Soul of a Chef

on Thursday, April 2, 2009

I'm not employed in the industry, I can't claim experience in that regard.  I'm a home cook, at best with a few ideas or thoughts to share.

That said, I've just been reading "Soul of a Chef: The Pursuit of Perfection" by Michael Ruhlman, and can't recommend it highly enough.  It takes the experiantial journalism style you find in Bill Buford's "Heat", and adds it's own personal touch, with a progression of different experiences.  Ruhlman begins by observing and mulling over the CMC exams at the Culinary Institute of America... a harrowing ten-day skills test by master examiners.

While the CMC is not a broadly recognized certification, the description of the process is more than harrowing, and is certainly well more than humbling... far be it from me to develop a recipe on the spot for complex forcemeat and other charcuterie presentations.

The book transitions to a description of life and events at Michael Symon's restaurant Lola at the point where Symon was selected one of Food & Wine's Top 10 New Chef's, and finally comes to rest in a long reflection on time spent at Thomas Keller's French Laundry in Yountville, CA.  An intriguing tidbit is the presence at the time of Grant Achatz, who has since moved on to fame and madness at Alinea.

I'm not a high cost foodie, and I like to keep the pretension pretty well limited, but seeing a window into the ways and thought processes of people at that level of creation is truly fascinating.  Among other details, the ways in which every "fiddley" bit of trimming and scrap is used in other dishes in a way that you can never do as a home cook.  Trimming perfect little circles of truffle is fine if you're making truffle butter or truffle coulis later in the evening.  Trimming them just to make perfect little circles and having to throw away raw material is just preposterous.  Hence, homemade dishes have a more homemade look and quality.

Pick it up, amazon has them used for a song (if you happen to get paid $10 a pop to do songwriting, that is) and it's worth a read.

Or, you can be a retro-futurist and do the ultimate in file sharing... get it at the library.  It's a revolutionary concept, but I'm finding it pretty spectacular.  The man doesn't want you to know about it, but it's out there... books for free.  You will, however, need to bring it back eventually... just in case you'd forgotten how that process worked.

I feel like I just finished writing "My Summer Vacation" or a book report for the fourth grade.


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