Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef

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What do Mario Batali, Heston Blumenthal, and Gordon Ramsay have in common? Answer: They all survived tours of duty in the kitchen of Marco Pierre White. In the UK, White's brilliant cooking and high-wattage antics have made him a legend: the first British chef (and the youngest chef anywhere) to win three Michelin stars, a chain-smoking, pot-throwing, multiply married culinary genius whose fierce devotion to food and restaurants has been the only constant in a life of tabloid-ready turmoil. In The Devil in the ...

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What do Mario Batali, Heston Blumenthal, and Gordon Ramsay have in common? Answer: They all survived tours of duty in the kitchen of Marco Pierre White. In the UK, White's brilliant cooking and high-wattage antics have made him a legend: the first British chef (and the youngest chef anywhere) to win three Michelin stars, a chain-smoking, pot-throwing, multiply married culinary genius whose fierce devotion to food and restaurants has been the only constant in a life of tabloid-ready turmoil. In The Devil in the Kitchen, he tells the story of his life in food, spanning his apprenticeship with Albert and Michel Roux, his wild years in the bacchanal of 1980s Chelsea, his ferocious pursuit of the highest Michelin rating, and his "retirement career" as a hugely successful restaurateur. With cameos from the likes of Michael Caine, Madonna, and Damien Hirst, The Devil in the Kitchen leaves no dish unserved, relating the backroom antics, the blood feuds, and the passion for great food that have driven London's greatest restaurants for decades.

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Editorial Reviews

David Kamp
The Devil in the Kitchen is a moving, unaffected, delightfully honest book. At times it’s almost sweet. The culinary memoir it most recalls is, of all things, Jacques Pépin’s Apprentice. Like Pépin, White grew up in a family that had little but an appreciation of good food. And like The Apprentice, White’s book has early moments of heartbreaking privation and loss that give way to a happy momentum — a dawning on the protagonist’s part and, eventually, on that of his bosses, peers and the public, that he is preternaturally gifted at cooking.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Reviewed byJames Oseland

The world's most celebrated chefs are divided into two opposing camps these days. In one, there are the do-gooder humanists like Alice Waters of Berkeley's Chez Panisse. In the other, there are the self-avowed holy terrors like Britain's Marco Pierre White, author of this plodding autobiography, co-written with James Steen and originally published in the U.K. in 2006 under the untoward title White Slave. An influential figure in English cooking in the 1980s and '90s, White built an empire of London restaurants that included Harveys (where he became the youngest chef—at age 28—to win two Michelin stars), Mirabelle and the Oak Room. Famous folks like Michael Caine and Prince Charles were admirers of White's smart, decadent interpretations of classic French dishes.

But while White was widely lauded for his culinary skill, it was his flamboyant temper that most frequently earned him headlines. An avowed proponent of tongue lashings (White calls them "bollockings") toward kitchen staff for all manner of infractions, the chef claims that such harsh behavior is justified in the pursuit of excellent dining. "If you are not extreme then people will take short cuts because they don't fear you," White explains. What he dubbed his "theatre of cruelty" extended beyond his kitchen. During White's glory years, getting thrown out of one of his establishments by the enfant terrible himself was considered a badge of honor by some Londoners. White recounts in the book one such eviction, of a patron who had criticized his meal: "Staring at this dwarfish, patronizing man... I found myself saying, 'Why don't you just f— off?'"

Scenes like this make upthe lion's share of The Devil in the Kitchen; indeed, after a point, they become dirge-like in their predictability. Why, I asked myself midway through this book—right around the time that my discomfort at White's antics gave way to boredom—would readers, much less diners, want to be in the company of such a gregariously antisocial character? As is the case with virtually any autobiography, the answer is that we are seeking a window into the subject's soul, no matter how, well, unsavory that subject might be. His book, unfortunately, provides no such insights, offering readers little more than a continual, atonal concerto of scuffles with customers and insults to co-workers. Please, I wanted to say to White as I was reading, stifle all that alpha male stuff and just cook. (May)

James Oseland is the editor-in-chief ofSaveur magazine and the author ofCradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia (Norton, 2006).

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596913615
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 5/8/2007
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.11 (w) x 9.80 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Marco Pierre White is the most decorated chef in English history and the youngest chef ever to win three Michelin stars. His London restaurant empire includes Belvedsere, Criterion, Drones, L'Escargot, Mirabelle, Quo Vadis, and the Frankies chain of pizzerias.

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Read an Excerpt

The Devil in the Kitchen

By Marco Pierre White James Steen


Copyright © 2007 Marco Pierre White
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-5969-1361-5

Chapter One

Off My Trolley

The cheese trolley was just on its way out when I spotted It. This was in the mid-nineties, one evening shortly before dinner service. I was standing at the passe-the counter where the plates are collected by the waiters-in my kitchen at the Restaurant Marco Pierre White at the Hyde Park Hotel in London. The trolley was on its way out to the dining room and six or eight cheeses were on it. There was nothing wrong with any of them-they were all beautifully ripe, plump and oozing-but I had a rule in the kitchen, and as the trolley was being wheeled past me, I noticed the rule had been broken.

The rule was simple: the cheese had to be the right size. In the afternoon, after lunch service, we would take a look at the cheese on the trolley and a decision was taken as to whether it needed replacing. If a particular cheese was substantial, the size of a dinner plate perhaps, and half of it had been eaten during lunch, then the remaining half would still be large enough to merit staying on the trolley, and before we opened for dinner, it would be trimmed up, ready for serving.

However, if a cheese was small to begin with, the size of a saucer, say, and half of it had been served at lunch, then the rule dictated that it would be taken off the trolley. So we would always have backupcheese, which we would take out of the fridge to ripen up between lunch and dinner. As cheese is traditionally the responsibility of front of house, it was the maître d'hôtel's task to replace the ones that had been hit hard over lunch.

The point was that I wanted to present a generous cheese trolley. If the presentation is not correct, then it looks mean and should not go out into the restaurant. It must be grand and generous rather than a mess of lots of little cheeses, and it had to be particularly grand and generous in my restaurant because I was Britain's highest-paid chef and running what was considered to be one of the nation's finest restaurants in what was certainly one of the world's most luxurious hotels.

But on this particular night when I was at the passe, I saw the trolley going out carrying a cheese that was too small. My easy-to-obey rule had been broken by the maître d', Nicolas. There was a cheese on that trolley that was two-thirds eaten. That is when I flipped.

I stopped Nicolas in his tracks and pointed at the trolley. "Where are you going with that?" I asked.

He knew something nasty was coming. I could see it in his eyes. "I'm taking it through, Marco."

"No, Nicolas. No, no, no, no, no, no. Fuck, no."

"Sorry, Marco."

"Not right, Nicolas. Not correct, not right. The fucking cheese is not fucking right."

"Sorry, Marco."

I picked up the first cheese. "Not right!" With all my might I threw it against the wall. It stuck to the tiles. I picked up the second cheese. "Not right!" I chucked it at the wall. Like the first, it was so wonderfully ripe that it splattered onto the tiles and remained glued to them. Then I hurled the remaining cheeses, one after another, at that wall. Splat after splat after splat-six or maybe eight times. The trolley was now empty, except for a cheese knife.

Most of the chefs looked down, carrying on with their work as if nothing had happened. Nicolas and a couple of cooks raced over to the wall, ready to pry off the cheeses and clear up the smelly mess. I shouted, "Leave them there. Leave them there. Leave them fucking there all night. No one is allowed to touch them." The cheeses had to stay on that wall all night so that whenever Nicolas came into the kitchen, he would see them glued to the white tiles (except for the Camembert, which snailed down to the floor). And he would never, ever make the mistake again.

It was extreme behavior, I accept that, but I was driving home a point, and if it's OK with you, I would like to put the incident into context. My restaurant at the Hyde Park Hotel was probably the most expensive restaurant in Britain. If you had the Foie Gras Surprise followed by the Lobster aux Truffes and then a pudding, you were looking at u85 for a three-course dinner. If you wanted the Sea Bass Caviar, you would have to pay a u50 supplement. How serious is that?

I had spent twenty years of my life building my reputation, and people-the customers, in other words-were paying for my knowledge. By then I had won three Michelin stars, and was the only British chef to have them, and my great belief was consistency. A three-star restaurant has to get things right, otherwise there's no point in doing them at all. How often have you been out for dinner and had a great starter and a great pudding but a weak main course?

I could not allow you to endure any weakness at the Hyde Park Hotel. Whatever it was, from the bread to the amuse-gueules, the starters to the fish course, the main course to the puddings, the coffee to the petits fours, the chocolates to the cheese, it all had to be consistently of the highest standard.

Everything had to be right. Even the taste and temperature of the soup had to be checked. It had to be hot, which might sound like an obvious point, but how many of us have ordered a soup that comes out tepid? I'm not happy with that and I don't think you would be. If you're not consistent, you'll never go from one to two stars or two to three.

The cheese on the wall sent out a message to everyone working that night, from the youngest boy in the kitchen carrying food and serving bread to the maître d' bringing in an order. Every single member of the kitchen staff had to look at the cheese, glued to the wall by its ripeness, whenever they came to the passe. An eighteen-year-old commis-an assistant chef-walks into the kitchen to collect a tray, he walks past it, he sees it and it's imprinted in his memory forever. You have to deliver the message that they must never take a shortcut. You can't just say, "Come on, boys, let's try to get it right." That just won't work. If you are not extreme, then people will take shortcuts because they don't fear you. And to achieve and retain the very highest standards, day after day, meal after meal, in an environment as difficult and fast and chaotic as a restaurant kitchen, is extreme, well, in the extreme.

Looking back, I don't think I could have done it any other way. My pursuit for excellence went way beyond a passion for food. I was a man obsessed. I had to be the best and in order to do that I would have to win three Michelin stars. To explain: the Michelin Guide is the little red book that was first published by André Michelin in 1900 in France and today is updated every January. To every great chef in Europe-and since 2006, New York City-it is known as "the bible"; its rating can make or break careers, restaurants, even entire towns. Three stars, the guide's highest rating, means that your place serves "exceptional cuisine" and is "worth a special journey," but that's an amazing understatement. A restaurant with three Michelin stars is a monument to the highest-the most extreme-expression of the art of cooking. At the time of writing, only fifty-four restaurants in the whole of Europe have three stars. When I won mine, I became the first British chef-and the world's youngest-ever to achieve such an accolade.

It was my dream, and I didn't get there entirely by throwing cheese on the wall. And unlike many of the other winners in the Michelin lottery, I didn't get there through Paris, France. My story begins a couple of hundred miles north of London, in Leeds, where I was born on December 11, 1961. Don't be fooled by the first two names. I am neither from Italy nor France, but a Yorkshireman born and bred.

Chapter Two

Blue Skies over Leeds

Dad was a chef too, and the son of a chef. I can't tell you much about the old man's abilities because I never saw him cook in a professional kitchen, but at home we always ate well. We'd have steak and kidney pie, shepherd's pie, boiled beef and dumplings. It was good traditional English comfort food. For tea on Friday, Dad would serve us pork chops and treat himself to a steak. We rarely had tinned food in the house because back in those days it was expensive, very much a middle-class thing. The usual sort of tinned foods-baked beans, soups, mushy peas-we made ourselves. Rhubarb crumbles would be made from the fruit in our tiny garden. The mint for mint sauce, again, came from the garden rather than a shop. Dad had lived through wartime food rationing, which had lasted into the fifties, and as a result I think his obsession was to ensure that we were fed well. When I was a hundred yards from my house, I could have closed my eyes and followed the smell of cooking to get me home. We might not have had much of anything else, but we always had lots of food.

As a professional, the old man would have had a good apprenticeship at the Griffin Hotel in Leeds, the hotel where he had met my mother back in the fifties. He had also worked at the Queens Hotel, that landmark beside the Leeds railway station. He would tell me stories of a brilliant French chef, Paul La Barbe, who worked in that kitchen but had trained in the grand restaurants of Paris. In the stories, Paul was a gifted chef who worked with speed and had that lightness of touch. I don't remember specifics about Paul's abilities but I was left with the feeling that cooking could produce passion. Other fathers might have told their kids impressive stories about American superheroes but I got the stuff about the French supercook and I loved hearing about him.

How do I think Dad would have fared in the kitchen? Well, he was organized and routined in his daily life; cooking being an extension of the person, I'd say that in his day he was probably a highly competent, disciplined cook. He would not have been a creative man; creativity wasn't a requirement in those days. Chefs rarely moved away from buffet work. In every professional kitchen there was that tiny book, Le Répertoire de La Cuisine, containing six thousand brief, concisely written recipes from hors d'oeuvres to pastries. There are no pictures in Le Répertoire to help the cook know how to serve a dish, but its recipes are invaluable. Written by Louis Saulnier and inspired by the great French chef Auguste Escoffier, Le Répertoire told you, for instance, dozens of ways to serve potatoes, from Algerienne (puréed sweet potatoes, mixed with chestnut purée, thickened with egg yolk, shaped into a quoit, dipped in egg and bread crumbs, and then fried in clarified butter) right through to Pommes Voisin (layers of sliced potato, bit of clarified butter, into the oven to cook and for color, out of the oven, grated cheese on top). Chefs did not stray from the recipes and were rarely adventurous. In Dad's time most restaurants served the same food: Répertoire-type dishes like lamb cutlets and kidneys with mustard.

After the Queens he'd become the canteen manager at Jonas Woodheads in Leeds, and sometimes I would go to meet him with my brother Clive. His cooks and waiters would be quietly working away to feed hundreds of people every day. The place was always spotless and clean, the tables were lined up beautifully and not a single chair was out of place. It was regimented and perhaps, in this respect, he was a perfectionist.

We lived-my father, mother, two brothers and I-in a two-bedroom, semidetached house on a housing estate in Moor Allerton, about five miles outside the center of Leeds. It was predominately Jewish and working class, with a warm community spirit-one of those places where the women would stand outside the shops chatting about the latest developments in Britain's favorite TV soap, Coronation Street. Hundreds of small houses lined the roads that were mostly named Lingfield something-or-other. If I came out of my house and turned left, I'd come to Moor Allerton golf course and, beyond that, the woods of the Harewood estate. If I came out of my home, turned right and strolled down to the bottom of the road, I'd reach the parade of shops on Lingfield Drive. There was the newsagent shop, which was run by two women who had lost their husbands in the war. There was the Jewish bakery and Tom Atkins, the veg man. There was the fish man and the butcher, whose afternoon custom was to sweep up the sawdust, wash the floor and then, and only then, give his dog a bone to chew on the pavement outside. The off-license was run by Harry Baker, and like other kids on the estate, I would sneak to the back of his shop, pinch the empties from crates and then go in through the front door with the bottles and reclaim the deposit. The parade is shabby today, but then it was the hub of our community.

We would take family holidays to Bridlington, the seaside resort in Yorkshire, which was windy and damp but heaving with people who couldn't afford to go abroad for a break.

My mother was Italian. She was tall, beautiful and elegant. She spent her days cooking and making patchwork quilts with her cherished Singer sewing machine. She was one of those women who always looked good. If she was wearing cutoff jeans and flat-soled shoes, she still seemed chic. When she got dressed up, she'd wear a cameo brooch in her lapel.

I had holidays with my mother in Genoa, where her side of the family lived and where she had grown up-before coming to England and being chatted up in the bar of the Griffin Hotel by a young chef called Frank White. I have happy recollections of those Italian vacations, picking fruit from the trees, fishing in the streams, making early-morning walks to collect goat's milk from a nearby farm. I remember sitting in the kitchen at home in Moor Allerton, watching her cook simple but delicious pasta dishes: sweating onions in olive oil, adding tomato purée, adding a little more olive oil-the comforting scent warming the room.

At lunchtime she'd collect me and my best friend, Geoffrey Spade, from school and take us back to our place for lunch. She'd make us treats of chunky banana sandwiches and then treat herself to well-sugared Camp coffee, the closest thing to espresso that England had to offer. She was a compassionate woman, a good mother.

It was, I suppose, a childhood just like anyone else's: neighbors, family, food, sport, the outdoors. If it had gone on as it started, I might not have grown up tough enough to excel in the kitchen, and you might not be reading this book. But it didn't. One Saturday, February 17, 1968, when I was just a lad aged six, things changed and life would never be the same.

Dad and I had spent that morning in St. James's Hospital. A few weeks before, I had run into the door handle at the newsagent's just down the road and cut myself near my eye. We'd had the stitches removed and gone back home. We were sitting there in the front room when Mum came in, complaining that she felt unwell. Ten days earlier she had given birth to her fourth son, baby Craig, and up until that moment she had seemed fine. There had been no noticeable symptoms, no obvious signs. Now, suddenly, her head was splitting and she could hardly stand. My father called for an ambulance. What followed remains a vivid picture in my mind. I remember it better than I remember yesterday.

... I am standing at a windowsill in our council home. My brother Clive, six years my senior, is at my side and we are looking through the glass, down onto the pavement below.

The ambulance is parked. And there is my mother, a blanket is wrapped around her and she is sitting in a wheelchair. She is being put into the ambulance. An ambulance man turns to my father and says, "Bring the baby." A baby needs a mother.

My father is standing there, dressed smartly in a gray suit. He is holding Craig, the youngest of the family. Ten days old.

Crisp, blue sky. Bright sunshine.

"Bring the baby," the ambulance man repeats. "He'll need feeding." My father climbs in with Craig, who looks very snug and warm, wrapped up in a cozy white blanket.

Bang! Doors close, engine starts. The exhaust pipe pukes a dark cloud. The ambulance drives away, up the hill, out of sight.

Every night for the next few nights Dad would give us our dinner before heading off to the hospital to see Mum. After the visit he'd return quite late, bringing bags of sweets for his boys and telling us, "These are from Mum." She'd had a brain hemorrhage, but if he knew she was going to die, he never let on.


Excerpted from The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White James Steen Copyright © 2007 by Marco Pierre White. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Off My Trolley     1
Blue Skies over Leeds     5
Gambling, Greyhounds and Grief     10
I Delivered (the Milk)     17
The George     24
Black and White into Color     35
It Was Meant to Be     46
The Boss of Bosses     53
Dining with the Bear     64
Raymond Blanc: The Oxford Don     73
White-Balled     85
Coming Home     92
The Christening     101
Beautiful Doll     120
No Bill, No Mink     134
Banged Up and Butchered     148
Not a Lot of People Know This     157
The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me     164
The Dream Becomes Reality     171
Just Another Day     184
Everything I'd Worked For     196
Blue Skies over Leeds, Again     201
Rough Seas     205
Letting Go of Status     214
Life Without the Props     221
Acknowledgments     233
Index     235
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2007

    A reviewer

    I had the pleasure of meeting the ¿rock star chef¿ at a reading in NYC and he does not disappoint. He is deliciously salty and it is no wonder he has garnered the reputation that he has. Marco¿s love and respect for food is absolute. He is a dying breed. The majority of today¿s celebrity chefs are not in their kitchens at all, but orchestrating them from afar and that distance results in the sacrifice of the preparation, cooking, presentation and passion. On that note, as illuminating as it was to learn about his rise as a 3 stared Michelin chef, the second half of the book rambled on and seemed more like an opportunity for Marco to make peace with the conflicting moments in his past with people, places and things. Making peace is very cathartic but in this case, not the best reading. Thanks Marco for signing my book and for your cooking tips¿ I appreciate your comment about the obligatory use of pepper by most cooks to seasons their dishes- just plain wrong and for the advice on cooking vegetables, my broccoli is Spring incarnate.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2009

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