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3 CookBooks That Should Be On Your Coffee Table

Cooking is akin to writing songs and music…we will never exhaust all tunes and recipe ideas are infinite.

January 4, 2017

3 CookBooks That Should Be On Your Coffee Table

I’m a sucker for learning. A good teacher is forever filling their brains with new and exciting content. If they don’t regularly practice this discipline, they become stagnant and boring.

That’s my justification for having quite a large recipe book collection. Cooking is akin to writing songs and music…we will never exhaust all tunes and recipe ideas are infinite. As long as we have imaginations these things will exist in new forms.

Inspiration for new ideas that I can adapt and include in class is on hand via my current choice of recipe books sitting on our lounge coffee table. Note I said ‘ideas’. If I use a recipe in its entirety directly from someone else’s repertoire, I always credit the original author.

After 35 years of cooking professionally and almost 20 of those teaching I have the ability to read a recipe and just know if it will work or not. It’s just part of my make-up now. I’m glad to say these days I trust my gut instinct. After learning the hard way, not following my ‘feelings’ and cooking un-delicious dishes I’m pleased to say it is now a rare occurrence!

Three important factors I look for when purchasing a cook book are:

  1. Entertainment Value – How is it written? Is there a story? Do I get to know the author/cook/chef behind the cuisine/genre? Is it written with integrity? Does is contain humour and a genuine wish the reader enjoys culinary success?
  2. Teaching Value – Are there techniques or kitchen science or ingredient information to be learned within the pages? I’m not looking for just recipes consisting of ingredients, method and a pretty picture.
  3. Creative Value – Do the food images inspire me? Can I discover an alternate presentation idea or a flavour matching suggestion I haven’t seen or thought of before? How do I feel holding the book in my hands? I want to be excited when I flick through and get an impatient desire to read the book from cover to cover.


This book intrigued me. I had always admired this young chef who at 22 was leading a new way to cook commercially, working in a strawberry plant covered, Perth CBD restaurant which had a worm farm and kitchen garden on its roof. In late 2009 Matt Stone ran a kitchen like I have never seen before. Milling grain to make flour to make bread?! Recycling hand-basin water in the loos?! Serving drinks in old jam jars?!

7 years later after working with Joost Bakker (environmentalist, restaurateur and creator of The Greenhouse) on many other projects, Matt has written and published The Natural Cook. It is a book which explains his philosophy. I enjoyed reading about ‘old fashioned’ thinking  (which is becoming new again) on preserving, pickling and zero waste. It has made me more mindful about my own food choices.

One of my favourite recipes is Roasted Pumpkin, Sprouted Lentils and Tahini Yoghurt. It’s a wonderful summer salad. (I did add chopped rocket, watercress, dill and coriander with blanched green beans and sugar snap peas though.) Sprouting the lentils takes about 3 days but is great fun and adds lots of nutrients to this dish. I did experiment sprouting lentils two ways. Unfortunately, Matt’s method of rinsing then keeping the lentils immersed in water was unsuccessful. The other method was taken from the book I write about below. This involved rinsing then draining the lentils, leaving them in a sieve. And hey presto, 3 days later my beautiful green Australian lentils had sprouted!

I will certainly be making more from this book. Quinoa, Tomato, Radish and Z’Atar Salad and Fermented Pears have both caught my eye. I applaud Matt for sharing what has made him one of Australia’s brightest chefs.

CORNERSMITH – Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant

I read about this picklery located in Sydney many months ago when researching for our Culinary Tours. Signed up to their newsletter and got completely hooked! The philosophy is similar to Matt Stones; zero waste and preserving seasonal produce as well as eating healthy flavoursome fresh food. I LOVE this book. I love their story of how the cafe and picklery started, how a trading system has worked so well and has contributed to building a strong community in Marrickville. May this thoughtful business blossom and grow for all to benefit from.

Every method is explained thoroughly and clearly. This is the platform from which cooks can then experiment with their own ideas, using what they have learned to create their own pickles, sauces and preserves from garden bounty or farmers markets seasonal produce glut. Practical and inspiring.

I’m going to bottle fresh crushed summer-kissed tomatoes as well as make my own passata using Alex and James’ methods. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Oh their Smoky Paprika and Rosemary toasted almonds are excellent. I made mine with cashews and macadamias. Check out the recipe here.

NOPI – Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully

Yotam Ottolenghi is a genius in the kitchen. His use of flavours and textures is exciting and so different from anyone else. Thank goodness he has shared his skills with us in all his recipe books.

This is the type of book I’ll take a portion of a recipe from and create a new idea around it. Yotam’s Peanut Sauce for example has an explaination “the combination of anchovies and coconut really is fairly unusual and sounds as if just it might not work. Trust us on this one…”. Think about it. What is fish sauce made from? Anchovies! Fish sauce and coconut mixed with other components in an Asian flavoured peanut sauce is pure magic. I love how he has explained ‘why’ he has chosen ingredient combinations or certain techniques to create his own style of food.

Yotam truly understands the taste of ingredients and therefore finds it easy to combine delicious flavour matchings from his imagination. There is a great glossary in this book which is a masterstroke of teaching. This enables the reader if they choose, to continue on a food journey, learning to use ingredients for any number of dishes they care to think up for themselves.

So the peanut sauce will turn up on a plate sometime this month no doubt, I think with juicy smoky BBQ chicken thighs, a crisp Asian style raw salad and a small bed of rice with plenty of lime wedges to squeeze.

Wonder what else I can use it with…

The Natural Cook – Matt Stone

Cornersmith – Alex Elliott-Howery and James Grant

Nopi – Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramael Scully

2 Comment(s) Tips & Tricks

  1. Tracey Wyatt

    They sound great
    Thanks for sharing x

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Tracey Cotterell

Tracey Cotterell
Tracey Cotterell


Tracey has been in the food industry since completing her Diploma in Hotel, Catering and Institutional Management in 1982 in the UK. She worked for an outside catering company in London, then joined her parents in rural West Sussex running

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Tracey Cotterell

Tracey Cotterell


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