If You Need A New Cookbook, Start With The 2023 James Beard Award Winners

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Maybe you read cookbooks the way some people read novels in order to satisfy a certain craving beyond the actual recipes. Perhaps it's one of your favorite ways to connect with other cultures, traditions, or days gone by. The dogeared pages of your favorites probably invite you back time and time again. Still, if you're looking to expand your collection, there's no better place to start than this year's James Beard Award-winning books.   

Each year the James Beard Foundation (JBF) celebrates excellence in different culinary fields. This year's JBF Awards ceremony for books was held on the campus of Columbia College Chicago on Saturday, June 3. "It's about raising people up, not calling them out," JBF CEO Clare Reichenbach said in the ceremony's opening remarks. Tasting Table was invited to take a seat at the awards table and is able to share with you the winners of each category. So, without further ado, shall we lift these winners up together? 

Baking and Desserts

To be considered for the baking and dessert category the cookbooks needed to offer more than sweet treats. They needed "recipes focused on the art and craft of baking pastries and desserts, both sweet and savory items, including ingredients, techniques, equipment, and traditions," according to the foundation. This year's award went to "Tava: Eastern European Baking and Desserts From Romania & Beyond," written by Irina Georgescu. While the author wasn't present for the event, she has always considered "exploring the world through food and understanding people through what they eat" paramount to her work, according to her "About" section on Amazon. She wrote "Tava" as a way to explore the foodways of Romania and her home country's heritage. This is Georgescu's second book. 

Beverage with Recipes

According to the JBF, "Books with recipes focused on beverages, such as cocktails, beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, or juices" are the main criteria for this category. "The Bartender's Manifesto: How to Think, Drink, and Create Cocktails Like a Pro" written by Toby Maloney and Emma Janzen took home this year's medal. If you've ever taken pleasure in sipping a Maloney's Juliet and Romeo cocktail at Chicago's The Violet Hour, you can expect to raise the bar for your own mixology skills with this book at your fingertips. The Violet Hour's legendary Maloney began expressing his thanks at the ceremony by acknowledging Janzen's ability to "murder the darlings" that the book didn't need. Or, as Janzen put it, "get this huge thing down to something palatable." May your cocktails evolve into something incredibly palatable with this new JBF Award-winning book.

Beverage without Recipes

This beverage book category shifts the emphasis away from recipes, recognizing works that spotlighted the drinks themselves whether they're boozy or booze-free. The award went to "Exploring the World of Japanese Craft Sake: Rice, Water, Earth" by Nancy Matsumoto and Michael Tremblay. With more than 300 gorgeous photos, this year's winning book not only includes family recipes from Japanese sake-brewing families but also takes a closer look at the science and history behind sake brewing. "Drink sake, you won't regret it," Matsumoto urged the JBF Awards attendees. 


Even though James Beard himself wrote an entire book on the subject of bread, this is the first year for bread to have its very own category. Required to focus on "the art and craft of making bread, including ingredients, techniques, equipment, and traditions" (per JBF) the inaugural winner is "The Perfect Loaf: The Craft and Science of Sourdough Breads, Sweets, and More: A Baking Book" written by Maurizio Leo. From pan loaves to pizza and even doughnuts, consider this winning book your new go-to for baking sourdough bread. Leo, whose the sourdough website The Perfect Loaf has won multiple awards, thanked his team that helped produce this beautiful book at the award ceremony, remarking that "After day seven, all of the bread just looked brown." 

Food Issues and Advocacy

In this JBF category, "books are required to include investigative journalism, food policy, deep dives, and critical analysis of the changing social landscape." Psyche A. Williams-Forson work, "Eating While Black: Food Shaming and Race in America," was this year's award winner. The author examines the ways economics, the media, nutrition science, and even public policy relate to racism against Black people in the food sphere. Williams-Forson thanked, above all, her daughter during her acceptance speech by saying "If you know, you know." While writing this book during the pandemic, the author said it was her daughter who kept her on track.


In this category the foundation celebrated "books with recipes that address a broad scope of cooking, not just a single topic, technique, or region." Andy Baraghani nailed it with his book,"The Cook You Want to Be: Everyday Recipes to Impress (A Cookbook)." Baraghani's main goal in this work is to help readers develop their own personal style of cooking. He started his career as an intern years ago at Chez Panisse and went on to develop recipes. He also served as a food editor for Tasting Table. With a lump in his throat and tears in his eyes, he thanked the James Beard Foundation for honoring a book that started with the line, "This little gay Persian boy ..." 


"Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico: A Cookbook" written by Rick Martínez won the award highlighting books with recipes focused on food or cooking traditions of countries, regions, or communities outside of the United States. penned by the host of the Babish Culinary Universe show "Pruébalo" on YouTube, this book could also double as the author's love letter to Mexico's culinary traditions. Martinez wasn't in attendance to accept his award.

Literary Writing

The nominated works in this JBF Award category can run the gamut of narrative nonfiction, including culinary tourism, memoirs, and food advocacy, among other topics. And "Savor: A Chef's Hunger for More" by Fatima Ali with Tarajia Morrell won hands down. In a memoir and story about family that spans from New York City to Pakistan, Ali explored food and adventure even while experiencing an illness that would cut her life short. The young chef dreamed of getting this award even in the infancy of her career. Upon her untimely death, Ali's brother, Mohammad, accepted the award on her behalf, saying that she once explained to him how distinguished a James Beard Award is. He reminisced about her once saying, "You know I'm going to get one." 

Reference, History, and Scholarship

The nominees in this category crafted books driven by research, encompassing encyclopedias, manuals, and of course, the work by this year's award winner. "Slaves for Peanuts: A Story of Conquest, Liberation, and a Crop That Changed History" written by Jori Lewis received the honor. At the core of this story are the history of the peanut crop and the lesser-known ways it affected countless people through its ties to slavery and emancipation. 

Restaurant and Professional

"Bludso's BBQ Cookbook: A Family Affair in Smoke and Soul," authored by Kevin Bludso with Noah Galuten, had the recipe for success in this JBF category, which focused on works by restaurant chefs and other food-world professionals. Bludso, a Los Angeles-based restaurateur, tells his story with the help of 75 recipes and "low and slow Texas BBQ done right" attitude. "No matter where you are from, if you put your heart into it, you'll get there," he told the audience adding that he really had no intention of ever writing a book. "Noah made me do it," he joked and said that Galuten filled him with Hennessy, and off they went to writing an award-winning book.

Single Subject

As the name suggests, the nominees and honorees in the Single Subject category highlighted a specific cooking method, ingredient, or dish. And, J. Kenji López-Alt's "The Wok: Recipes and Techniques" took home the medal. As a Japanese-American, he said that he didn't grow up cooking, but did grow up eating at home."My Japanese mom helped me assimilate into US culture, but I didn't have much of a personal food culture," he explained while writing his second book that the tools that us mom used were essential to the premise with the wok at its core. Turn to "The Wok" for your most comprehensive guide to this most important tool in Japanese cuisine.

US Foodways

Vishwesh Bhatt's "I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes from a Southern Chef" took the top honor for the U.S. Foodways category. Bhatt previously won the foundation's 2019 award for Best Chef: South, and now he's added to his medal collection. If you think Southern food is only about fried chicken, collards, and the sort, think again. Let Bhatt introduce you to how his native Indian cuisine has become part of the Southern larder in this award-winning cookbook. 

Vegetable-Focused Cooking

When it comes to books that showcase vegetable-based, vegetarian, or vegan recipes, look no further than this year's winner, "The Vegan Chinese Kitchen: Recipes and Modern Stories from a Thousand-Year-Old Tradition: A Cookbook" written by Hannah Che. From Blistered Dry-Fried String Beans or Sweet and Sour Tofu, Che will show you the way to cook Chinese fare with veganism top of mind. Among the people she thanked while accepting her award was Francis Lamb for "championing the stories that are in this cookbook." Che went on to say that the beauty, philosophy, and history of vegan Chinese cooking inspired her.


It's all about "exceptional graphic design, art, or photography" for this award. Authors Joanna Hu and Armelle Habib won with their cookbook, "Chinese-ish — Home Cooking Not Quite Authentic 100% Delicious." By melding identity and culture, the duo takes a look at Chinese food with inspiration that may not be the real deal, but oh so good. They did not attend the ceremonies.    

There is actually a world of cookbooks out there waiting for you to discover your own personal identity through the lens of food. And, we here at Tasting Table would like to thank you for letting us be a part of your journey.