Alex reviews: Sous Chef

By Michael Gibney
Published on March 2014
Published by Ballantine Books
Source: Purchased
The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.

In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.

I don't usually start my reviews this way, but this book is so unique that it deserves a unique blog.  Sous Chef delivers exactly what it promises.  This is a spot on representation of the daily life of a sous chef.  If you know anyone that's worked in a restaurant, or anyone that watches the cooking reality shows (Top Chef), you know that it is a demanding career.  This book covers it all, from morning to following morning.

Alot of the sequences in this book cross over into what I do (nearly) every day.  From starting early in the day on prep for that evening, only to be assigned specials to complete just hours before the doors open to having a cook have an emergency in the middle of dinner and having to step in for them.  The absolute controlled chaos that chefs so lovingly refer to as "service"  is explained wonderfully. Of course, no one can forget the post service activities and bonding that take place with the entire kitchen team at a local bar, where everyone can be themselves outside of the kitchen.

I'll leave you with my favorite quote from Sous Chef.  It is the narrator's thoughts on what it means to work in a professional kitchen and to put out good food.  It echoes my thoughts:  It's all about the 'guest.'

"But don't you feel like we lose sight of that?  Like, when we get all caught up trying to 'earn' it, we forget that we are simply here to feed people?  And if we forget that, then what is all this hard work for?  To impress Chef?  To satisfy ourselves?  And if that's the case, isn't professional cooking just another form of enlightened self-interest?"

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