The Food Lab's 20 most influential books

J. Kenji López-Alt can count at least 1,897 EYB Members as fans (that's how many of us have The Food Lab on our Bookshelves), although it is surely much more than that. López-Alt has written numerous columns for Serious Eats (more than 12,000 recipes are indexed) that are marked as Member favorites, and people frequently turn to him for advice, especially detailed scientific explanations into the 'whys' of cooking. His writing inspires many, and now we know what has inspired him. López-Alt recently went through his cookbook collection and tells us about the 20 food-related books that have had the most influence on him

cookbook collage

The late Anthony Bourdain pops up right away. Kitchen Confidential inspired López-Alt (along with thousands of others) to choose cooking as his life's work. Coming in right behind that book, which admittedly is a book you would use to actually cook with, is Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. For López-Alt, this is the single most important book. "McGee took that science and revealed how it can be applied to home and restaurant cooking in a way that even a non-scientist can understand. It's safe to say that without this book paving the way, Good Eats Modernist Cuisine Heston Blumenthal, and The Food Lab wouldn't exist as we know them today," he says. 

About half of the books on López-Alt's list are not cookbooks. Works like How to Read a French Fry and The Man Who Ate Everything play a prominent role in how López-Alt looks at and thinks about food and cooking. However, numerous cookbooks do appear on the list. Among those tomes are The River Cottage Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty, and Rick Bayless' Authentic Mexican

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