Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Making of a Chef and a Waikiki Sunset

I just finished the book The Making of a Chef - Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman sitting on the lanai of our hotel watching the sunset overlooking Waikiki beach.

It was a rainy day today, so we spent most of the day sitting on our balcony, reading. I bought this book back in October and starting reading it right away, but just never got around to finishing it, so it was great to be able to spend some time with it on vacation.

From the back of the book:
In the winter of 1996, journalist Michael Ruhlman donned a chef's jacket and houndstooth-check pants to join the students at the Culinary Institute of America, the country's oldest and most influential cooking school. But The Making of a Chef is not just about holding a knife or slicing an onion, it's also about the nature and spirit of being a professional cook and the people who enter the profession. As Ruhlman - now an expert on the fundamentals of cooking - recounts his growing mastery of the skills of his adopted profession, he propels himself and his readers through a score of kitchens and classrooms in search of the elusive, unnameable elements of great food.

I learned a lot from this book about what culinary school is going to be like, and it made me really excited, more than I already was, about going to school. There is so much to learn. I also learned more about what it is like to work at an actual restaurant, which he makes sound pretty hard, but satisfying as well.

It was a perfect book for me, as someone who is about to go to culinary school and thinking about entering the culinary profession. I am going to recommend it to my parents so they can learn more about what my new life is going to be like.

A couple of passages really hit home with me. The first is Ruhlman's opinion on the nature of cooks and bakers.
I'd already discovered that I was a cook. I could know what cooking was, fully, in my bones. Cooks, I had learned, came to cooking not to fulfill a desire, but rather, by chance, to fulfill something already in their nature. The same, I believe, was true of bakers. They were different. I have no doubt that there are people in this world, toiling away, in offices and backhoes alike, who are fundamentally unhappy because they never tried working in kitchens.

The second is a chef's view on what to do after culinary school.
Know what you do? Find the top ten, top twenty places in that city, wherever you're gonna go, and go work there. Money really shouldn't be a big issue. Some of you it has to be, you may be older, you may have a family, you may have a wife, may have kids, or you have to worry a little more about money. But for a lot of you guys, money shouldn't be a major consideration for at least three to five years. I mean that. You make the right decisions, you work for the right people, you keep on working for places of that quality, later down the road, you're gonna be making more money than somebody who came right out and took a sous chef position at thirty-two at an average hotel; you're gonna end up passing them by a long way. Your education should be your major consideration at the beginning. Secondly, when you leave that place, this is something I've done, never take a step back in quality. Again, money can sometimes be a driving force. When you leave a job, keep going to a place that is better, and better, and better. The money comes later and the money'll be good, if you make the right decisions. That's real important.

Jo bought me the second book by the same author, titled The Soul of Chef, which I am looking forward to reading next, hopefully enjoying a few more Waikiki sunsets.

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