I used to collect cookbooks. Once a week I'd go to a bookstore and see what was new or what was on sale. It wasn't healthy, really. I ended up with a few hundred of the things. I have some regrets about the money I spent, but I don't begrudge the space the books occupy in my kitchen (and elsewhere).

I use almost all of them from time to time, though in different ways. There are some cookbooks I use because they give me ideas. There are some cookbooks I use because I follow the recipes. Then there are some cookbooks that might just as well be science fiction for all the practical use I'll get out of them. I like them all.

What got me thinking about this topic is that I received a copy of John Besh's new cookbook, Cooking from the Heart, in the mail the other day. The other cookbooks he's authored have been pretty good; they tend toward the practical side of the equation, but this one combines that sort of thing with narrative. Chef Besh is not Liebling, don't get me wrong, but if you have an interest in how a chef comes to his repertoire, this book may interest you. Even if you don't have occasion to cook venison liver with honey-vinegar glaze, or rabbit in gelée with chanterelle salad, you might learn something about the flavor combinations, and a few chapters in, the recipe for roasted brussels sprout salad or pommes dauphine may be of more practical value.

The book is pretty, like the rest of Besh's output, but this one includes more than just food porn; there are pictures from the early '90s of Besh; his wife, Jenifer; and others that remind me of nothing so much as a high school yearbook.

I've met John Besh a dozen times, but I certainly wouldn't say I know him. He's always been very nice to me, and in fact he was one of the first chefs to recognize me when I started writing about food. The last time I was in one of his restaurants was a couple of weeks ago. I took some work to Domenica, and I'd been deep into it for 10 minutes when he came in through the hotel entrance, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Thanks for coming in.” Then he went and had lunch with a bunch of Marines in uniform at a table in the back of the joint. Maybe he served with one of them, or maybe he was just honoring their service; whatever it was there weren't any cameras around and were it not for this blog post you wouldn't know about it.

Like I said, I don't know the guy, but I like his food and I liked this cookbook.