The Soul of a CHEF
It is good. It is thick, no doubt, but good.
Ruhlman has earned his keep as a culinary journalist, having focused his interest on the plight of chefs, he has made his mark. WHAT makes a chef? What is the motivation, the measure, the conjecture? WHY be a chef? WHO has earned that name, HOW do you achieve mastery of chef-ness? These burning questions follow Ruhlman, make him pause, push him.
This book is divided into thirds. There are three separate chefs or experiences to follow, three different angles to address these questions. I don't believe it was his goal to marry these three parts; they stand alone in their story and journalistic research of individual paths to chef-dom. You the reader may make conclusions, can nod your head individually or consummately for each part.
The first part follows the Certified Master Chef Exam. Ten grueling days of tests; perhaps meant to break you. Stress is thicker than roux and adds glutenous tension to tyrannically rated tests. One must possess infinite and often obscure bits of culinary knowledge, cooking precision above all others, perfect skills and timed trials. The percentage of chefs passing their first attempt, is minuscule. Only certain personalities and a marriage to perfection, will prevail. And some do. And they earn culinary honor, boosted resumes and the knowledge that according to this test, they are the best of the best. Some souls require---and are inspired---by that proof.
Others do not.
The second slice of the book follows a very successful chef, who went to culinary school, graduated and then mapped his own path. Michael Symon is unconventional, not following specific rules. He is colloquial in his approach, gregarious in form and a top-notch chef. But he does not succumb to uptight rules or emulating any chef before him; he would not consider taking The Exam. For him, it is about good food---which isn't necessarily synonymous with precision food. He cooks from his soul, and his soul is his own, different than the next. Sleeves rolled high, the soul of this chef oozes right down his arms and into his hands, and ultimately into his food.
The third part fills in a different wedge. It is about a chef whose soul is disciplined and knowledgable, with very high, self applied standards. No culinary school, no Certified Master Chef Exam; Thomas Keller (French Laundry) is considered one of the best chefs in the country. Self-motivated, self-taught, insatiably curious; his culinary soul may be synonomous with Beethoven's comprehension of the piano. He has a gift, one he trained and pushed and easily maintains. This slice of the book follows him, studies him and adores him. And why shouldn't it?
Ruhlman has made a mark in food writing, one that includes hard questions and thick answers, one that causes us to question and think and try to comprehend the role of, the call to and the very soul of a chef.