The Best Food Books 2016

Biographies, memoirs and history books for the soul

We love cookbooks (and so can you!), but you can't cozy up in an armchair with slipper socks on and a cat in your lap while making a stir-fry. These five books, all published this year, offer the best insight into the non-cooking parts of the food world.

① Miss Ella of Commander's Palace, by Ella Brennan and Ti Martin ($28)

New Orleans is nothing without Commander's Palace, and that iconic restaurant wouldn't exist without Brennan. You'll get her Mardi Gras stories, bittersweet anecdotes from her large, loving family and learn about that time Brennan got Andy Warhol to star in a commercial. Learning about Brennan's life and explosive zest for people make it clear how Commander's Palace ended up the landmark of hospitality it's known to be. And if you don't believe us, just ask Danny Meyer: He spends a full page dishing about how Brennan inspired him.

② Ten Restaurants That Changed America, by Paul Freedman ($35)

It's a 10-for-one special when you opt for Freedman's latest book. The Yale historian sets out to show how our dining culture got where it is today, which involves a refreshing amount of women and a heavy serving of nostalgia. The result is a timeless exploration of American food that'll make you nerd out over the small details, like an original 1881 menu from Delmonico's and the fact that Jacques Pépin and Rachael Ray both worked at the same restaurant.

③ 32 Yolks, by Eric Ripert with Veronica Chambers ($28)

Reading about Ripert's childhood will make you wish you could jump through the pages and give eight-year-old him a hug. The memoir covers his tumultuous childhood as he made his way through professional kitchens with the help of invaluable mentors along the way. To find out what comes next, book a table at his three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin. The perfectly executed seafood will explain it all.

④ Famous Nathan, by Lloyd Handwerker and Gil Reavill ($26)

When Nathan Handwerker came to America, he was short on both English-language proficiency and money, but full of drive and passion. Nathan's grandson brings us this dive into just exactly what it took to create the world-famous chain, with a familial touch only he could achieve. It's not just about the hot dog, though—the book also explores how an unsuspecting frankfurter acted as a mirror to America's cultural landscape in the 1920s and beyond.

⑤ Generation Chef, by Karen Stabiner ($26)

Many biographers gravitate toward the older chef crowd, but the subject of Stabiner's latest isn't even 30 years old yet. Chef Jonah Miller came onto the New York fine dining restaurant scene at just 14 and has since gone on to become the executive chef/owner at Huertas in New York's East Village. His story and dedication will make you think twice about procrastinating on your next big idea.