Like most shopping experiences in 2023, the experience of browsing the food-slash-cooking section of a bookstore is absolutely overwhelming. New titles are constantly popping up, and you could spend all day rummaging through pocket-sized odes of canned fish or fat baking bibles, only to end up stuck with too many choices.
Eater Chicago steps in to narrow the field with this series of five exciting new books, each remarkable in its own way, but all bound together by a deep and committed connection to Chicago food. Here, the many workers behind a single restaurant dish get their money’s worth, an iconic Logan Square restaurant publishes its debut text, and two longtime local food writers spill the tea on Chicago’s lesser-known culinary inventions. Most importantly, they reveal stories and recipes for readers to explore, enjoy, and share with others throughout the gift-giving season and beyond.
Check out five of Chicago’s best new books on food and cooking, listed alphabetically:
The Dish: The Life and Work Behind a Plate of Food by Andrew Friedman
Brooklyn-based author and podcaster Andrew Friedman takes a hard-hitting look at Chicago in his new book The Dish: The Life and Work Behind a Plate of Food, an in-depth exploration of the journey each ingredient takes from the farm or slaughterhouse to a single plate of food. Part love letter to the hotel industry’s better angels, part introduction to the intricacies of Midwestern dining, the story is presented through the lens of a dinner at Wherewithall, the now-closed Avondale restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark, the book consists of in-depth interviews Friedman conducted in 2021 with Clark and Kim, as well as farmers, winemakers, restaurant workers and a delivery driver.
Sacred Food: How Cults, Communities, and Religious Movements Influenced Our Diet by Christina Ward
From the huge popularity of streaming staples like Wild wild land In a new series of dueling “Twin Flames Universe” documentaries, America’s appetite for a look into the world of religious movements, communes and cults shows no sign of waning. Food writer Christina Ward, who grew up in “kid revivals” in rural Wisconsin in the 1970s, taps into this fascination Sacred Food: How Cults, Communities, and Religious Movements Influenced Our Diet, in which she details the eating habits of groups including Chicago’s Mazdaznan and Illinois’ Bishop Hill Colony and examines 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, which also did well with Ward’s taste testers.
The Lula Café 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, a highly anticipated volume by the many fans of his groundbreaking all-day neighborhood restaurant, but more than two decades after Lula’s debut, his first book has finally appeared. Packed with 90 recipes that are pared down but otherwise identical to restaurant hits like Pasta Yiayia, the cookbook is not an introductory cooking text, but rather a written representation of the essence of Lula and the community that made her a local legend.
Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites by Monica Eng and David Hammond
Chicagoans have watched with amused interest as Italian beef joined deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs in the pantheon of nationally renowned Windy City dishes, a shift attributed in large part to the huge success of the Chicago-style FX series The bear. But local diners know there are so many more culinary delights beneath the surface, as do veteran food writers and journalists Monica Eng and David Hammond, who have put together a collection of 30 dishes that capture the “true depth” of the represent Chicago’s culinary scene. Keywords include: mild sauce, jibarito, steak and lemonade, and toffee grapes. If you know it, you know it. If not, Eng and Hammond will tell you all about it.
Midwestern Food: A Chef’s Guide to the Surprising History of Great American Cuisine, with more than 100 delicious recipes by Paul Fehribach
Chicago diners typically associate chef Paul Fehribach with Southern cuisine, and for good reason—his Andersonville restaurant Big Jones has long been considered one of the city’s favorite spots for fried chicken (hat tip to the legendary Edna Lewis). Gumbo Ya-Ya and red beans and rice. But in his new cookbook Midwest Food: A Chef’s Guide to the Surprising History of Great American Cuisine, Fehribach applies his penchant for careful historical research and vivid reminiscence to his Indiana roots as well as broader foodways throughout the Midwest. Personal, historical and practical, the book covers family and regional stories as well as recipes such as Ketroit-style coney suace, sorghum-pecan sticky rolls and papaya chiffon cake.