The Soul of a Chef

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Joined Aug 11, 2000
I've recently finished reading The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection by Michael Ruhlman (Viking, HB, ISBN 0-670-89155-X) and found it to be one of the most enjoyable books I've read. It's about (among other things) a fairly deep exploration into the CMC test at the CIA and focus' on three Chef's in particular: Brian Polcyn, Michael Symon, and Thomas Keller. Anthony Bourdain gave it a "thumbs up" in the NYTimes Book Review a month ago or so which prompted me to read it. Has anyone else read this book? Thoughts/comments?
 
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Joined Sep 28, 1999
Great book. I'm about 2/3 of the way through and I'm bummed it has to end. I also read "The Making of a Chef" by the same author. It was excellent as well.
 
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Joined Jul 30, 2000
Yes, Cremaster, read it - liked it. One of the main things I got out of the book was - when the author realized that cooking was (or, at least, could be) more than "a set of skills." It could actually approach an art form. There seemed to be (to me) lots of passion for cooking, and plenty of room for individuality. The book was a very good follow-up for his "The making of a Chef." Glad you liked it ... Bayou
 
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Joined Aug 11, 2000
I completely agree. It was frustrating to read Keller's opinion about why cooking is craft and not an art without explaining WHY he feels this way. Perhaps he did and the editor cut it for some reason. I'm not sure about the French Laundry cookbook promotional aspect but I can see your point. I might agree if the FL cookbook were published by the same publisher or one of their imprints. But it's not. Still, a good book and well worth the read.
 
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Joined Sep 28, 1999
I agree with Ruhlman, Keller and Anthony Bourdain about it not being an art, but rather a craft. I look at cooking to be more like building fine pieces furniture or cathedrals, as Bourdain says in his book. There are blueprints for cathedrals, layouts for furniture, recipes for veal stock. These plans may vary slightly from person to person, but they all have fundamental principles they are based upon. But there is no recipe, layout or blueprint to paint a 4x6 canvas. It’s inspiration, and regardless of the outcome, you can call it “art”.

Just like building a cathedral, with food there are ways you do things, many ways you don’t. You can get away with too many things in art, too many opinions, too many variables, no boundaries. With art, for the most part, it needs to be atheistically pleasing, and that’s about the only role it plays. Food, like a craft, has a much larger role. It should look good, but more importantly, it should taste good. As with building fine furniture, it has to look good, but the dresser you just bought must also have perfectly working drawers. If not, it should have remained a tree.

A year or so ago, an artist did a portrait of Mother Mary “painted” with manure, and touted it as “art”. If I put together food that tasted like that Mother Mary looked, what would I tell the customer? It’s art? I believe in a short period I would be referring to myself as a “starving artist”. I think food is much bigger than art.
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Joined Oct 12, 1999
Havent you heard of painting by number!...just kidding
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I think I would like to check this book out.
 
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Joined Sep 28, 1999
didn't mean to kill the topic.

[This message has been edited by theloggg (edited September 27, 2000).]
 
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Joined Aug 18, 1999
Ruhlman has become one of my favorite and most inspirational food writers. I have read both his books more than once and a number of articles he has written. The latest is in Gourmet magazine - a biographical essay about Rocco DiSpirito who is generally considered New York's most creative young chef.
Ruhlman stresses the importance of the preparation of stocks in all his writings. I think what he might mean when he talks about cooking being a craft rather than an art is that mastering the basic preparations is of primary importance. I would agree with him on that just as I would agreec with others here that once the basics are mastered cooking most certainly becomes an art. If it were not every chef would cook the same dishes in the same way and food would become incredibly boring.
 
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Joined Aug 8, 2000
I just finished this book, and a quick read it was--it was so interesting!! What I liked was the profile of three very different personalities using the same medium to express themselves. I like hearing about a chef's life so I can understand their food better. The book made me wanna go to the French Laundry even more. And I was happy Ruhlman included recipes from each chef. Although I was bummed the recipe for the seafood terrine from the first section wasn't included.
 
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