Every year I think, Surely there can't be as many brilliant books published as there was last year – but every year I'm impressed by the sheer talent and creativity that authors pour into their creations.
There were so many brilliant food books in 2023 that we ('we' being me and the rest of the team at Waitrose Food, where I've had the privilege of working for the past year) struggled – and argued a bit too – to decide which would make the incredibly short list.
The books selected above and below are those that we eventually settled on for the December 2023 issue (out now!) and in the June 2023 issue. All are excellent.
There were many others that really stood out for me too, and that I think deserve a place on the bookshelf – yours or anyone on your Christmas-gift list. This is just a selection of some (more) of my top picks...
By Regula Ysewijn @missfoodwise
Regula is an erudite culinary historian and photographer as well as a skilled writer. She really sinks her teeth into her subject matter – in this case the festive baking of her native Belgium and neighbouring nations. The recipes are redolent of cinnamon, spice, butter and honey, the photography is sumptuous and the book is impossible to put down once you start reading. One for the bakers on your list.
By Maria Bradford @shwenshwenbymaria
Born in Freetown, Maria lived through that country's devastating civil war, and now makes her home in Kent, where she runs a catering business called Shwen Shwen (Krio for 'fancy'). Maria presents African food and ingredients in ways that challenge expectations: 'Afro-fusion' is the fitting description she gives her cooking. She writes, "Food is a lens for culture, and you have to taste culture to understand it". Her debut book invites readers to do just that.
I had the pleasure of working with Maria on this book, so I know first-hand how much love and hard work went into making it.
By Emma Young @thecheeseexplorer
Emma's enthusiasm for her subject matter is infectious (I know because she was my tutor at the Academy of Cheese!). In this book, she really breaks down the subject into bite-size (sorry...) pieces and presents a logical way of making sense of so many cheese styles. I also enjoy the way she tells readers to train their palate and build up the repertoire of recognisable flavours. Any cheese lover is certain to gain a lot from this book.
By Emiko Davies @emikodavies
Emiko's mother is Japanese, her father (a UN diplomat) is Australian, and she has lived in Australia, China and the US, and now lives in Tuscany with her husband and young family. She's written extensively about Italian cuisine in her previous cookbooks. Here, in a kind of kitchen homecoming, she takes sheer relish in the Japanese food she grew up with, and that she now makes for her own children – what she calles 'her soul food'. Cover-to-cover joy.
By Petty Pandean-Elliott @pettyelliottskitchen
Chef and food writer Petty takes readers' palates on a whirlwind journey through this archipelago of 17,000 islands. Indonesian food is a vast subject, so she concentrates on eight key regions: Sulawesi (her birthplace), Java, Bali, Nusa Tenggara, Maluku Islands, Sumatra, Papua and Kalimantan. It's an excellent first step for those new to the cuisine but there's a huge breadth to the recipes – anyone whose appetite for Indonesian food has already been whetted will find plenty to please.
That's just a taste of some of this year's best. Happy reading and happy cooking!