Get out of the kitchen and read something, will ya?
As a chef, I think one of the most important things you can do is to continue learning. This can be accomplished in several ways, including doing a stage at another chef's restaurant, watching interesting food shows on TV (and by interesting, I mean Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmerman, not Rachel "EVOO" Ray), and by reading books. Lots and lots of books. I have a ton of food-related books, mostly piled in my office at work, because there's no place to put them in my little apartment. Behold a list of my favorites:
1. An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey This book is a no brainer for me. It looks like a paperback novel, doesn't have any pretty pictures and is straight out of 1982. But, the content is what makes it so special. It's one of the first cookbooks I actually ever bought about 15 years ago. I love how simple her recipes are, but also how authentic. Plus, the writing in it is great: She's witty and has a great food sensibility. I would have never created my now semi-famous "Indian spiced lamb burger" if it wasn't for this book.
2. The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten Sometimes, the learning process continues without recipes. A lot of my favorite books to read are food-inspired essays, as opposed to straight recipes. He does this best. I laughed out loud as I read this book. It tells such great stories about his life and food experiences. He has the kind of life I wish I could have—travel around all the time, eat fantastic food and write about it. Could it get any better?
3. Long Ago In France by M.F.K Fisher She was a rock star in her time, jetting off to live in Dijon at 21 years old, in 1929. My hero. Her gastronomic tale of love and growth in France has been a huge inspiration to me. I actually first read this book nine years ago when I was 22 and living in France. I identified so much with it and immediately fell in awe. I have since read almost everything she has written about food, but this book is my favorite of hers. A great writer who lived an amazing life.
4. History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat Now this is more of an encyclopedia then a book. I believe that it exists for the true dorky foodies out there who are actually interested in reading entire chapters devoted to the history of garum, salt and charcuterie. I am one of those people. Fascinating stuff. Because really without this book, how would we actually be able to appreciate what we work with in modern times? It's so important to know where things originated from and how they ended up on our plates.
5. Under Pressure by Thomas Keller This is the newest in my collection and immediately became a favorite. As a big fan of the French Laundry cookbook, I was stoked to see how much Thomas Keller's work has evolved since. The book is dedicated to the art of sous vide cooking, something that I myself have just recently fell in love with. The pictures are beautiful and the recipes inspiring. As usual, Keller managed to knock it out of the park again with another amazing book, it's no wonder he is constantly ranked as one of the top chef's in the world.