian and vegan food look elegant and enticing. Chaplin, who grew up in Northern New South Wales, has said she’s inspired by nature and its healing benefits, the healthy food that she grew up eating in the countryside, and her experience as a globetrotting chef. Whole Food Cooking Every Day – which has a fan club that calls it WFCED – isn’t just pretty to look at, its cleverly structured, with each chapter featuring one to six base recipes that are followed by variations of toppings, add-ins and substitutions that offer up endless possibilities. There are also recipes for nut and seed milks and drinks, gluten-free breads, simple healing soups, and sauces and dressings.

Living Bread – Tradition and Innovation in Artisan Bread Making by Daniel Leader and Lauren Chattman, Avery

If you’ve been baking sourdough or undertaking any kind of baking projects while you’ve been staying at home and self-isolating in recent months, then of all the James Beard award winning cookbooks this ground-breaking guide to making great bread is your must-buy. Living Bread – Tradition and Innovation in Artisan Bread Making by Daniel Leader and Lauren Chattman, is the latest book by the author of Bread Alone, Daniel Leader, considered a pioneer of American artisan bread baking. Leader, who says he fell in love with baking at age twenty-two, after first wandering by a boulangerie in Paris where he fell in love with the alluring aromas of baking bread, went on to open iconic bakery, Bread Alone, in the Catskills in New York State in the USA. In his latest book, Leader draws inspiration from millers, farmers, scientists, and bakers, to provide a comprehensive, compelling and insightful exploration into how contemporary artisanal bread baking evolved to where it is today, from wheat farming methods to milling practices, from making sourdough starters to mixing dough. Recipes include classics with twists, such as Curry Tomato Ciabatta and Chocolate Sourdough Babka.

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve been cooking from any of these James Beard award winning cookbooks and find out what you think of them. And if you’re a cookbook lover or interested in culinary history please check out the epic Cambodian cookbook and culinary history research project we’ve been working on for the last seven years. The cookbook documents recipes by Cambodian cooks from around the country and shares their stories, portraits and kitchens, while the culinary history will tell the long rich story of Cambodian food for the first time. We’re always looking for patrons to help us complete this important work and you can support our research and the project for as little as US$2 or US$5 a month on Patreon. There are perks too!

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