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Kitchen Reader Book Club Review: Soul of a Chef: The Journey Towards Perfection

Kitchen Reader Book Club Review: Soul of a Chef: The Journey Towards Perfection
31 January, 2012
Book Review: The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlan

I'm thrilled to be part of the Kitchen Reader Book Club at long last. Due to family commitments it's taken about 5 months to join up.  My first review off the starting blocks is on Soul of a Chef by Mark Ruhlman. I was intrigued by the title and looking forward to discovering what it's actually like to be a chef and will the soul be determined.

It's a fascinating, well written and thought provoking insight into the world of professional chefs and the kitchens of a few of the most celebrated (Michael Symon Brian Polycn and Thomas Keller).

All of this overshadowed by the austere Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and it's elusive exam which some do succeed in achieving. If the Institute's exam is not worse, it is on a par with the trials and tribulations of climbing Mt Everest. At a guess a person has a better chance of climbing the mountain (no small feat) than achieving the CMC accolade (the pinnacle of the CIA's exams).

The book is clearly structured. being divided into three parts, the second two go into detail on the chefs named above and the first is devoted to the CMC exam of the CIA.

From the outset Michael Ruhlman brings you straight into the action, the narrative begins with the chefs and tutors beginning to assemble for the first day of the ten day intensive exam. His uncanny writing skill makes you feel you're participating alongside him on this adventure. On the exam you feel the passion and desire of all of these chefs. In the proceeding sections on three of the individual chefs there were times I wanted to wipe the sweat from my brow with the hustle and bustle, successes and joys. Because of the clear structure of this book I felt it raced along. Some of the descriptions in the kitchens I skipped through as most of the recipes were meat based so don't hold any interest for me. I also skimmed through the detail on the individual people working in the kitchens as I was only fixed on learning more on the three chefs above themselves.  This doesn't mean they were boring in any way. Let me put it this way for an aspiring chef

  1. these synopses are ideal for building up a little portfolio of technique, tips and recipes
  2.  you learn what it's like to really part of the work-team in a top notch restaurant
  3. if you are interested in achieving the status of these chefs you get the inside of track of what it takes

As for myself I'm more of a curious observer, wanting to understand the passion that drives them for ultimate for the ultimate perfection.

A must read for upcoming chefs aiming high and  for the rest of us
a sneak look at the inner workings of life at the 'hob-face'.

This book is easy to read and very descriptive, plus the author writes from his heart, his own passion shines through too for his subject matter.  This succeeds in enabling me to go right to the heart of the action and feel totally involved. I could feel the anguish, frustrations, suspense and joys as if they were of a friend. I got to see the inside track and it was good to see that people working in these high-end kitchens can be treated with respect, can have fun and produce amazing creations. I now understand and have more respect for the higher echelons of cooking. I want to read more from this author, for his inclusive style, the passion and enthusiasm which he exudes, for the craft, skill and personal struggle and joys of those he writes about. When I finished reading this book I recapped on it and took pleasure in that I felt I'd been on a journey of discovery, delving into the lives of renowned chefs, their struggles and eventually joys. Discovering what I think is the soul of a chef and how they fared on the journey to perfection. I like all of them but especially Thomas Keller's story. I really enjoyed this book for the author's easy to read style and his ability to not only show himself but bring you into the whole book and come out at the other end more knowledgeable than when you started. And yes I did get answers to what is the soul of a chef.