Book Review – Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line

Published on: March 12, 2014 | Last Updated on March 19, 2014
Sous Chef By Michael Gibney

Sous Chef By Michael Gibney

Whether you’re a home cook or a foodie, if you ever wondered how the staff of an upscale restaurant is able to churn out 300 complicated meals on one busy Friday night, you’ll enjoy reading Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney (Random House, 2014).

In a vein reminiscent of Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky (an expose of what goes on behind the front desk in the hotel industry), Gibney offers readers a peek behind the swinging doors of the restaurant kitchen and lays bare the lives of “restaurant people.” He explains that the group “speak the same language, enjoy the same customs…work with the same sense of urgency, the same motivation.”

“Cooking is the last true meritocracy,” he writes. “All that matters is how well you can do the job.”

The author takes his readers through a fictionalized account of 24 hours of toil in an upscale Manhattan restaurant based on a composite of the real thing and introduces you to the cast of characters.

As you read, you’re bound to learn a few things about cooking, ordering, kitchens and restaurants that you might not have known. For example:

  • Cooks wear black and white hounds tooth pants because they camouflage stains.
  • On a menu, the wording of dishes is intentionally obscure because it offers the diner an element of surprise when the plate arrives at the table.
  • If you order the “special of the day,” it’s somewhat akin to ordering unsold leftovers.
  • When you’re cooking fish, you have the best chance of success when you have a thick piece closer to the head (rather than the tail).

At the back, a seductive and rather lengthy glossary of cooking terms subconsciously challenges you to test yourself to see what you know. (Had I known it was there before I started reading, I could have done a before and after.)

Having been in the industry since the age of 16, the author has worked in many well-known kitchens in New York City. But in addition to his experience and understanding of the industry, he is a gifted writer with an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University.

The book is a fast read fueled by the speed, precision, and intensity of the kitchen rhythms Gibney describes. When you’ve finished the book, you will feel like a more informed—and appreciative—diner.

Disclosure: We were provided with a copy of this book for review by the publisher but any opinions expressed in this post are our own.

This post is part of a linkup on Marcia Maynes’ Foodie Tuesdays.


  • Reply
    March 14, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    I’m going to add this to my reading. I must after reading the comment about “the daily special” I may not go for the daily special ever again! 🙂

  • Reply
    March 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

    My son is one step away from ascending to this coveted position. Our conversations are incredibly interesting with me learning so much about a world I previously knew little about. I can’t decide whether to read the book myself or order one for him. 🙂

    Probably both!

    Really interesting review, thank you!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      March 17, 2014 at 11:10 am

      I think you should have him read it first, then you—then have a dialogue:-)

  • Reply
    March 18, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    This sounds like a fun read, especially the tips. Good one on the fish. Unfortunately, I’ll never order the special again.
    Thanks for linking up this week, Irene!
    Hope you have a great rest of the week.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      March 19, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Thanks for visiting and sponsoring Foodie Tuesday, Marcia!

  • Reply
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo
    March 19, 2014 at 7:00 am

    This sounds like an interesting book but I was amazed to hear about the special of the day. I live in France and it couldn’t be more different to daily specials here. In France it really is what the chef has found in the market that morning that inspired him/her to create. It’s certainly not leftovers. What a different take on things! I certainly prefer the French version and will think twice about ordering it in US. #FoodieTuesday

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      March 19, 2014 at 8:48 am

      I’m sure it’s not always the case but I do think there is more of an emphasis on fresh, local foods in France—although I read recently that it is changing, unfortunately.

  • Reply
    Jackie Smith
    March 19, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Love these kind of ‘behind-the-scenes’ looks so will add this to my reading list. And I will pay far more attention to the daily specials!

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