What is North American cooking? Surely it’s an impossible question to answer—but this feature attempts to do just that, through the lens of a season’s worth of cookbooks. New titles showcase the wide-ranging influences that inform kitchens in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, offering a snapshot of the continent’s cooking in all its deliciously diverse, cross-pollinated glory.
All Come to Cook in America
With people of Native American heritage making up just 2% of the population, the U.S. is overwhelmingly a nation of immigrants, and its cuisine has gained much of its richness from the influx of new arrivals. Several forthcoming books shed light on how transplants have shaped the country’s eating habits up through the present day.
Rick Kinsel and Gabrielle Langholtz, in A Place at the Table (Prestel, Sept.), present recipes and personal narratives from 40 foreign-born chefs who live in the U.S., including Dominique Crenn, Marcus Samuelsson, and Daniela Soto-Innes. Kinsel is the president of the Vilcek Foundation, which operates various programs, including the Vilcek Prizes, that celebrate immigrant contributions to the U.S.; Langholtz was until recently the foundation’s director of culinary projects.
In February, for the first time since 2010, the foundation awarded prizes to culinary figures. Samuelsson received an award of $100,000, and two other chefs and a food journalist each received an award of $50,000. A Place at the Table, like the prizes, emphasizes the “importance of immigrants in kitchens and food and everything we do in this country,” says Holly La Due, an acquisitions editor at Prestel. “These often are not the people who are getting to tell the stories. That tide is turning now.”
Previous generations of immigrants had a hand in foods now considered American staples. In Midwest Made (Running Press, Oct.), Shauna Sever offers recipes for sweet and savory baked goods that draw on French, German, Italian, Polish, and Scandinavian traditions. Sever, a Splendid Table contributor and author of three previous cookbooks, recently returned to her hometown of Chicago after a dozen years in California, and her recipes’ headnotes are informed by her native sensibility (“When Oktoberfest rolls around in the Midwest,” she writes, “the pretzel making at many bakeries goes into overdrive”).
Cook Like a Local by Chris Shepherd and Kaitlyn Goalen (Clarkson Potter, Sept.) highlights the various cuisines that have influenced the cooking that Shepherd, a James Beard Award–winning chef, does at his Houston restaurants. In the popular imagination, Houston is an “oil and steakhouse town,” says Francis Lam, an editor-at-large at Clarkson Potter. But upon to moving to the Texas city from his native Oklahoma, Shepherd found a more diverse array of culinary traditions than he’d expected. He tasted fish sauce at Vietnamese restaurants, dined at Indian eateries, and shopped at Thai groceries, and incorporated the flavors he encountered into his cooking—fried chicken tamales, for instance, or Korean braised goat and dumplings, two of the recipes in his book.
Shepherd takes care to credit his influences. At his restaurants, he provides diners with a list of eateries that have shaped him, and encourages them to visit; Cook Like a Local spotlights some of the people Shepherd has learned from, such as Connie Rivera, a cook who, he writes, has been “a constant of my career in restaurants. From masa to chiles, she’s taught me many things that continue to shape my cooking to this day.” Lam says Shepherd is conscious of the need to give back: “How do you use your position, your platform, and your visibility to help the people who inspired you to tell their own stories, and improve their businesses?” Lam asks. “How can you be an ally?”
At Workman, the authors of the forthcoming The Kitchen Without Borders (Apr. 2020) also promote the work of immigrant chefs. Manal Kahi and Wissam Kahi, siblings who grew up in Lebanon, have operated since 2015 a New York catering company called Eat Offbeat, which employs refugees and immigrants to the United States. Their book, coauthored with Siobhan Wallace and photographed by Penny De Los Santos, highlights their company’s chefs from 14 countries, among them Eritrea, Syria, and Venezuela; its 70 recipes include Iraqi biryani, the Afghan yogurt drink doogh, and chari bari, a Nepali meatball dish.
In 2017, after President Trump signed an executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, Eat Offbeat’s sales doubled, according to a Fast Company interview with Manal Kahi. “All we can do is keep doing what we’re doing,” she said of the company’s response to the executive order. “That’s providing excellent food and proving the value that refugees are bringing to New York.”
Spotlight on the South
Ask a focus group to name typical Southern foods—surely a marketing executive has done this—and the responses likely include cornbread, grits, fried chicken, and peach cobbler. But it’s a mistake, as forthcoming books suggest, to think of Southern cuisine as homogenous. “The South is as big as continental Europe,” says Judy Pray, executive editor at Artisan, who worked on South (Oct.) by Nashville chef Sean Brock. “You know how many cuisines are in Europe. That’s probably how many cuisines are in the South.” This season’s Southern cookbooks present a tapestry of diverse regions and influences, each with distinct flavors.
In South, Pray says, Brock, a James Beard Award winner, seeks to “dispel people’s notion of what Southern food is,” an impulse that seems to inspire other authors. “That’s why you’re seeing so many new Southern cookbooks come forth,” she explains. Creole cuisine, for instance, is “very different from Lowcountry cuisine, which is very different from Appalachian cuisine.”
The divergences become apparent in variations on such ubiquitous recipes as cornbread. “If you go to Nashville, people favor hot-water cornbread,” Pray says. “You go to Lowcountry and, because of their history, you might find rice folded into the batter.” Pray says she hopes to acquire more books that focus on regional Southern cuisine. “There’s a reason these Southern books do so well. People understand that it’s one of America’s first true cuisines. But if we dig a little deeper, there’s so much more there.”
Rob Newton, executive chef at Nashville’s Gray & Dudley, takes a similar approach to Brock in Seeking the South (Avery, Oct.), written with Jamie Feldmar. In addition to showcasing the regional diversity of Southern cuisine, Newton underscores the influence of foreign-born cooks. The book, says Lucia Watson, executive editor at Avery, traces “what’s happened in the South in terms of immigrants coming, and what they’ve brought to the table, and how they’ve created a rich and diverse cuisine that people may not really associate with Southern food, but is there, and thriving.”
Newton takes inspiration from Mexican and Asian flavors—like Chris Shepherd of Cook Like a Local, he loves fish sauce—as well as Middle Eastern ones. One of Watson’s favorite dishes from the book is a black-eyed pea falafel. “These influences are really creating a new kind of Southern food,” she says. “It has a rich past, and it’s being so vibrantly updated.”
The multifariousness of Southern cuisine drives other forthcoming titles, several coming from university presses. In Texas Seafood (Univ. of Texas, Nov.), husband and wife team P.J. Stoops and Benchalak Strimart “Apple” Stoops, who are chefs and fishmongers, offer recipes that feature the fish and bycatch of Texas. The dishes are inflected with the flavors of Thailand, where Apple grew up and where the couple met.
In Kiln to Kitchen (Univ. of North Carolina, Sept.), Jean Anderson, a member of the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame, takes readers on a tour of North Carolina, offering recipes from across the state, as well as a look at the region’s pottery culture. Whitney Otawka’s The Saltwater Table (Abrams, Oct.) provides a taste of Cumberland Island, an undeveloped barrier island off of Georgia where Otawka is chef at the Carnegie-built Greyfield Inn. Her dishes, such as summer tomatoes with crispy okra, and beer-poached sweet Atlantic shrimp, use regional ingredients.
Celebrating the diversity of Southern cuisine entails looking not only at its contemporary iterations but also at its history. Chef and cookbook author Sallie Ann Robinson mines her upbringing on South Carolina’s Daufuskie Island and the culture of the Gullah, the name for the African-American people of the state’s Lowcountry region, in Sallie Ann Robinson’s Kitchen (Univ. of Florida, Oct.). Robinson, whose previous books include Gullah Home Cooking the Daufuskie Way, provides recipes for such dishes as blue crab stew and Gullah gumbo in what PW, in our review, called an “excellent regional culinary history.”
In Jubilee (Clarkson Potter, Nov.), Toni Tipton-Martin, a food journalist and a founding member of two culinary research institutes, Southern Foodways Alliance and Foodways Texas, presents 125 recipes drawn from historical texts and early African-American cookbooks. Jubilee is an extension of Tipton-Martin’s 2015 book, The Jemima Code, which won the James Beard Award for Reference and Scholarship. Both titles shed light on the culinary contributions of early African-Americans, both enslaved and free, who, Tipton-Martin explains, have not received the credit they deserve. “I’m crawling out on a limb into territory that has not been fully discussed before, and that is the question of African-American intellectual property regarding recipes.”
Part of what Tipton-Martin sets out to do in Jubilee is trace familiar dishes to early African-American cooks and track how those dishes, such as quick breads—or batter breads, as they used to be known—evolved as life for African-Americans improved and they migrated to new regions. She attributes some of the richness and innovation of Southern cuisine to her book’s subjects. “African-American cooks were responsible in large part for the amalgamating of European recipes with native ingredients,” she says.
A conversation about these influences, she adds, will make a good backdrop for the work of young contemporary chefs who are recapturing their culinary heritages. She cites the example of Chris Williams, the Cordon Bleu–trained owner and executive chef of Lucille’s, in Houston, who incorporates into his menu the cooking of his great-grandmother, one of the cooks featured in The Jemima Code. “They’re basically repeating what their ancestors did,” she says, “which is to have a competency in cooking, but to keep adapting it.”
From Mexico, with Love
Forthcoming titles show how chefs and home cooks have brought Mexican flavors to various regions of the U.S., and how Mexican cuisine itself encompasses an array of regional flavors.
In Ama (Chronicle, Oct.), Josef Centeno, a San Antonio–born chef and restaurateur in Los Angeles, and Betty Hallock, a journalist and former deputy food editor at the Los Angeles Times, give readers more than 100 recipes for Tex-Mex food (bean, cheese, and bacon breakfast tacos) and drinks (micheladas). The two previously collaborated on 2017’s Bäco, named, like Ama, for one of Centeno’s eateries.
Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral, with Oaxaca (Abrams, Oct.), offer 140 dishes, such as chilaquiles, pink horchata, and frijoles de la olla (beans cooked in a pot), described in the text as “the heart of Oaxacan food.” Lopez, who was born in Oaxaca, is the coproprietor of the Los Angeles Oaxacan restaurant Guelaguetza, which her family opened in 1994. Cabral also lives in L.A. and is a former West Coast staff writer for Munchies.
Many of the book’s recipes feature pre-Hispanic—i.e., pre–Spanish conquest—indigenous ingredients. “That means pretty much all plant-based Mexican staples like maize and every single byproduct of it,” Cabral says. “Cacao, potatoes, all chiles, bugs, fresh herbs like hoja santa and avocado herbs, avocados, and all the seeds used for moles are pre-Hispanic.”
Taking a wider regional approach, Made in Mexico (Rizzoli, Sept.), by chef Danny Mena and journalist and recipe developer Nils Bernstein, leads readers through the diverse food scene in Mexico City, with recipes adapted from street stalls, homey eateries, and high-end restaurants. Mena, who owns La Lonchería in Brooklyn, grew up in the Mexican capital; Bernstein divides his time between New York and Mexico City. Like the latter city itself, the book draws on a variety of Mexican cooking styles.
“Microcosmically, the cuisine of Mexico City covers all of the regional cuisines of Mexico,” says Jono Jarrett, an editor at Rizzoli. “But it also does what the United States culturally has done, and what any capital city does, and combines and recombines those local traditions.”
This season also brings a culinary memoir from Aarón Sánchez, the Mexican-American executive chef and part-owner of Johnny Sánchez in New Orleans, who is known for his role as a judge on Chopped, MasterChef, and MasterChef Junior. In Where I Come From (Abrams, Oct.), Sánchez, who was born in El Paso, Tex., and spent part of his youth in New York City, recounts his life with his restaurateur mother—Zarela Martinez, who helmed the erstwhile New York Mexican eatery Zarela—and his diverse culinary education. Given his success, Sánchez feels both an “indebtedness” to his mother and a “big responsibility” toward younger culinary professionals, especially other Latinos in the industry, says Michael Sand, publisher of adult trade at Abrams. “He’s had to struggle to get where he is,” Sand says, and “he’s committed to making the path easier for immigrants and Latin Americans.”
This season, Canadian publishers are seeking to spark interest in the cuisine of our northern neighbor.
Penguin Random House Canada’s offerings hint at the breadth of the country’s cuisine. These include the October titles Burdock & Co. by Andrea Carlson, named for the farm-to-table restaurant she opened in Vancouver in 2013; Rocky Mountain Cooking (Oct.) by Katie Mitzel, author of The Skoki Cookbook, which presents the lodge food of Canada’s backcountry; and Duchess at Home by Giselle Courteau, co-owner of three bakeries in Edmonton, who draws on French Canadian influences.
Lindsay Paterson, publishing manager at Appetite, a Penguin Random House Canada imprint, says that in the Canadian food scene there’s been an “explosion in the diversity and different types of food people are experimenting with,” driven in part by a fashion for using local flavors and cooking styles. Carlson, for example, focuses on ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest and highlights local growers, while Mitzel discusses the challenge of gathering local stock at the beginning of the backcountry season and making the most of it throughout the year. “They’re such different books,” Paterson says of the three titles, “coming out of even just a small part of the country.”
Cedar and Salt (Touchwood, Oct.) by food writer D.L. Acken and recipe developer Emily Lycopolus zeroes in on the cuisine of Vancouver Island, an hour-plus ferry ride from the mainland city of Vancouver. Taryn Boyd, acquiring editor and publisher at Touchwood, says the recipes harness the island’s native ingredients: chanterelle mushrooms, salal berries, buffalo milk cheese, and pine and spruce tips for making salts, seasonings, and cocktail infusions. Boyd sees the book appealing to the island’s many visitors. “We have a huge tourism market,” she says. “They love the wildness of Vancouver Island.” She also expects it to resonate with the island’s denizens: “The locals are really proud of living here.”
Other Canadian cookbooks include Best of Bridge: Comfort Food (Robert Rose, Sept.), the latest Best of Bridge collection from Emily Richards of Guelph, Ontario, and Sylvia Kong of Calgary, Alberta. Formac Publishing’s East Coast Favourite Fish Cakes (Sept.) gives 30 variations on the title dish, which is popular on Canada’s east coast.
Taste the Wild, from Australian publisher Murdoch (Sept.), is the rare Canadian cookbook this season not published by a Canadian imprint. Lisa Nieschlag and Lars Wentrup, co-owners of a design agency in Germany, include recipes for signature foods such as poutine and butter tarts, set against sweeping landscape photos.
Another relative rarity: a book by a Native North American chef. Sean Sherman had a hit in 2017 with The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (Univ. of Minnesota), written with Beth Dooley, which per NPD BookScan has sold 26,000 print copies. In October, Ambrosia, an imprint of Toronto’s House of Anansi, will publish Shane M. Chartrand’s Tawâw, coauthored with food culture writer Jennifer Cockrall-King. Chartrand, executive chef at SC Restaurant at the River Cree Resort & Casino in Enoch, Alberta, is a member of the Enoch Cree Nation; tawâw means “welcome, there is room.” The book draws on his upbringing and his research into other First Nations cuisines, delivering 75 recipes—chopped bison with nettle pesto on rye toast, elk tenderloin with grilled oyster mushrooms—that showcase a variety of indigenous flavors and cooking styles. Chartrand also includes family photos, images of First Nations celebrations, and personal reflections, adding up to a book that’s part recipe collection, part memoir, and very North American.
Below, more on the subject of cookbooks.
Stoned-Cold Sober: Cookbooks 2019–2020
Recipes for low-ABV, nonalcoholic, and CBD-infused drinks nod to the sober-curious movement and the adjacent mainstreaming of cannabis culture.
Eat Your Feelings: Cookbooks 2019–2020
These forthcoming titles cast emotional eating—and cooking—not as a health hazard but as a reasonable, even beautiful, fact of life.
Classics Réchauffé: Cookbooks 2019–2020
This season will see updated versions of four culinary stalwarts, each of which aims to preserve the strengths of the original while appealing to changing tastes and mores.
Children’s Menu: Cookbooks 2019–2020
Kids who can’t get enough MasterChef Junior will likewise dig into these cookbooks for children and teens.
Daniel Lefferts is a writer in New York.