If cookbook sales are anything to go by, it would appear the entire English-speaking world are passionate and devoted cooks. Publishers and retailers quote cookbooks as the best seller of all non-fiction, and every list always has some cookery titles. But if you think cookbooks are just for checking up on how to whip up a hollandaise sauce or a vichyssoise, then you're wrong. Serious cooks gather, consume and digest cookbooks at a remarkable rate. Justice Noel Power's wife, Irma, has more than 500 copies (at last count), restaurateur Michelle Garnaut has a neatly catalogued library of 521 volumes, Donald Berger has more than 400. My own set of 254 looks humble. I suppose if you're interested in cooking and eating, it follows you would be interested in reading about it too. But frankly, there's a lot of rubbish about. Good cookbooks are much more than a plethora of recipes. They weave a good story, like Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories or Pierre Koffmann's Memories of Gascony. They are true to the cuisine documented, as is Claudia Roden's A Book of Middle Eastern Food. And they are beautifully written, as are all Elizabeth David's books. Finally, if they are presenting original ideas, they do so without succumbing to sensationalism - like the delightful books out of Alice Water's San Francisco restaurant, Chez Panisse. The very first known culinary manuscript is credited to Apicius, a wealthy Roman with a passion for the good life. His recipes for feasts of the most Bacchanalian proportions are well recorded. Sadly, he came to a sticky end. After partying his enormous fortune away, he poisoned himself, rather than face a frugal future. Old cookbooks make intriguing reading. They provide a wonderful glimpse of domestic history, and are fascinating in enabling us to understand the evolution of recipes, and cooking methods. Cookbooks are now not just relegated to the kitchen. A new breed has reached chic coffee table status. Winnie Bruger's The Cutting Edge, put together while he was still at the late lamented Hilton, is classic high gloss. The food styling and photography are awesome, the size is atlas-like, and the recipes are aimed at those with rather more than spaghetti sauce in the cupboard. And his favourite cookbooks? 'Wolfgang Puck's books are very innovative, and I like Charlie Trotter too. A good cookbook shouldn't date. You should still want to use it 20 years later,' he says. Irma Power, a most knowledgeable cook, says: 'For basic information I refer to the classics by Julia Child, Simone Beck and Louise Bertholle. For ideas, a lot of the new cookbooks from Australia and the States are delightful, like Jull Dupleix's New Food. Power's cooking philosophy is fresh ingredients prepared simply, and with respect: 'I've also enjoyed Geoff Slattery's book Simple Flavours: Australian Home Cooking.' Donald Berger, at The Ritz Carlton, is a fan of The Beautiful Cookbook series, a set of super glossy volumes covering different countries. 'The photography and styling are stunning, and you get great ideas from the food presentation and table settings,' he says. Bonnie Gokson, who was instrumental in setting up Joyce Cafe, likes The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. She says: 'There's a wonderful feel of effortless sophistication to the food. It's all about natural flavours and simplicity in preparation. 'I also have Susan Gelmetti's Italian Country Cooking for rustic Umbrian and Apulian food and ,of course, Pei Mei's Chinese Cookbook (Vol 1 & 2) for home-style dishes.' Sandi Butchkiss is, from hearsay, a pretty good cook. She has promised to cook me paella for five years, still hasn't, so I can't personally vouch for her cooking abilities. She is, however, a witty and knowledgeable food writer. Says Butchkiss: 'My very, very, favourite is The Silver Palate Cookbook, followed by The New Basics, both by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. They run the gambit of everything delicious and good to eat,' she says. Over at M at The Fringe, Michelle Garnaut's favourites are Jane Grigson's Good Things, Tom Stoppard's The Cook's Encyclopaedia, and The History of Food by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat. She says: 'All Jane Grigson's books are wonderful. She writes with real warmth and understanding, and is such a sensible cook. Good Things is a great celebration of food.' I wouldn't bore you with my own list, but right now I'm dipping into Rinjing Dorje's Food in Tibetan Life. Fascinating stuff it is too, though perhaps a trifle obscure.