Can’t Cook? Crack a Book

cook book

What’s an aspiring chef to do when the restaurant industry they dreamed of being a part of is turned upside down? Kathi Riley Smith, a veteran chef (she worked at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe) who is now a culinary supervisor at American River College, offers some sound advice for culinary students.

“Keep your head down, work hard, keep studying,” she suggests. Also, don’t get too carried away with trying to become the next Food Network star.

“A lot of students say they want to be a celebrity chef, but those are one in a million,” says Riley Smith. “What students really need to do is to find the passion inside of themselves and get their reward from that instead of waiting for someone else to appreciate them.”

Another thing: Even when restaurant and classroom kitchens are shuttered, there are plenty of opportunities for a culinary student to expand their knowledge of food. “You can actually learn a lot from reading cookbooks and recipes. I spent my first couple of years reading cookbooks cover to cover without ever cooking from them, just trying to get a sense of what combinations of things are classics, what techniques can I build on,” she says. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to read really good, well-written cookbooks.”

Riley offers this shortlist of her favorite cooking tomes, which appeal to adventurous home cooks and diligent students alike.

“The Zuni Cafe Cookbook” by Judy Rodgers
“It’s beautiful but challenging and encyclopedic in nature.”

Any of James Beard’s cookbooks
“They are fundamental for any cook.”

Anything by Yotam Ottolenghi (“Jerusalem,” “Plenty,” “Ottolenghi Simple”)
“He’s one of my favorite cookbook writers. His rise has been a long time coming.”

“The Foreign Cinema Cookbook” by Gayle Pirie and John Clark
“It’s fantastic. Their chapter on sauces and condiments is just incredible.”