Maybe it started with that one ambitious friend with the homebrew habit. Or that co-worker who quietly obsesses about Malaysian food at home, after work. Maybe you know someone who orders unpronounceable spice mixes online, in bulk, or spends a long weekend building a smoker out of concrete blocks.
This year's cookbooks point to big dreams in the kitchen, and a kind of comfort with concepts once considered the province of professional cooks — ingredients from those last few shelves you haven't explored at your Asian grocery store, recipes that foreground umami flavors, make-at-home doughs for croissant and brioche, and, in a charming twist, recipes for chicken (that most unexotic of birds) that travel to every corner of the globe. There's even a book to set the littlest food lover in your home on the path to culinary independence. It's got stickers and stars and labels that will make even the most unsure young cook feel confident — but for the rest of us, gasps of wonder and sighs of contentment from our well-fed friends and family will do.