Houston's Best Chefs Unplugged

Inside the minds of Houston's best chefs: Top burger guru, dessert queen & more share their reading habits

Inside the minds of Houston's best chefs: Burger guru, dessert queen

News_chef hat_ladel
When chefs aren't cooking, do they have time to read?
Chef Ben McPherson head shot
"I am a cookbook collector," says Ben McPherson of Prohibition. "Have over 1,000 cook books." Photo by © William Hardin
Vanessa O'Donnel Ooh La La horizontal
Vanessa O’Donnell, owner/chef of Ooh La La Dessert Boutique, reads cookbooks and food magazines, but she also loves the classics. Photo by Kimberly Park
Bernie of Bernie's Burger Bus with burger 1 November 2014
Justin Turner of Bernie's Burger Bus sticks with food reads. Bernie's Burger Bus/Facebook
John Sheely, Mockingbird Bistro, chef, December 2012
John Sheely of Mockingbird Bistro lists his favorites, including Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel and Kingdom of Fear by Hunter Thompson. Photo by Paula Murphy
News_chef hat_ladel
Chef Ben McPherson head shot
Vanessa O'Donnel Ooh La La horizontal
Bernie of Bernie's Burger Bus with burger 1 November 2014
John Sheely, Mockingbird Bistro, chef, December 2012

I have always been an avid reader, a lover of books. There was a time I went to the city library every week, checking out four or five books: Biographies, cookbooks, food writing annals and lots and lots of mysteries.

But I finally went digital. Because I have come to the point where I read everywhere, almost all the time, my back finally complained about schlepping around pounds of hardcover books wherever I went. So now I have an entire library on my Kindle and God forbid I forget to put that in my bag, I have the Kindle app on my iPhone. I can read anywhere!

Last week I read five Clive Cussler adventures. They’re like popcorn, pulp fiction fun that you can devour endlessly.

So I started to wonder if chefs read. Do they have time? Do they like to read? Do they read mostly for work?

Some really don’t have time. Chef Austin Simmons of Hubbell & Hudson Bistro stays too busy to read very much.

 Justin Turner, he of the best burgers in town, sticks with food reads. 

“It’s hard for me to find time to read books or novels as I stay pretty busy at the restaurant,” he says. “When I do have time, I spend it fishing. So you will definitely find me reading all types of fishing magazines. I love catching up on the latest trends!”

Chef Ben McPherson of Prohibition reads mostly work related stuff.

“I am a cookbook collector,” McPherson says. “I have over 1,000 cookbooks. Some are heirlooms from my great grandparents and I even have the first food encyclopedia that was published in 1878. I also love to read what other chefs are doing, so I am constantly up to date with what is being released right now.”

Vanessa O’Donnell, owner/chef of Ooh La La Dessert Boutique also reads cookbooks and food magazines but she loves the classics as well. And some other stuff.
 
“My all-time favorite books are Pride and Prejudice and Anne of Green Gables,” she says. “But right now I am reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler.” Fun!

Justin Turner, he of the best burgers in town, sticks with food reads.

“I read chef biographies and cookbooks,” the Bernie’s Burger Bus guy says. “Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz was the last biography I read. My favorite was The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman. I’m reading Anthony Bourdain’s Medium Raw now. I love the Momofuku Cookbook and my favorite cookbook by far is The French Laundry.”

Scholarly Chefs

Albert Vasquez, head chef of Dish Society has some more eclectic literary tastes.

“I draw and write comics called Fatal Coast during my down time, so a good portion of my time dedicated to literature is spent reading comics and graphic novels,” he says. “My all-time favorite comic is by an author/artist David Lapham. The comic is called Stray Bullets and takes place between the late '70s and early '80s.”

 "In summary it is a melange of fiction and history that keeps me inspired. It helps me stay focused on the future and being creative.” 

But that’s not all.

Vasquez adds: “It is not often that poetry can catch my interest whole heartedly, but the works of Carl Sandburg helped paint a clearer picture of American history than any photograph ever could. J.D. Salinger’s work that was recently released has had me very entertained. Learning more about some of his previous characters has been more than fulfilling.

"I always look forward to Lapham’s Quarterly. The subjects and areas of focus that are chosen are always intriguing and informative. In summary it is a melange of fiction and history that keeps me inspired. It helps me stay focused on the future and being creative.”

OK, now I feel like an underachiever.

John Sheely of Mockingbird Bistro lists his favorites as Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, Kingdom of Fear by Hunter Thompson, Selected Letters of Norman Mailer, Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell (a great read!) by Janet Wallach, Atlas Shrugged and the new Mick Jagger by Philip Norman.

Chef/owner Paul Friedman of Peli Peli (soon to open another location in the old Gigi’s spot in the Galleria) reads the Bible, cookbooks and self help books. But he also enjoys a good mystery. His favorite is Agatha Christie.

What? No Cussler fans in the kitchen? Oh well. I prefer that they cook well rather than share my reading tastes.