Something Inside of Us Sleeps, The Sleeper Must Awaken

What’s cookin’? N.J. chefs dish out culinary secrets you can keep on your shelf


Sales of cookbooks have remained robust, and bookstore cookbook sections continue to grow despite the ease of finding recipes in the digital world. With so many more options, we would like to direct your attention to our recommendations of some of Jersey’s best cookbooks from chefs, artisans and food professionals rooted here. Some are recent releases, some not, but all make for great purchases or thoughtful gifts for those everywhere who enjoy the Garden State of eating delights.  

Dan Richer of Razza Artigianale partnered with Jersey native Katie Parla, an award-winning cookbook author, to create ‘The Joy of Pizza.’ Photo by Eric Wolfinger

New Jersey loves pizza, and the list of favorites is as long as the Parkway. No New Jersey chef and pizza has received more buzz beyond the state borders in recent years than Dan Richer of Razza Artigianale in Jersey City. An easier get than a seat at Razza most nights is “The Joy of Pizza,” as Richer partners with Jersey native (now living in Rome) Katie Parla, an award-winning cookbook author and regular contributor to many food publications. Together, they have taken Richer’s near obsessive research and constant quest to improve his already lauded formula to show home cooks how to make the best pizza possible.  

Richer’s cookbook, ‘The Joy of Pizza.’ Photo by Eric Wolfinger

The “Everything You Need To Know” subtitle is not far-fetched for a guide that takes the reader through various methods of making pizza at home from scratch, starting with a focus on sourcing, making and using the best ingredients. The book also has QR codes throughout that lead to instructional videos, just in case you aren’t so sure.  

Maplewood resident Emma Laperruque’s mightily popular column of tasty yet simpler recipes has led to another anticipated cookbook release this season. Photo courtesy of Food52

Emma Laperruque is not at the helm of some hot restaurant, but it is fair to say her reach, like Richer’s, also goes well beyond Jersey, and likely farther than his. The food editor at Food52, the food, cooking and home space brand that gets over 25 million visitors a month across its platforms, her test kitchen is in her Maplewood home. Her mightily popular column of tasty yet simpler recipes has led to another greatly anticipated cookbook release this season, “Food52 Big Little Recipes: Good Food with Minimal Ingredients and Maximal Flavor,” with 60 new or adapted dishes. Unlike the way life seems some days, home cooking does not need to be time consuming or complicated, and Laperruque’s collection will help readers realize that in their own kitchens. Based on Food52’s following, that will be a lot of kitchens. 

In her cookbook, Baker Rachel Wyman included essays of personal and professional challenges and growth from opening her company’s doors in 2012 through keeping them open last year. Photo courtesy of Rachel Wyman

An interest in home baking and breadmaking exploded during the pandemic, including sales of books in those categories. The flipside is that, sadly, too many beloved neighborhood food institutions, among them bakeries, did not thrive or survive. Another recent release to look for, “Will Run For Doughnuts: The Montclair Bread Company Cookbook” by Rachel Wyman, combines recipes from her bakery — a Montclair cornerstone this past decade. In addition to categories of recipes, it includes essays of her personal and professional challenges and growth from opening her doors in 2012 through keeping them open last year. It is also a story of creating community (through sponsoring events, like this year’s 8th annual 5K Doughnut Run through the streets of town) and relying on community, not unusual in this or any number of the state’s 591 municipalities during the pandemic as many New Jerseyans ramped up support for local businesses to help them make it through the difficult economic times.  

‘Will Run For Doughnuts: The Montclair Bread Company Cookbook,’ by Rachel Wyman. Photo courtesy of Rachel Wyman

Speaking of community, the popularity of cookbooks combined with social media has led to the creation of many local cookbook clubs that share recipes and books and a love for both. It was one such club, the SOMA Cookbook Club, that brought Wyman’s book to light before its actual release.  

Milford chefs Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer have been pioneers of popular food media since their days at Saveur magazine. Photo courtesy of Canal House

In late March of last year, while we were all seeking comfort, often in and through our kitchens, The New York Times listed the Canal House cookbooks as a great resource, something many of its ardent followers already knew. Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer have been pioneers of popular food media since their days at Saveur magazine. In 2007, they created Canal House as a culinary photography and design studio. That led to their publishing enterprise, starting with a nine-book series, by theme, entitled “Canal House Cooking.” Their books are as appealing to look at as they are to cook from, and their most recent work of art, from 2019, is “Canal House: Cook Something: Recipes to Rely On.” “Canal House Cooks Every Day,” a James Beard award winner, is a classic if you had to choose just one, or you can also opt not to cook from any of the books one night and visit their highly regarded Canal House Station restaurant in Milford.  

Newark-raised Jesse Jones gives both a lot of flavor and a lot of personality in his cookbook. Photo courtesy of Jesse Jones

If you have ever attended an event with the food of Jesse Jones, you know you get both a lot of flavor and a lot of personality, and at least a few exclamations of “POW!” from the Newark-raised chef. He combines traditional Southern fare with finer French and updated American techniques. “POW! My Life in 40 Feasts: A Cookbook and Memoir by a Beloved American Chef,” co-written with Linda West Eckhardt, not only provides recipes for some of his fantastic takes on regional classics but tells the story of his personal journey through the food world.  

Hoboken-based Maricel Presilla’s ‘Gran Cocina Latina’ cookbook is perfect for those who want to explore foods of other cultures. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media

Hoboken-based Maricel Presilla has successfully worn many hats — chef, restaurateur, culinary and cultural historian, lecturer, a chocolate expert and more. Dr. Presilla was also the first Latin American woman to be invited as guest chef at the White House. Author of a half-dozen books, the crown jewel is another James Beard award recipient, “Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America,” which explores the cuisines of the Spanish-speaking Western Hemisphere. It is a must-have for those who explore the foods of those, or any cultures. 

Mount Salem Vineyards Founder Peter Leitner put together an introduction to alpine culinary traditions of primarily Austria in his cookbook, ‘Alpine Eating.’ Photo courtesy of Peter Leitner

This writer would be remiss to not mention a New Jersey wine tie-in with this piece. Mount Salem Kitchen is an offshoot of the boutique Pittstown winery, Mount Salem Vineyards. Guests at the winery farmhouse participating in tastings have been treated to food made on the premises that pair well with the Austrian varietal wines. It was the inspiration to further develop the food side of the business, which includes its takes on traditional central European seasonings, spreads, condiments and other provisions. Vintner Peter Leitner has put together “Alpine Eating,” an introduction to alpine culinary traditions of primarily Austria, combining family recipes with those collected from his extensive travels. Through the winery and market, it is clear to see that the influences of food and drink do not usually stop at borders.  

Look for the books, support the affiliated businesses and, most of all, resolve to cook and eat well in the new year. 

Hank Zona writes regularly about wine, spirits and a range of other topics such as food and culture. He also has been running wine and spirits events of all sorts for over a decade.  

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of Jersey’s Best. Subscribe here for in-depth access to everything that makes the Garden State great.

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