The cost of a culinary education can be daunting. Prices continue to rise as the profession gains mainstream acceptance and enrollment soars. Parents proudly tout their children’s choice to pick up cooking as a career choice as if they chose law or medical school. This is great for our craft, and good for diners.

If you’ve already made your career choice but feel the tug of the stove, here is an option that won’t break the bank. My calculations put this all-star lineup of classics in your library for less than $200 ($191.91, to be exact!).

With these books, you should have no problem turning out a simple roast or a party for 20 with minimal experience. These are the books I recommend when someone tells me they want to get into the business or want to equip their library for most situations.

The Joy of Cooking
By Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
If you had only one cookbook in the kitchen, this would be it. From trussing a chicken to simple sauces and meals, this book is the first thing I pick up when I need the basic go-to recipe for anything. Still in heavy rotation in my house, The Joy of Cooking has saved the day on countless occasions. If you can cook everything in this book, you are 90 percent there!

The Flavor Bible
By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
The Flavor Bible is on the bookshelf of many a chef. It has comprehensive listings of almost every ingredient and which other ingredients they pair with. With examples of dishes from acclaimed chefs, The Flavor Bible is the book to reach for if you need to whip up a dish using your impulse buys from the farmers market.

The French Laundry Cookbook
By Thomas Keller
This cookbook may not have the simplest recipes, but we all need something to aspire to, no? Keller’s French Laundry is restaurant perfection at its best, and the cookbook has spawned a whole new generation of chefs. If you are not inspired after flipping through this, perhaps you should order takeout.

How to Cook Everything
By Mark Bittman
The revised version of this instant classic features loads of simple recipes and tips for home cooks. It’s probably the go-to book if you cannot find the answer in The Joy of Cooking.

What to Drink with What You Eat
By Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Another must-have from the husband and wife team that brought us The Flavor Bible, this volume demystifies wine for the home cook and professional alike. It has pairings for anything you could think of and serving and storage tips as well. The next best thing to having your own sommelier.

My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home
By Jim Lahey and Rick Flaste
Master baker Jim Lahey breaks down America’s favorite food into easy-to-follow, no-fuss steps to keep you and your guests happy with his amazing no-knead pizza dough. Lahey became immensely popular a few years back with his no-knead bread recipe, and as I can attest, it works every time.

Martha Stewart Entertaining
By Martha Stewart
I scoffed when my mom presented this book to me at Christmas one year after I had started culinary school, but my weather-beaten and well-used copy still holds a special place in my heart. If you are throwing a fancy dinner party or a casual affair, Stewart has it covered. Every recipe works and is a hit at any party.

Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques
By Jacques Pepin
Classic recipes, broken down with photographs of each step, make it easy to master seemingly complicated projects such as puff pastry (pot pie!) and basics such as how to peel and dice an onion. I still reference this book today.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking
By Julia Child
From the master Julia Child, this is the book that demystified French cuisine for the masses. Child always reminded us not to take cooking too seriously and have fun. Which is exactly what will happen as you cook your way through this classic.

These books will be a great reference as we cook through all that Santa Barbara County has to offer here at Word of Mouth. Be sure to send your comments, cooking questions or tips to

Next time, Word of Mouth will offer “20 Questions with Winemaker Drake Whitcraft.”

See you next week!

— Chef Joe Hafner writes the weekly Noozhawk column Word of Mouth and can be reached at Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.