Friday, February 22, 2008

The Soul of a Chef

In The Soul of a Chef Michael Ruhlman continues to explore what makes a chef great. Last year I enjoyed The Making of a Chef, but I think this book was better.

Mr. Ruhlman describes the Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, and follows six men and one woman as they attempt to pass the 10-day examination. He explains the testing and comments on the final day of the exam - the hardest one, and the one which only a few of the original seven will still be around to take:

"This of course is not barbecue-and-coleslaw cooking; this is complex and difficult cooking: four-course meals for ten, four portions served on plates, and a buffet platter for six, after nine strenuous days of cooking and little sleep."

I cannot do justice to this book - the descriptions of the food prepared, the work involved, the emotions and personalities of the chefs - and the perfection for which each of them strives.

For the second and third parts of the book Ruhlman parks himself in two different restaurants (both of which still are still in operation with the same chefs as when this book was written) and shows the sights, sounds, activity, and food at Lola in Cleveland, Ohio, and the French Laundry in Yountville, California. After reading about them both I hope I'll someday have the chance to eat there. In the meantime, the descriptions of both restaurants, their chefs, and the food served will have to do.

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