Archive for the ‘chefs’ Tag

A Life in the Kitchen   Leave a comment


I enjoy reading books about chefs probably because I like food. I’ve never been to Eric Ripert’s Le Bernadin, a three star Michelin rated New York City restaurant, but I have heard of him.

His memoir, 32 Yolks, recounts his childhood in southern France, his first encounters with fine dining and his journey to becoming a renowned chef. Unfortunately, the account lacks personality. It’s bland, More flavoring is needed in the form of humor and descriptions of food lack vibrancy.

As a child, and later young adult, Ripert was happiest when cooking was part of the scene, whether it was in his mother’s, grandmothers’ or a friend’s kitchen. His parents divorced when he was six and his father died soon afterward. In an effort to alleviate her son’s sadness, Ripert’s mother took him to a dinner at an exclusive restaurant. This led to a long-standing friendship with the chef/owner.

Ripert attended culinary school, which he explained, didn’t fully prepare him for what actually takes place in a restaurant kitchen. He had to learn that the hard way.

The title comes from one of his first kitchen duties: to break 32 eggs for a hollandaise sauce. An undertone of self-deprecation comes through in Ripert’s first professional kitchen experiences, yet it rings false. Hard knocks are a way of life, but his memories of working on the line are soft.

Still, learning about how people get to where they are today is of interest.

32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line

Three Bookmarks

Random House, 2016

247 pages


“Notes From a Young Black Chef”   1 comment

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Kwame Onwuachi’s Notes From a Young Black Chef is considered a memoir (it says so right on the cover), but more accurately it could be seen as an engaging treatise on what it means to be a black man in America.  

The narrative begins just before his Washington, D.C., restaurant is set to launch. Onwuachi is catering an event commemorating the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s a long way from his roots in the Bronx.

The descriptive writing reveals Onwwauchi ‘s tenacious and, often, reckless personality. He didn’t always envision himself as a chef, although cooking was an important part of his life. Thanks largely to his mother who, for many years, ran a catering business from her home kitchen. While many of her dishes reflected a Southern influence, once he began working in kitchens Onwauchi knew he wanted a different focus. He wanted to be associated with upscale, fine dining.

Although he loved the traditional meals from his youth, he wanted to elevate them as a means of moving past stereotypes.

Onwauchi, a Culiniary Institute of America grad, encountered numerous obstacles (many of which he made himself) before becoming a chef. However, his passion for food along with a keen ability to hustle helped make this possible. Overcoming situations where expectations of him were low because of his race was another contributing factor to his success.

Onwauchi could have been another negative statistic, but determination and creativity helped make a dream reality.

Notes From a Young Black Chef

Four Bookmarks

Alfred A, Knopf, 2019

271 pages

Jacques Pepin’s Many Kitchens   Leave a comment


Jacques Pepin practically grew up in kitchens, which he chronicles in The Apprentice – a memoir with recipes. Born in southern France, he was a child during World War II when the scarcity of food was at its height. He learned to scavenge and worked on a farm before his mother opened a village restaurant when the war ended. This led to several apprenticeships, essentially trial and error experiences, before moving to Paris as a young adult.

Pepin’s writing voice is strong and vivid; the only thing missing is his French accent. His narrative reveals his work ethic, determination and a sense of fun. He goes from a lowly kitchen boy whose first assignment was nothing more than a prank to becoming the personal chef of President Charles de Gaulle – all before making a name for himself in the United States.

His move the New York City was both an adventure (meant to last a year or two at the most) and a leap of faith. Pepin spoke no English. Still, he becomes friends with fellow foodies – long before the term was conceived. Accounts of his friendships with Craig Claiborne, Julia Child and James Beard, among others, are peppered throughout like perfect seasonings to enhance but not overwhelm. Descriptions of meals add further appeal.

It’s fascinating to see his career evolve from cooking to teaching cooking techniques (and more) to authoring cookbooks and hosting television programs. Pepin shares his emotions, his appreciation of well-prepared food and the value he places on family and friends.

The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen
A Memoir with Recipes
Four Bookmarks
A Rux Martin Book, 2003
318 pages with index

Out of the Sautoir*   Leave a comment

Sous Chef

If Michael Gibney’s writing is anything like the food he prepares, I’m ready for him to make me a meal. In Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line Gibney provides a life in the day of, you guessed it, a sous chef. By definition, the kitchen’s second in command.

Beginning at 9 a.m. on a cold December Friday in New York City, Gibney offers a behind-the-kitchen-door view of what it takes to get dinner on the table. The particular night he recounts does 300 covers (servings). The restaurant is never named, but judging from the food descriptions, it’s an upscale eatery.

Gibney relies on second-person voice, which is awkward at times. The point must be that even though this is his story, it is universal to all sous chefs. Gibney’s attention to detail is strong, and interesting. He explains each person’s role, the type of prep work necessary to ensure a smooth service, the hierarchy among the staff and preparation of several dishes.

From the moment Gibney arrives at the restaurant, and before he puts on his chef whites, he’s in kitchen mode. He describes the quiet, almost serene, atmosphere before others arrive to begin their shifts. Slowly, as the day progresses, that serenity evolves into controlled chaos.

By the time Gibney’s shift ends, it’s after midnight. He has to be back in eight hours. Nonetheless, he and his colleagues meet at a local bar. Eventually, Gibney makes it home, although the kitchen is never far from his thoughts.

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line
Four Bookmarks
Ballantine Books,2014
214 pages, including “Selected Kitchen Terminology”

* A sautoir is a shallow frying pan

Pursuing Flavors   1 comment


I know a few local chefs by name; I know a lot about others from different places, thanks to the books they write – and the Food Network or Bravo. The latter is where Marcus Samuelsson’s name surfaced on my radar. His memoir, Yes, Chef, provides a detailed, honest look at how he emerged onto the contemporary food scene.

Samuelsson begins his story with a powerful sentence that has nothing to do with food, but everything to do with who he is: “I have never seen a picture of my mother.” He shares how he and his sister made their way from Ethiopia to Goteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden, where they were adopted by Lennart and Anne Marie Samuelsson. He learned to cook by watching his grandmother. He learned technique by apprenticing in Switzerland, France and the United States.

As much as the memoir is about his progression through various kitchens, Yes, Chef is also about finding passion, experiencing prejudice and learning how these disparate aspects can be powerful motivators. Samuelsson reveals his flaws, his quirks as well as his strengths in a straightforward voice.

Ethiopian by birth, Swedish through adoption, and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Samuelsson might seem an unlikely poster boy in the food world. Yet, it is his internationality that makes him so appealing. His quest as a chef, as he says, was to “chase flavors.” So far, it appears to be quite a pursuit.

Yes, Chef
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Random House, 2012
315 pages