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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Making of a Chef

You might have seen Michael Ruhlman on both of Anthony Bourdain's teevee shows, A Cook's Tour and No Reservations and you might have seen his most recent book The Elements of Cooking, patterned on the The Elements of Style. Years before all of this, he, as a fledging writer and journalist, made his way into the Culinary Institute of America determined to not just write about it but experience it as a student. The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute was the result.

A friend of mine loaned me the book last week and I just finished it up tonight. Just skimming it, I thought it would be a quick read; guy goes to cooking school and writes about it. It can be a fast read if you want it to be that way but there was so much information packed into it, especially in his opening chapters on the Skills class and later in the Baking, Garde Mange and service chapters, that I spent a lot of time digesting what he was learning.

It wasn't just the methods and techniques but the chemistry and physics involved that made me read slower than I normally would. It sort of felt like I was reading an abbreviated graduate course for Alton Brown scholars.

Parts of the book were less interesting, like when he was flying through numerous courses without having time to record much detail. Those are the chapters that flew by faster for me.

What this book has really done for me is gotten me excited about cooking again after about a year of not caring about it as long is it was cheap, easy and filled me up. For so long I've cooked with the notion that one pot was enough because I didn't want to have to clean the dishes and the kitchen that same night. Now I don't care. I'll do those dishes and wipe down the counters at night or in the morning before work if it means I had a terrific meal I made myself. Cooking something that you've put your care, love, taste and yourself into is worth the trouble.

Ruhlman has written a ton of books on cooking, but not necessarily cookbooks, since this one came out. I'm hoping the public library has those available so I can take them with me to Chicago next week.


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