In 1909 publisher P. F. Collier and Son published a 51-volume anthology of classic literature, compiled by then Harvard president Dr. Charles W. Eliot. It came to be known as the Harvard Classics, but when it was published, the anthology was known simply as Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf. This was because Eliot had famously said that one could get a perfectly serviceable education by spending 15 minutes a day reading from the books that could fit on a five-foot shelf. Perhaps. Although this begs some questions of dimension, both physical and intellectual: how wide a shelf, which books, whose decision?

If one were to construct a 5-foot shelf of cookbooks, what would you put on it? In addition to the classical works (Carême, Escoffier), there are modern possibly canonical texts (Marcella Hazan, Julia Child, Diana Kennedy, Claudia Roden, Elizabeth David, Richard Olney) and more recent cookbooks which many might also consider canonical (Thomas Keller, James Peterson, Deborah Madison). But this is all subject to the obvious questions of country and cuisine of origin, matters of translation, and, of course, fiercely subjective and often pejorative tastes. My Paula Deen, your Apicius.

It is, however, a wonderful subject of debate, a great cocktail party conversation starter, a fascinating study in cultural anthropology, and a terrific question to pose to chefs, be they professional restauranteurs or your mother.

LA Weekly