Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of Americaby Jonathan Dixon
Millions of people fantasize about leaving their old lives behind, enrolling in cooking school, and training to become a chef. But for those who make the decision, the difference between the dream and reality can be gigantic—especially at the top cooking school in the country. For the first time in the Culinary Institute of America’s history, a book will… See more details below
Millions of people fantasize about leaving their old lives behind, enrolling in cooking school, and training to become a chef. But for those who make the decision, the difference between the dream and reality can be gigantic—especially at the top cooking school in the country. For the first time in the Culinary Institute of America’s history, a book will give readers the firsthand experience of being a full-time student facing all of the challenges of the legendary course in its entirety.
On the eve of his thirty-eighth birthday and after shuffling through a series of unsatisfying jobs, Jonathan Dixon enrolled in the CIA (on a scholarship) to pursue his passion for cooking. In Beaten, Seared, and Sauced he tells hilarious and harrowing stories of life at the CIA as he and his classmates navigate the institution’s many rules and customs under the watchful and critical eyes of their instructors. Each part of the curriculum is covered, from knife skills and stock making to the high-pressure cooking tests and the daunting wine course (the undoing of many a student). Dixon also details his externship in the kitchen of Danny Meyer’s Tabla, giving readers a look into the inner workings of a celebrated New York City restaurant.
With the benefit of his age to give perspective to his experience, Dixon delivers a gripping day-to-day chronicle of his transformation from amateur to professional. From the daily tongue-lashings in class to learning the ropes—fast—at a top NYC kitchen, Beaten, Seared, and Sauced is a fascinating and intimate first-person view of one of America’s most famous culinary institutions and one of the world’s most coveted jobs.
A former odd-jobber and Martha Stewart Living staff writer records the highs and lows of studying at the Culinary Institute of America.
Just before turning 38, Dixon decided to veer from his aimless career path and pursue cooking, the passion of his youth, as a vocation. So he and his girlfriend boxed their urban life and moved to scenic Rhinebeck, N.Y., where he embarked on the two-year Associate of Occupational Studies program at the nearby Culinary Institute of America (CIA)—a place "like Disneyland for cooks." Knowing at the outset that he never wanted to own his own restaurant, Dixon's fears that his latest desire to become a chef was yet another form of vocational "escapism" and "indulgence" were only heightened upon meeting his classmates, many barely out of high school—as one notes, "my parents wanted me to come here instead of juvie"—others possessed of the same focus and drive as famous CIA alumni Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz. "The Muslims may have ninety-nine names for God," writes Dixon, "but at the CIA, there was pretty much just one: Keller." Filled with engaging journalistic details as his studies move from theory to practice, Dixon's acerbic account makes the CIA program sound like two years of protracted fraternity hazing, with 16-hour days and boot camp–like ego annihilation for weeks on end, coupled with an emphasis on collective success or failure in the kitchen. Throughout, the author waffles between self-doubt and confidence, gaining as much culinary knowledge—"For every end result, there are a dozen different ways to get there"—as personal introspection: "I knew I was too pigheaded to flourish in a situation where ceding control to others was required to truly learn and succeed."
Cheeky and informative, but may leave readers wondering whether this writer will ever know what he wants to be when he grows up.
--Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table
“Jonathan Dixon's talents are such that I simultaneously envied and pitied him while reading his book. He brings the trials of joining the rigorous Culinary Institute of America to terrifying life. I enjoyed the journey so much that I never wanted him to graduate.”
--Joe Garden, features editor of The Onion
“If you think culinary school is just about slicing and dicing, think again. Jonathan Dixon’s compelling, deeply personal account of his trial by fire at the Culinary Institute of America lays bare the physicality, politics, and soul-searching that are part and parcel of a cook’s education. Third-degree burns, public humiliation, and a bubble-bursting externship at a beloved New York City restaurant are just a few highlights of this coming-of-age journey that the author—insanely? commendably?—embarked on when he was nearly forty. He’s a better man than I.”
--Andrew Friedman, author of Knives at Dawn
“There are certain experiences in our lives that we never forget and help define who we are and what we become. The CIA is one of those life-changing experiences. I never thought it could be put into words until I read these pages. Congratulations, Jonathan, for both surviving and your ability to share this with the world.”
--Johnny Iuzzini, James Beard Award winner and author of Dessert FourPlay
“With an original and refreshing voice, Dixon excels at capturing the mixed emotions of promises delivered and denied as he challenges convention and conquers the odds. VERDICT Rock star chefs have added to the allure of culinary education, and Dixon’s vivid and honest portrayal should provide a reality check for fans of TV cooking competitions. Shelve this next to Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef for a well-rounded collection.”
“A companion of sorts to Michael Ruhlman’s more clinical The Making of a Chef (1997), Dixon’s candid course-by-course account charts his education as he gets whipped into shape by intimidating instructors (whose default temperaments seem to be near apoplectic) alongside classmates often half his age. …[A]s a writer he has the steady-tempoed, clarified ability to make his pages-long descriptions of crafting a test menu rival the drama of anything you’ll see on a competition cooking show.”
“Beaten, Seared, and Sauced, Jonathan Dixon's account of his chef-training at the CIA, is funny, gripping and immensely enjoyable. It reads like a picaresque novel.”
--The Wall Street Journal
From the Hardcover edition.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Meet the Author
JONATHAN DIXON—a former inspector of nurses’ shoes, janitor in a coffin factory, messenger, nanny, newspaper book and music critic, staff writer at Martha Stewart Living, and creative writing instructor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York—received his culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in 2010.
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