Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Making of a Chef (Michael Ruhlman)

The CIA (no, the other one, the Culinary Institute of America) is the most-prestigious cooking school in America, and Michael Ruhlman documents the innerworkings of the school in The Making of a Chef by spending time in classes and learning the skills of the trade.

The CIA is all about the basics, so there's a lot of consomme, terrine, and brown sauce making, stuff that you and I rarely (if ever) eat but that create the basis for classic French cooking. There is also more-modern fare (gourmet pizzas), and a bread-making class where the rising dough is in charge instead of the chefs.

Having worked in the food industry and having a great love of all things food, I very much enjoyed this book. It was entertaining and as fast-paced as food service during a lunch rush. But I can't tell if I have any sense of a nonfoodie's perspective on life. Once, when I was going through a phase where I was eating very little dairy, I was convinced that soy ice cream tasted just like the real thing. It didn't. Not that it wasn't tasty, it just didn't taste like ice cream. I had completely lost perspective.

But I do think that this book would be a good read for people who aren't foodies, because Ruhlman comes into the situation as a novice and leaves the CIA able to hold his own in the kitchen. He demonstrates how chefs think differently than most people (e.g., the school stays open during a large snow storm that closes the rest of the town). Bottom line: chefs get things done. And they get it done right.

Next book up: Swimming to Antarctica by Lynne Cox

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