San Francisco has long been a gastronomical mecca for food-lovers, hosting a little bit of everything from humble local dives to Michelin-starred dining experiences. However, in the new era of social-distancing, we’ve all been testing the waters of kitchen experimentation. But developing a habit of cooking at home doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the best flavors that SF has to offer. So for each and every difficulty level, here are four essential cookbooks from local SF legends that should grace your kitchen counter.
1. The Zuni Café Cookbook – Judy Rogers
Over forty years ago, Zuni Café opened its doors on Market Street and has been one of the Bay’s most beloved bistros ever since. Long helmed by the late Judy Rogers, Zuni is known for its rustic take on local, seasonal dishes. Within the bounds of its earthy covers, you’ll find recipes for Zuni’s iconic roast chicken with bread salad and addicting ricotta gnocchi. Perhaps the most invaluable gift Rogers imparts — aside from her famous recipes — is a meticulous attention to technique and her admirable philosophy on from-scratch cooking. Written by Rogers herself and edited by Maria Guarnaschelli, this is a timeless tome of what defines quintessential California-inspired cooking from one of SF’s most beloved chefs. It’s currently available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, and at Zuni Café itself!
2. Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste – Dominique Crenn & Karen Leibowitz
Atelier Crenn will probably be one of the most elegant publications to grace your coffee table. But don’t be deceived by it’s decorative minimalism — it’s much more than just an accent to tie your sitting room together. Beyond its gorgeous cover lies the ample wisdom of the only female American chef to earn three Michelin stars. Crenn brought a taste of her native France to San Francisco’s culinary scene, and every recipe detailed in Atelier Crenn is deeply personal. The central philosophy of this cookbook is the idea of poetic culinaria — “food that delights the palette as poetry delights the ear.” And her cookbook reads like poetry. One chapter, simply titled “The Sea” introduces her squid ink meringue recipe with Crenn’s childhood memories of her mother preparing shellfish. While the recipes are well-explained, they are much more advanced than the average family dinner, so beginner chefs — be wary! The book is currently available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, and Bookshop.
3. Eat Something – Evan Bloom & Rachel Levin
A lighthearted take on comfort food with a slice of humor, Eat Something is the highly-anticipated cookbook from Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, the Mission District’s long-cherished joint for deli fare. Wise Sons take on food has what they describe as a “Bay Area ethos,” as traditional Jewish fare is remixed with a Californian take. In addition to recipes for braided challah and “Morning After Matzoquiles,” the voice of Evan Bloom really highlights that what lies behind SF’s bagel scene is a rich family culture — the cookbook recounts everything from sibling quarrels to bar mitzvahs. With essays titled “Confessions of a First-Time Seder Host” and “Iconic Chinese Restaurants, As Chosen by the Chosen People,” why wouldn’t this title be on your must-have list? If you need any more convincing to pick this charming celebration of Jewish culture up, just take the advice of the book’s subtitle: “A Wise Sons Cookbook for Jews Who Like Food and Food Lovers Who Like Jews.” It’s currently available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chronicle Books, and Bookshop.
4. Vietnamese Home Cooking – Charles Phan
Beginner – Intermediate
From the chef of The Ferry Building’s legendary Slanted Door restaurant, this cookbook strikes at the core essence of what Vietnamese cooking is all about: ingredient-driven flavors, fresh and robust aromas, and a balance of savory and sweet. While Phan’s second cookbook covers more of his restaurant’s highly modern cuisine, this debut cookbook focuses less on his signature fusion style and instead introduces an unfamiliar audience to a no-frills Vietnamese food philosophy. And true to Phan’s ethnically Chinese immigrant roots, there are plenty of recipes from daikon cakes to pickled cucumber that pay homage to the closely intertwined heritages of China and Vietnam. For those looking to explore the pure flavors of Phan’s cooking, this cookbook has detailed instructions and also includes highly-prized advice on choosing a wok as well. It’s currently available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Penguin Random House.