Like most shopping experiences in 2023, the experience of perusing a bookstore’s food-slash-cooking section is utterly overwhelming. Buzzy new titles crop up constantly, and one could spend all day wading around in pocket-size odes to tinned fish or hefty baking bibles, only to wind up adrift in too many choices.
Eater Chicago is stepping in to help narrow the field with this lineup of five juicy new books, each notable in its own way, yet all are united by deep and engaging ties to Chicago dining. Here, the many laborers behind a single restaurant dish get their due, an iconic Logan Square restaurant publishes its debut text, and a pair of longtime local food writers spill the tea on Chicago’s lesser-known culinary inventions. Above all, these books unfurl stories and recipes for readers to explore, enjoy, and share with others during the holiday gift-giving season and beyond.
Check out five of Chicago’s best new books on food and cooking, listed in alphabetical order:
The Dish: The Lives and Labor Behind One Plate of Food by Andrew Friedman
Brooklyn-based writer and podcaster Andrew Friedman casts a keen eye toward Chicago in his new book The Dish: The Lives and Labor Behind One Plate of Food, an in-depth exploration of the journey that each ingredient takes from the farm or slaughterhouse to a single plate of food. Part love letter to the hospitality industry’s better angels, part primer on the intricacies of Midwestern foodways, the story is presented through the lens of a dinner service at Wherewithall, the now-shuttered Avondale restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, the book is composed of extensive interviews that Friedman conducted in 2021 with Clark and Kim, as well as farmers, vintners, restaurant workers, and a delivery driver.
From the intense popularity streaming staples like Wild Wild Country to a new set of dueling documentaries on Twin Flames Universe, the American appetite for a peek inside the worlds of religious movements, communes, and cults shows no sign of abating. Food writer Christina Ward, who grew up in the 1970s attending “kid revivals” in rural Wisconsin, taps into this fascination with Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat, where she details the dining habits of groups including Chicago-based Mazdaznan and Illinois’ Bishop Hill Colony, and explores the role of food in dozens of organizations. There are also recipes like “Ron’s Motherfucker Beans,” reportedly a favorite among the late members of Heaven’s Gate that also rated well with Ward’s taste testers.
The Lula Cafe Cookbook: Collected Recipes and Stories by Jason Hammel
It took a global pandemic for chef Jason Hammel to sit down and compose The Lula Cafe Cookbook: Collected Recipes and Stories, an eagerly awaited tome among the many fans of his game-changing, all-day neighborhood restaurant, but more than two decades after Lula’s debut, its first book has finally arrived. Packed with 90 recipes that are scaled down but otherwise identical to restaurant hits like Pasta Yiayia, the cookbook isn’t an introductory cooking text but rather a writerly depiction of the essence of Lula and the community that has made it a local legend.
Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites by Monica Eng and and David Hammond
Chicagoans have watched with bemused interest as Italian beefs have joined deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs in the pantheon of nationally recognizable Windy City foods, a shift due in large part to the wild success of FX series The Bear. But local diners know there are so many more culinary delights just below the surface, as do veteran food writers and journalists Monica Eng and David Hammond, who have compiled a collection of 30 dishes that represent the “true depth” of Chicago’s culinary scene. Key words include: mild sauce, jibarito, steak and lemonade, and taffy grapes. If you know, you know. If you don’t, Eng and Hammond will tell you all about it.
Midwestern Food: A Chef’s Guide to the Surprising History of a Great American Cuisine, with More Than 100 Tasty Recipes by Paul Fehribach
Chicago diners usually associate chef Paul Fehribach with Southern cuisine, and for good reason — his Andersonville restaurant, Big Jones, has long reigned as one of the city’s go-to spots for fried chicken (a hat-tip to the legendary Edna Lewis), Gumbo Ya-Ya, and red beans and rice. But in his new cookbook, Midwestern Food: A Chef’s Guide to the Surprising History of a Great American Cuisine, Fehribach applies his penchant for painstaking historical research and vivid recollection to his roots in Indiana, as well as broader foodways throughout the Midwest. Personal, historical, and practical, the book touches on family and regional histories, as well as recipes like Detroit-style coney sauce, sorghum-pecan sticky rolls, and pawpaw chiffon pie.