This is a book review of the book , "The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Towards Perfection"
, authored by Michael Ruhlman and published in August 1st
,2001 by Penguin Group, USA- first published in August 2000 and has 370 pages with 819 ratings. The book has three long essays that register parts of careers of three different chefs at their different stages of accomplishments. This makes the journey towards perfection to be more the journey of the author than comparable to the journey by an individual chef.In the book, The Soul of a Chef, Ruhlman discusses comprehensively the enthusiastic competition essential for becoming a Certified Master Chef at the CIA, which he describes to demand of a chef ten successive sixteen-hour days cooking in different styles which are identified to vary from modern-day Asian to classical French with a persistent scrutiny. The passionate, almost peculiar cooking test - finally an endeavor to define the objective reality of great cooking - commences the journey of Ruhlman's to the dark part of the profession and soul of a chef. He makes observations, cooks with, and writes concerning three typical chefs of dissimilar stripes - Michael Symon, a rising star at Cleveland's Lola Bistro; Brian Polcyn from Five Lakes Grill in Milford, Michigan; and Thomas Keller, property owner of Napa Valley's the French Laundry, arguing that they are one of the best American chefs working today.Ruhlman expressly shows what makes one chef, and restaurant, successful in comparison to another; when cooking assumes the level of art; reasons as to why one of them should cook in the first place, what is to be cooked finally, is the source of America's ravenous hunger for knowledge as pertains to food and cooking. Ruhlman has divided his book into three parts. The first part archives the Certified Master Chef exam which is shown as intense. The second and third parts enumerate cooking and the lives of Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Yountville and Michael Symon of Lola in Cleveland.The first part of this book revolves around the Master Chef Exam, which is hyperbolically revealed to undergo an administration at Culinary Institute of America, which is frequently characterized as Harvard of American cooking schools. This is aimed at bringing to standards and evaluations of culinary mastery by use of an objective evaluation strategy. The test, which involves telling of the events in evident in one examination for this noble title-'Certified Master Chef', direly administered by a board and follows a test takers with and aim of obtaining title of Master Chef.The examination is done for over a week with each day attached to its task which must be completed by a candidate. The object of each task is given to each candidate at least a day before the actual performance. This will enable an efficient preparation among the candidates in all aspects including setting their mentalities to counter the challenges paused by these tasks. The greatest composition of the tasks are sourced from the pages of classic French cuisine with some lifted nearly in their originality from the pages of Escoffier's books containing the subject. The rate at which failures are realized is high even for candidates at the top of their career and are already working in some of the most popular restaurants world over producing some of the most exceptional, creative and the most delicious meals.The primacy of the test is to carry an evaluation analysis of the perfection involved with objectivity over a wide-ranging set of culinary exams evaluated by the very master chefs. It is demanding, very tiring besides its ability to measure excellence that is not established by majority in the industry principally because from over a dozen qualifiers competing I every session, held every mid of a year, usually show that only two or three candidates are able to pass the test with a considerably fair performance and receive the award of a title. Hence a dismal number are noted for excellence, given the time, cost and pressure posed by the exam on those taking it and in fact this asserts a worry of continuity in participation in the test by new comers.
The author has a bystander's participation in this competition pausing in the capacity of an inspector, camouflaged as an onlooker, making keen observations to the candidates conduct in the exams, identifying pivotal mistakes in execution and also marking outstanding perfection by the candidates who have been severally involved in carrying out the very tasks there before. The test, which is use as a standard for excellence in the industry, is noted by Ruhlman to bear crumbling forces to many and he questions the validity of the test given the professional talents of the chefs.He takes issue with Brian Polycn who is a chef and is experiencing the impact of taking the exam due to the fact that everyone he works with in the place of work has articulately mastered the .The author exposes the extent of gravity that come with the tests when he-the author-further gives the account of Brian who is said to have failed so much so that is forced to use a lot of money and time of practice in preparation for the exam in the preceding take. With this example, the author is able to clearly bring out the disappointment, disillusionment and expanse of expenditure that come along with a decision to do the tests which are exposed as the main determinants of being an excellent chef.In his capacity as an inspector from none existent qualifying organization and charged with the responsibility of verifications on the worthiness of the tests to an imaginary certification, the author has proven his capability in observing and interviewing all the involved candidates with utmost caution to curtail the arousal of any suspicion and/or nervousness among the candidates.Thus, the chapter has narrative on American culinary careers at its also the place the author left off at the end of his first culinary investigation known as dubbed 'The Making of a Chef'.Most candidates have had experiences gained as chefs within few years and are focused in improving their skills and knowledge by seeking for further training which the author puts to add to their credentials and market ability. In the category of the aforementioned include consultants who are already deployed in food service organizations.In many ways, the chapter has the thesis statement of the author and is therefore curial in establishing a reading momentum by holding the readers' interest to see if the candidates depicted in the narrative will finally achieve their certification. This is besides the writing capturing the intensity of the exam and creating a stimulating environment for turning each and every page as quickly as possible to see what comes next.However it leaves the readers with a question as to why anyone would put themselves through such stress again and again? While giving accurate measurements to technical execution, and fails to evaluate something that only becomes evident after Ruhlman completes the second and third parts of his book.
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The author pursues the dramatic chef- Michael Symon as he struggle to open Lola, the restaurant which later propel him into culinary notoriety. Ruhlman labels the essay as 'Lola', which becomes a major Cleveland restaurant owned and managed by Michael Symon who is the chief chef and at present is one of the Iron Chefs and the host of Dinner Impossible
in America. In this chapter, the book reveals the surprise evident among the populace as they could not make any predictions during the writing of the book of Michael Symon becoming a food network star.This chapter basically profiles on what crucial requirements to an ideal restaurant which are sited as follows; the presence of a personable chef, the dedication of the staff, high expectations from everyone in the team of the staff and provision of good and appetizing food are cognizant to customer satisfaction in a restaurant as shown by Ruhlman. The book notes that Symon was named among the top ten best new chefs in the year 1998 as concerns wine and food during the time when Ruhlman spent some extra time at Lola to draw justifications toSymon's remarkable progress in the field. The recognition as a 'Food and Wine' best new chef means a lot in his career as a chef as he did not require the kind of credit one acquires by earning the Certified Master Chef award.Symon's academic record points to being a CIA graduate and is known for his outstanding contribution as being a co host on the food network show- 'Melting pot' where he and Wayne Harley Brachman explore the cuisines of Western Europe.Symon's position as shown by the author in this chapter signifies his rank above the CIA Master Chef and is below actual top of the culinary scene in America as represented by the chef in the final essay.The most appealing episode in the story involving Symon and 'Lola' is shown where John Mariani, a prominent American restaurant critic pays a visit and at the time everything seem not right. The author uses this story to expose how it is difficult to have the food quality met with a 100% even in perfect and well groomed restaurants There is obviously an excellent reason as to why the executive chef stands at the expediter's table and keeps track on outgoing dishes. The author intentionally gives a perfect reconnection of the second and third chapters when he indicates Symon going to Napa Valley to dine at the French Laundry restaurant with his wife for their honeymoon.Symon is known by his creativity in making palatable dishes and lively and positive personality he expresses of himself. Ruhlman shudders at what looks like an antithesis of his culinary education at the CIA, where Symon is said to have finished near the top of his class. The restaurant does not provide exceptional services in the kitchen, besides its underperformance in the plate yet the author refer to Symon as a great chef believed to assume content in his position and not crowning for the title Master Chef. He has a long waiting list, the restaurant packed most of the times and reviews are always congratulatory despite all these. He has a loyal who would always want to work with him. The author uses this articulately well to create a suspense as to how this could be at a place that doesn't strive for perfection and what Symon has that makes him to be referred to as great.This chapter takes us to the actual journey towards perfection and takes the readers to the realisms of the hierarchy of achievement for the American culinary. The author introduces a prominent chef who is named as Thomas Keller. Ruhlman considers Keller as the chef of the day in the asserting that this could unsurprisingly be even world over.Keller, who is revealed as the sole owner and executive chef of The French Laundry has received recognitions as the best chef in California, followed by acknowledgment by James Beard awards for being the best chef in the country, is also portrayed as not having any formal training, although having a strong desire for perfection and is ever determined to pass the skills to those in his surroundings. Keller is not dared in his quest as a Master Chef and yet he perchance surpasses all of them. In deed, as the author puts it, his pursuit for perfection is legendary.Keller, under clear observation is exposed as a Zen-like cook guided by certain philosophy on cooking with regards to how things should be-the practicality of life. The major base of his philosophy follows the use of the plant or animal that he cooks in entirety as part of one of the many dishes that he always prepares for his guests and this he believes is the only honor he gives to the vegetable and the animal. Both forms of life, Keller psycologized to require careful cherishing to prove human respect to them and the lives of people who felt for their existence. Keller also uses an exceptional creativity and performance to ensure to meet his concerns by taking each ingredient and making exclusively captivating than before; his desire to make all he touches more perfect is wanting. Getting a meal in his restaurant is an exceptional experience due to the great food that was availed and his tendency to tell attention-grabbing stories throughout his cooking time.The author fortunately reflects comprehensible glimpse of the meaning of the title- the soul of a chef. He shows an understanding of the measurement ability and scope of a test using this to elucidate the expectations that come along with a good and great chef.The author, in his reflection on Michael Symon's Lola makes the following observation, "What I didn't realize at the time was that the sauce on the glass didn't matter, nor did it matter that the plates were spotted, the floor gritty. That's not what mattered here. All that mattered was that you felt good the instant you walked through the door
(p. 205). It is obviously why Ruhlman is the co-author of Heller's 'The French Laundry Cookbook' since am sure the essay was composed simultaneously to the cookbook. The reputation of Heller reputation is among foodies, so I won't dwell on it here.With regards to cooking Ruhlman notes that even though cooking is widely considered as and art he contradicts that and sees cooking as craft only and that this is because it is a humble one that gains a height of achievement through skills and careful refinements hence always a craft.Keller is known for his standards, Symon for his personality and Polcyn for his love of food. However, they are revealed by the author as having a similarity which is authored as crating joy in people.The author also reveals that some cook to get money, while others do it for necessity and that for a great cook, they do it because it drives them. It is against this that Ruhlman observes is probably why so several great and able chefs fail the Master Chef Exam. They, as authored, cook in a perverted setting just to please a team of judges. They are then asked of to take what they have done in their entire lives-largely seen as cooking for the sake of making people happy and put it aside to create an a fair environment for objective evaluation. The author humorously argues that their main connection to cooking is detached and this makes them feel like if there is a piece of their soul which has been missing from the exam.If a nation has non cooks with its populace cooking for money instead of willful and passionate options like other professions, is likely to breed mediocrity as revealed by Ruhlman. Where there is no basis of appreciation of the basics for food and its story, we may equally be served by robots due to the fact that the soul of a chef is missing.The chapter makes me to think about what produces an exceptional chef and the core of their soul. Readers are made to ask questions like, Do they I that talent and skill and if not, can I get it? What standards do I need to set for myself? How should I get the facts needed of me to be to be great? Why do I need greatness?The epilogue of the author reflects a summary of the time spent by Ruhlman in the company of these chefs. Central to this experience, ensues a conversation of Ruhlman and Keller. It is in deed among the points Bill Buford attempted to come to terms with in his book, Heat; we're becoming a nation of non-cooks. In fact, I salute a truth in this.For experts in foods, the book is an asset .Take for example the knowledge of making pasta Puttanesca which promotes an enjoyment of the story in the second chapter. For non-foodies, this book appeals with the same intimacy found in other eminent journalistic essays like Tracy Kidder's essay-'Soul of a New Machine'. The book has some recipes for modern foodies.