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Illustration: Chef holds a tray of freshly baked books. (Priscilla Nielsen for NPR)

2011's Best Cookbooks: Revenge Of The Kitchen Nerds

Nov 22, 2011

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For years they've toiled in the kitchens and at the tables, accumulating skills, smarts and lore. They've traveled the unknown fringes of heavily touristed countries in search of endangered recipes. They've spent long months studying exactly what happens to any given kind of food in a 400-degree oven. They've broken the code to discover what those most enigmatic eaters — children younger than 12 — will really eat. Who are these mystery mavens? And why have they all chosen to publish this year?

It's been said that we're living through something of a technical moment in cookbook publishing, with test kitchens and modernist cuisine-ists and the eternal debate over whether the paper cookbook is dead (short answer: No!). Yet some of this year's best cookbooks came from very different kinds of nerds — culinary scholars, veteran authors, even serious home kitchens. With their rich sense of place, precise grasp of smart cooking practices and cultural depth, these books come to life freely — and flavorfully — into our home kitchens in a way even the sexiest handheld evaporator would be hard pressed to match.

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