Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review: Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner by Lauren Shockey

Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Parisby Lauren Shockey
Received ARC from NetGalley

Grade: B-

Summary: At the French Culinary Institute, Lauren Shockey learned to salt food properly, cook fearlessly over high heat, and knock back beers like a pro. But she also discovered that her real culinary education wouldn't begin until she actually worked in a restaurant. After a somewhat disappointing apprenticeship in the French provinces, Shockey hatched a plan for her dream year: to apprentice in four high-end restaurants around the world. She started in her hometown of New York City under the famed chef Wylie Dufresne at the molecular gastronomy hotspot wd-50, then traveled to Vietnam, Israel, and back to France. From the ribald kitchen humor to fiery-tempered workers to tasks ranging from the mundane (mincing cases of shallots) to the extraordinary (cooking seafood on the line), Shockey shows us what really happens behind the scenes in haute cuisine, and includes original recipes integrating the techniques and flavors she learned along the way. With the dramatic backdrop of restaurant life, readers will be delighted by the adventures of a bright and restless young woman looking for her place in the world.

Review: A well-written and engaging book, but unfortunately, the writing doesn’t do much to make the writer terribly likable. Ms. Shockey portrays herself as nearly faultless - every restaurant seems to think her the best stage ever to work there, all offer her a job - or comment that she’s obviously going far better places than staying in the kitchen with them. The book would have benefited greatly from a degree of humility about things more than inexperience and a dimming down of the self-satisfaction that fills the writing. It seems apparent that the author is used to writing blog posts and articles - what can pass in a short piece grows grating over the length of a memoir.

However the different cultures - restaurant and country - portrayed are very interesting. I definitely enjoyed seeing how the different kitchens were run and how the different chefs approached their work. As a Top Chef fan, I especially enjoyed the look into Wylie Dufresne’s restaurant.

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