They're splattered with food stains and have been a source of great passion.
These are the culinary bibles cherished by our nation's great cooks.
In some cases they have acted as a ready reference for recipe basics, sometimes over decades. In Perry's case, they've changed the shape of his career.
Australia's leading chefs reveal the cookbooks that they couldn't have done without.
MasterChef guest chef and the patissier who revived the macaron, Adriano Zumbo bought The Pastry Larousse Desserts by Pierre Herme 12 years ago, at the end of his apprenticeship.
The boy from Coonamble had returned from a cooking contest in France where his 19-year-old eyes had been opened to the possibilities of pastry.
But Australia back then offered little in the way of modern French patisserie to satisfy his culinary cravings.
"So my brain started ticking and I bought all my books from a cookbook shop, Libraire Gourmand in Paris.
"I bought them over the internet and they sent them from France.
"I got the Larousse in a box with 20 other books. I was pretty excited. It was like Christmas for 20 years," Zumbo said.
"I had nowhere else to turn to that was my reference to learning about European pastry, modern French pastry.
"It was like my university. I couldn't afford or I didn't speak fluent enough French to live over there and go to school there.
"Books are something you've got with you all the time."
Zumbo says despite these books being written in French, he can speak and read enough kitchen French to understand.
"The Larousse is my favourite book. It's my bible it's a good reference for me.
"If I want to make a black sesame dacquoise (meringue sponge) I'll go in there and find an almond dacquoise and I'll just change it all.
"It helped me develop my creative skills. It's like a base reference that I can play around with.
"It's in the boot of my car so I've always got it. It never leaves me," he laughs. "If I get stuck I'll check it out.
"It's definitely worn. It's got butter and stuff on it. A lot of my books do.
"I've probably got about 300 books. I love collecting books. It's awesome. But the Larousse is the one I use the most."
Cook, food author, restaurateur, food retailer and MasterChef guest chef, Maggie Beer says when she first started cooking in the 70s, she loved a cookbook called French Provincial Cooking.
"I was never taught to cook professionally. We had a farm, where food was really important - we cooked everything that moved.
"Elizabeth David was definitely, without a doubt, an inspiration.
"Not that I followed the recipes, I absorbed her," Beer says.
"I have an office with a library and that's where all my books are.
"I have hundreds of cookbooks and read them and get many influences.
"But I use Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion as a ready-reckoner," she says.
"Even today I'll check on Stephanie's as a reference when I need it - how many eggs should I put in this or whatever.
"It's dirty. But the cover looks good," she laughs. "It's got its share of blotches.
"I wouldn't want to be without it, I've got one at the beach and one at home."
Founder of the Rockpool empire, food author and retailer, Neil Perry's greatest cookbook influence has been The Great Chefs of France (The Masters of Haute Cuisine and Their Secrets).
"That's been most instrumental for my career. I've probably gone back and read it 20 times. I've cooked a couple of recipes from it, but it's more inspirational and it's helped shaped my life.
"I got it in the very early 80s," Perry says.
"It's about a day in the life of the 12 three-star chefs in 1978 that lived in the provinces outside Paris.
"It was super-inspirational. Made me realise how hard I had to work, and made me realise restaurants could be very generational, so it could be a long and rewarding career not just for yourself, but for your family.
"My daughter recently decided she wanted to follow me in the industry, not as a chef, she's front of house. So the first thing I did was go searching in American [Book Store] and got her a secondhand copy," he says.
"The other, Michel Guerard's Cuisine Gourmande - it's still an amazing book and I still go back to it from time to time, I probably bought it in about 1979."
The patriarch of Sydney's Italian restaurants and owner and chef of Beppi's restaurant in Darlinghurst, which opened in 1956, Beppi Polese remembers clearly the day he bought Il Veneto in Cucina by Ranieri da Mosto in 1962.
"I got it in Italy - it's in Italian. I bought it in 1962 and paid 2800 lira for it - that's pre-euro. It's out of print now," he says.
"I have several cookery books from different regions. I get ideas out of them. I read recipes sometimes and get an idea and convert this recipe into my own version.
"But this one is from my region, near Veneto [Venice]. The Mosto family are noblemen from Venice.
"The books recipes go back to ancient times. This is the ancient way of cooking with the ancient spices. From there I can cook any kind of dish. You have to learn the basics.
"I check it all the time. I love reading it - when I go home and sit down, I find something that interests me, and it gives me an idea that I can use.
"I've got it in my kitchen and I draw on it when I change the menu four times a year."
Cook, restaurateur and food writer, Stephanie Alexander's favourite cookbook is Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking - just like Beer's.
Alexander first discovered her books in the 1950s because her mother loved them, and David was the authority referred to in Alexander's childhood kitchen. She still refers to the book regularly.
"I have always responded to the evocative prose and the personal experiences that are so important in this book.
"This was published in the 50s - long before the modern flood of cookbooks - that tell stories.
"Before I set foot in France or Italy I already knew what I would find there, and when I did finally travel to those countries, Elizabeth David's anecdotes and recipes were spot-on.
"There is a lifetime of inspiration in her books," Alexander says.
"And she gets to the essence of a recipe, whilst always acknowledging that there are many variations.
"She also is not fooled by frippery or fancy garnishes. Love it."
By Virginia Ginnane