As a private chef with very limited restaurant experience, my main faucet of knowledge are both the foundation I received in school seconded by some excellent cook books.
Top 2 inspirational tomes I purchased in the past year
The Flavor Bible
An indispensable reference tool. The masterpiece of Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (authors of Culinary Artistry). They interviewed dozens of chefs across the country and asked them to synthesize the flavor combinations they use in their restaurants. This book is a lexicon of ingredients, and it lists the other ingredients that pair well with them. It lists the seasonality of all things, and the best way to prepare them according to their research. If I had more restaurant experience, I would rely heavily on the flavor combinations I would have learned and tasted in the kitchen. Since I don't, I am often inspired by this book. Here's an example of how I've been able to benefit from this book. Dish: Sauteed bay scallops with heirloom corn puree, and emulsified coconut Jus. The listing for scallops include corn. This lead me to think of the bond that scallops and corn share in flavor: delicate sweetness. Something else with that quality, but with a more nutty component: coconut. Texturally, everything is soft, so it needs something crunchy. Flavor wise, everything is has a delicate balance of sweet and savory but points towards the sweet side. In order to balance the texture, there are different things I can introduce, crisped corn kernals for example. To balance the flavor, I introduce heat, either cayanne, or a pepper thread. I serve this at events as either an hors d'ouvre on a bamboo spoon, or an appetizer. Thanks Karen and Andrew!
The Fat Duck Cookbook
An epic culinary volume that accomplishes ten-fold what it seeks to accomplish; what the French Laundry cookbook did for Thomas Keller's philosophy the Fat Duck Cookbook does for Heston Blumenthal's. The synopsis of this philosophy: Basic and advanced knowledge of food science is very useful in a restaurant kitchen, especially since it helps to achieve every restaurant's goal of efficiency. This book is broken down into three sections: Biography, Recipes, Science. Heston is an exceptional food writer (especially considering the breadth and success of his restaurant) and I found myself laughing while reading the bio. The recipes show you the nuts and bolts of his ideas and his process. The science section, I'm still refer to. He conscripts several scientists to offer an essay on several topics (such as is flavor preference nature or nurture; Flavor, aroma, and taste, etc). I've learned so much. As far as application, Heston has taught me an interesting technique on cooking asparagus that preserves all of the flavor and its vibrant green color that involves no water, no salt, and no immersion circulator. Thanks Heston!