Top 5 Cookbooks That Everyone Should Own, by Derrick Prince

In the current issue of Decibel, Master Chef contestant Derrick Prince dishes on his recent experience as a finalist on the Fox cooking competition. So, what was it like going before that judge’s panel? “Gordon Ramsay is like one of those angry football coaches you see on TV – they’re rough and they scream at you, but they also want you to succeed,” explains Prince. “Graham Elliott is the first one out of the three of ‘em that will look for the positive aspect of your dish, no matter how hard it is to find. He always tries to give you hints at making a better plate. Joe Bastianich is definitely the toughest judge on there. Sometimes he’s a little mean, but the man does know his food. His mom is Lidia Bastianich, and he owns almost 30 Italian restaurants with Mario Batali. When Joe says something sucks, it really does.”
Prince, a self-taught home cook, is currently trying to figure out how to take it to the next level and apply his warm and endlessly creative cooking style to a restaurant kitchen. In the interval, he’s gigging locally with the metallic hardcore band Drowned Sorrow and regularly updating his website Born to Braise Hell, where he pairs original recipes with metal bands and albums: “I did a mussel dish, where I matched it with the Red Chord and sent them the link on Facebook. They were excited. Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza reposted the recipe I did for barbecue sauce with Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, too.” According to Prince, the key to getting your own kitchen mojo workin’ is having a good reference library, so Decibel recently asked him to take a break from scouring the close-out sale at Borders to discuss a few favorites from his own collection:

1. Mexico, One Plate at a Time: Everyone should own at least one book by Rick Bayless. Mexican is one of my favorite types of cuisine to cook, and Bayless is the godfather of modern Mexican cuisine. Anything you make from one of his books is guaranteed to be awesome. He’s a huge influence and I love his food.

2. The French Laundry Cookbook: Thomas Keller is one of the best chefs in the country and most people don’t know who he is because he’s not on the Food Network. If you’re not really into food, you’ve probably never heard of him. He does modern American cuisine without getting sidetracked with all of the molecular gastronomy stuff. That’s where I learned how to butter poach a lobster. If you’re a foodie, you definitely want this book
3. Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Julia Child is the go-to standard for a reason. French cuisine, particularly her take, is where all modern home cooking came from. The joke is that all you need to make French food is a lot of butter and some wine, but Child lays things out in a way that home cooks can understand and work with.

4. Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook: Breakfast, Brunch & Beyond from New York’s Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant: This is a little restaurant in lower Manhattan. The book has a lot of recipes for savory food, but the dessert recipes are spectacular. It’s not just desserts, either—they have great recipes for jams and muffins. I picked this book up within the last couple of years and it has been an invaluable resource.

5. American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza: It seems like you shouldn’t need a cookbook for this, but I have gotten so much use out of it that it has to go on this list. It’s by a guy named Peter Reinhart. He has always been a baker, and his books on making bread are awesome. This book is more of an “experience” cookbook, where he goes around the world and samples pizza from different regions. He’ll meet up with people from the region and compare the crusts and sauces. The second half of the book is a series of recipes of the pizzas he writes about in the first half. It covers everything from how to make the dough to how to perfect the sauce to how to pick the right toppings. I love pizza, and experimenting with all of the recipes for dough included here has been a really interesting challenge.