by Al Brown (Allen and Unwin, $65)
Al Brown's latest book of 150 recipes, plus stunning shots of people, places and landscapes, really nails modern Kiwi cuisine (and, by extension, culture). Brown himself is no fan of the agonising "what is NZ's food culture" debate among a tiny sub-set of foodies; he just sets out a love letter to the classics with kai moana and more veges than any of his previous works. The man loves cookbooks with a point. His connection to food, his generous approach to sharing good kai and his immense pride in this place make it worth the long, long wait since his last treasure. Gorgeous cloth cover with retro illustration, photos by Josh Griggs — will, again, be the season's the top-seller.
HOME GROWN: FOOD FOR GOOD
by Michael Meredith and Eat My Lunch (Allen and Unwin, $40)
Since celebrated chef-turned-social entrepreneur Michael Meredith founded Eat My Lunch with Lisa King two years ago, the simple idea of "buy one, give one" has fed more than 450,000 school kids in Auckland, Hamilton and Wellington (with the help of 3000 volunteers). The innovative pair have just launched ready-to-eat Eat My Dinner in supermarkets and now each book you buy featuring these easy Michael meals — including breakfasts, baking and enticing salads — buys a lunch for a kid.
THE TART TIN
by Matt Cross (Potton and Burton, $40)
There are many reasons to wish you lived in Dunedin: the architecture, the landscape, the arts, the ease of travel among them. Now add Matt Cross' Tart Tin stall at the Otago Farmers Market, a regular in his dear little Minty Sprite caravan since 2009. He started baking with his mum and grandmothers as a child and after travelling and sampling around the world, the chef turned back into a baker. It's not just about pie, there are bars and biscuits like Nana's Top Hats or Choc Chip Cookie Dough Sandwiches, an entire chapter of doughnuts, plus cakes and loaves and more.
AT MY TABLE: A CELEBRATION OF HOME COOKING
by Nigella Lawson (Penguin Random House, $60)
If you can get past her fluffy cardigans and come-hither moue lips on telly, Nigella Lawson is a beautiful cook and, rare in cookery, a fine writer. Not just recipe manuals, her books can be read as portraits of memories and people without making a thing. Which would be a shame. At My Table gets you at the first recipe, a homage to Peter Gordon's Turkish eggs; the woman turns bread into feast after feast. Her cakes and puddings are divine, the meat section a thing of wonder. The vegetables have weird but tempting combinations to try when produce gets into season — brussels sprouts with preserved lemon and pomegranate? Tomatoes and horseradish? Passionfruit dressing on beetroot? You'll give it a go because you trust Nigella's palate and her testing — and those lovely, lovely stories.
THE ROAD TO MEXICO
Rick Stein (Penguin Random House, $60)
The Rick Stein machine has pushed on to California and Mexico, with 120 recipes to go with his new BBC travel series. To be fair, he's been a fan of the food since his first foray there in 1968 — coriander! Chillies! Tacos for breakfast! — when he backpacked and hung out with hippies in Haight Ashbury (no, I couldn't picture it either). But by the second page, Stein has won you over with his love of the country and is besotted with the variations of its cuisine that California has appropriated. With gorgeous photographs of people, food and places, this will have you cooking the light, zingy dishes. A few famous cakes from San Francisco don't go astray, either. You'll be booking a ticket, fast.
DOWNTIME: DELICIOUSNESS AT HOME
by Nadine Levy Redzepi (Penguin Random House, $60)
It would be easy to be cynical about the "wife of" a famous chef publishing her own book but the deeply cool Nadine Levy Redzepi (husband, Rene of the restaurant Noma fame) has a natural style of family food influenced by a childhood in Portugal, France and England and entertaining friends and family (you know, Nigel Slater, Jay Rayner, that sort of thing). As everyone should, she starts with potatoes and her veges sing. Easy oven bakes, pan or bowl dinners, eggs for dinner, hands-off roasting — this is flavour-packed food for real-life cooking. Some of her tarts and puddings are even weekday friendly, the rest of the baking perfect for a Sunday spent filling the tins.
SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT: MASTERING THE ELEMENTS OF GOOD COOKING
by Samin Nosrat (Canongate, $55)
Readers of Michael Pollan's seminal Cooked might recognise Samin Nosrat's name. The American-Persian chef from Chez Panisse spent Sundays with the writer teaching him the principles of cookery. She's taken 15 years to write her own extraordinary masterclass that explains just why food does what it does with the help of the four elements. With quirky illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton (the Venn diagram of batters and doughs is all a baker needs; the flavour wheels deserve framing), and many, many pages of patient explanation, Nosrat helps cooks understand. Sure there are recipes and she's a lovely writer, but this book is here to teach you to branch out on your own because, finally, you understand why it all works.