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What's the best cookbook of all time? The answer may surprise you

What's the best cookbook of all time? The answer may surprise you
Fergus Henderson with the American version of his "Nose to Tail Eating" at a Getty Center event. (Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

The best cookbook in the world is a tribute to variety meats, according to one survey. At one time, the book was so hard to find in the United States that copies sold for more than $100 each.

A poll of more than 400 food professionals in Britain, the United States, Australia and New Zealand found that "Nose to Tail Eating" by Fergus Henderson was the best cookbook in the world. By that measure, then, it's a better book than Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" or Elizabeth David's "French Provincial Cooking."

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After achieving cult status as a British import, the book was published in the United States in 2004 as "The Whole Beast."

The poll's findings, published on the website 1,000 Cookbooks, are fascinating. Popularity polls such as this are always good for discovering hidden gems (haven't discovered Simon Hopkinson or David Thompson yet?) -- and, of course, starting arguments.

But an unusual feature of this one is that it breaks down the results by different categories of voters.

For example, it really brings home the differences between the American and other English-speaking cookbook markets. Though "Nose to Tail Eating" was the overall winner, it didn't make the top 10 among American voters but was voted second by Europeans and Australians.

Americans favored "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," followed by Irma S. Rombauer's "The Joy of Cooking," Judy Rodgers' "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook," Thomas Keller's "The French Laundry Cookbook" and Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking."

Among the European voters (all books had to have been published in English, so these were mainly from Britain), Hopkinson's "Roast Chicken & Other Stories" was the favorite, followed by "Nose to Tail," "French Provincial Cooking," Marco Pierre White's "White Heat" and the culinary dictionary "Larousse Gastronomique."

(Full disclosure: I was one of the voters. My choices? In no particular order: Richard Olney's "Simple French Food," "James Beard's American Cookery," "The Joy of Cooking", Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone," Craig Claiborne's "The New York Times Cookbook," Patience Gray's "Honey from a Weed," "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," Hazan's "The Classic Italian Cookbook," Lindsey Shere's "Chez Panisse Desserts" and "The French Laundry Cookbook.")

The book choices are broken down not only by region, but by profession.

Among cookbook folks, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was most-named, followed by "French Provincial Cooking," "The Joy of Cooking," "Essentials of Italian Cooking" and "A Book of Middle Eastern Food" by Claudia Roden.

Chefs had a completely different list: "French Laundry," "White Heat," "Larousse," "Nose to Tail" and Thompson's "Thai Food." Food bloggers had favorites of their own, with "How to Eat" by Nigella Lawson, "The Kitchen Diaries" by Nigel Slater, "Essentials of Italian Cooking," Yotam Ottolenghi's "Jerusalem" and "Nose to Tail."

Perhaps most provocatively, the results are also grouped by gender. It may or may not come as a surprise that the male voters hewed fairly close to the chefs' choices -- "French Laundry," "Nose to Tail," "White Heat," "Larousse" and "Roast Chicken." Female voters, on the other hand, favored "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," "French Provincial Cooking," "Essentials of Italian Cooking," "Jerusalem" and Ottolenghi's "Plenty."

It's also fun to deep-dive into the list and find which authors favor which books. This takes a bit of clicking around (perhaps the organizers eventually could have voters sorted out separately?) but it pays off.

Ruth Rogers, the American-born chef at London's legendary River Cafe, likes an eclectic mix including Alice Waters' "Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook," "The Classic Italian Cookbook," David's "Italian Food" and "Maida Heatter's "Book of Great Chocolate Desserts."

Wok wizard and cookbook author Grace Young chose Child's "The French Chef Cookbook" as well as Josephine Araldo's "Cooking with Josephine" and "Sounds from Josephine's Kitchen."

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The website promises that the results will be updated as more results come in -- and there is a feature planned so that you can cast your own votes.

Are you a food geek? Follow me on Twitter @russ_parsons1

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