Wylie Dufresne Explained the Importance of Cookbooks to Creativity

Turns out the chef has an impressive collection

Wylie Dufresne
Chef Wylie Dufresne prepares food during the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival, 2018.
Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images for NYCWFF

If you enjoy cooking at home, you might well have a trove of recipes at the ready in or near your kitchen. Maybe that’s in the form of a shelf of cookbooks; maybe it’s a box or binder of recipes. Maybe it’s a selection of bookmarked recipes on your phone’s browser or your cooking app of choice. Whatever way you opt for, it’s possible that you’ve sometimes experienced a kind of culinary existential crisis, asking yourself whether all of this is, you know, actually necessary.

One expert in the field absolutely believes that it is. That would be chef Wylie Dufresne, of whom the New York Times‘s Pete Wells recently wrote, “No other chef did as much as Mr. Dufresne to make kitchen geekery cool.” Literary Hub recently published Dufresne’s contribution to the book Chefwise: Life Lessons from Leading Chefs Around the World, and it’s worth considering how he’s applied lessons from his professional life into something relevant for cooking at home.

“Cooking is a skill, a craft, and you’re never going to learn it all,” Dufresne writes. “That’s the wonderful thing about cooking is that it’s a never-ending opportunity for education.” In his case, this meant reading a lot of cookbooks when he was younger — a habit he’s continued through the present day.

“I spent all my free pennies and free minutes as a young cook buying cookbooks,” he observed. “I now have a cookbook collection of over 2,500 books. I love to read them and reread them. It’s a wonderful thing.”

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Dufresne went on to make a convincing case for using any and all methods to be aware of what else is happening in the culinary world. “Now you can get on the internet, or you can get on Instagram, or you can do both, or you can buy books,” he wrote. “You should do all of those things because they all have different ways of teaching you how to learn and ways of engaging with your subject matter.”

It’s solid advice — whether you’re considering a career in restaurants or just looking to up your home cooking skills. And the omnivorous quality of his advice is also thoroughly welcome.Your options are, indeed, almost limitless in this day and age; why not make use of that?


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