5 local cookbooks that will make great holiday gifts

A front table at Mrs. Dalloway's books on College Avenue is loaded up with cookbooks. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Cookbooks stacked up on a table at Berkeley bookstore Mrs. Dalloway’s on College Avenue. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

The front table of Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore on College Avenue in Berkeley is brimming with cookbooks, a sure sign of the holiday season. Many publishers release cookbooks in October so they have time to build enough buzz to make them a must-have on every foodies’ holiday gift list.

A number of high-profile cooks and food writers released books this year, including a third tome from the popular Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi called Plenty More; How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman; and the ever-popular Joy of Cooking.

All good cookbooks, to be sure. But what is out there to buy for the devoted locavore? How about narrowing that down to authors with an East Bay connection?

Below are Nosh’s holiday gift recommendations: five fabulous cookbooks featuring local chefs or cooks with East Bay connections. And, as with much of the food in the East Bay, it begins at Chez Panisse.


Mention “Berkeleyside Nosh” at Mrs Dalloway’s and you’ll receive a 10% discount on any of these books!

French Roots: Two Cooks, Two Countries and the Beautiful Food Along the Way by Jean-Pierre Moullé and Denise Lurton Moullé

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Jean-Pierre and Denise Moullé . Photo: courtesy of the Moullés

Jean Pierre and Denise Moullé met on a street corner in Berkeley in 1980 and the rest, as they say, is history. The attraction between the two French ex-pats in search of a New World experience was instant. They married six months later and embarked on a 34-year culinary journey that is ongoing, and lovingly recounted in this highly readable cookbook/joint autobiography.

Jean Pierre went on to be the executive chef at Chez Panisse, alternating the position every six months with David Tanis. He worked at the restaurant from 1975 until 2012. (Alice Waters, the owner, fired him in 1982 but hired him back in 1989). Denise is part of a prominent Lurton wine family from Bordeaux. French Roots tells the story of their childhood in France, what they found in Berkeley in the free-wheeling ’70s, the early days of Chez Panisse, and how they created a life together living half the year in Healdsburg and half in Peyraut in Bordeaux. (They eat lunch together almost every day.) The book is peppered with 100 recipes reflecting the different eras of their lives, from post-war France to the rise of California cuisine, to new French favorites that call on foraging, preserving and hunting. The Moullés also offer a guide to the wines of Bordeaux.

Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell

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When Jean-Pierre Moullé retired from Chez Panisse, Cal Peternell stepped in as co-executive chef. Peternell’s book came about when his oldest son headed off to college. Peternell realized he had never really taught his children to cook, so he sent off a set of simple recipes. Peternell has expanded this concept, but, as two introductions — one by Michael Pollan and one by Alice Waters — suggest, his book is much more than a primer on how to fix toast, eggs, beans, pasta, and roast chicken. Those are all the subjects of individual chapters, but Peternell offers numerous ways to prepare each dish and the recipes become increasingly complex, building a cook’s confidence along the way.

Peternell has narrowed in on the basic foods we need to thrive, devoting an entire chapter to pasta with tomato sauce (another chapter offers different sauces), and one on salad dressing. Peternell weaves personal stories in and around the recipes. The book is illustrated with lush photographs and water-colored line drawings, too, increasing its visual delight.


Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade by Rachel Saunders

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Saunders exploded onto the culinary scene in 2010 with her bestselling cookbook The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook. The Oakland-based chef, who wows foodies with her delicious, seasonal jams, wrote a breathtakingly beautiful cookbook with 120 jam and marmalade recipes, often using unusual ingredients. Saunders became a national darling, appearing in dozens of articles and blog posts and on Martha Stewart’s television show.

Her newest book, Blue Chair Cooks with Jam and Marmalade, goes beyond breakfasts and sweets to introduce jam into savory dishes. Who knew jam could pair with tempeh and mushrooms or with baby bok choi? Saunders surprises with her inventive pairings, such as Brussel Sprouts with Kumquats and Smoked Salt. It uses five tablespoons of kumquat marmalade to transform this most humble of winter vegetables. Tomato jam adds a lively touch to Saunders’ Collards with Bacon and Tomato Jam. She even comes up with ways to include jam and marmalade in cake batter (it improves the texture) and cocktails.

Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland by Tanya Holland

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If there was ever any doubt about whether Tanya Holland, the chef/entrepreneur behind Brown Sugar Kitchen and BSide BBQ in West Oakland had become a culinary celebrity, one only has to look at her whirlwind of appearances. Besides appearing on stage at Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas in October, Holland has cooked with Mario Batali, joked with Al Roker on the Today Show, and whipped up goodies on CBS’ The Talk. O, the magazine produced by Oprah Winfrey, did a lavish spread on Holland, and well-respected food publications like Food and Wine have featured her ideas.

On the weekends, hundreds of people line up, sometimes waiting for up to an hour and a half, to get a taste of Holland’s buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal waffles. Holland, in short, has put the cool into soul food and done it with a style and grace that has won her many fans and friends. For those who live far away – or find it a challenge to wait in line – Holland published Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland earlier this year. It’s her modern twist on southern cooking, complete with lip-smacking photos. Think gumbos, po’ boys, dirty rice, mac and cheese, and peach cobbler made with the freshest of ingredients and Holland’s special twist.

Yummy Supper: 100 Fresh, Luscious, and Honest Recipes by a (Gluten-Free) Omnivore by Erin Scott

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You don’t have to be gluten-intolerant to enjoy this cookbook by Scott, who developed a huge fan-base with her five-year old food blog of the same name. Scott, who lives in Berkeley (and is an occasional Berkeleyside contributor), suffered from stomach aches for more than a decade before she was diagnosed with celiac disease. When she first learned that flour was taboo, she went into a mild panic, but then dedicated herself to discovering food that made her feel good, not bloated and sickly.


Yummy Supper brims with dishes good enough for company but also simple and nourishing enough for family meals. There are recipes for bourbon-braised short ribs with brown sugar; fish tacos with pomegranate salsa; pistachio lamb and beef kebabs on rosemary skewers; and a quinoa salad with crispy kale, curried chickpeas, apple, and fennel, among many others.

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