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.