The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection

The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection

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by Michael Ruhlman

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In his second in-depth foray into the world of professional cooking, Michael Ruhlman journeys into the heart of the profession. Observing the rigorous Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, the most influential cooking school in the country, Ruhlman enters the lives and kitchens of rising star Michael Symon and renowned Thomas Keller of

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In his second in-depth foray into the world of professional cooking, Michael Ruhlman journeys into the heart of the profession. Observing the rigorous Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, the most influential cooking school in the country, Ruhlman enters the lives and kitchens of rising star Michael Symon and renowned Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. This fascinating book will satisfy any reader's hunger for knowledge about cooking and food, the secrets of successful chefs, at what point cooking becomes an art form, and more. Like Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, this is an instant classic in food writing-one of the fastest growing and most popular subjects today.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
....The Soul of the Chef is a lively blend of reportage, reflection and recipes.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this follow-up to his cooking school odyssey, The Making of a Chef, Ruhlman examines what causes chefs to seek absolute perfection. The book is divided into three parts: in the first, Ruhlman observes the arduous Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, which was the setting for his first book. The second segment focuses on Michael Symon, a rising star at Lola (in Cleveland) who was recently dubbed one of the 10 best chefs in America by Food & Wine. The third is dedicated to Thomas Keller, chef of California's esteemed French Laundry. While Ruhlman's play-by-play descriptions of chefs struggling to cook exactly as Escoffier dictated 90 years earlier can be exciting (and the stories of those who failed heartbreaking), they strongly echo his previous book's account of culinary education. The author fares better in his portrait of Keller's development into an exacting perfectionist. But even here Ruhlman often slips into simply writing about the process of working on The French Laundry Cookbook, to which he contributed the text, or repeating stories that appear in it. Overall this book makes a fine introduction to Ruhlman's writing, but readers of his previous books will be disappointed to find the chef reheating leftovers. (July) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Writer and trained chef Ruhlman (The Making of a Chef) claims to be searching for the essence of what drives a great chef. In 1997, he attended the Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, the most grueling, comprehensive, and controversial cooking test in America. He observes and interviewed, among others, Bryan Polcyn of Five Lakes Grill in Michigan. Next he moved to Cleveland to report on another star chef, Michael Symon of the Lola Bistro and Wine Bar. The third section of his book concerns Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in the Napa Valley, called by many the best chef working in America today. Each section of the book is fascinating in itself, especially the introductory section on the Certified Master Chef exam, an ordeal of almost hellish intensity. Unfortunately, his search for "the soul of a chef" is laid over what are essentially three separate pieces. Less than the sum of its part, the book will eventually test anyone's patience for reading page after page of menus and description of nouvelle cuisine creations. An appendix offers a selection of recipes from each chef profiled. Recommended for large public libraries.--Tom Cooper, St. Louis P.L., MO Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Anthony Bourdain
Ruhlman sets out to . . . delve so deeply into the hearts and minds of a few select chefs that he may discover the essence of haute cuisine. Amazingly enough, he succeeds -- by turning his investigation into an adventure story . . .
The New York Times Book Review
Internet Bookwatch
The author's prior Making Of A Chef became a cult classic in 1997; Soul of a Chef is a companion volume further exploring the world of professional cooking, blending an autobiography with insights into what it takes to become a top-ranking chef in the industry. From his experiences with three distinctive chefs to his attempts to understand culinary and restaurant success and failure, Soul of a Chef is a revealing winner.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.43(w) x 8.37(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Part One

Certified Master Chef Exam (or the Objective Truth of Great Cooking)

Chapter One

Chef Dieter Doppelfeld leads the way to kitchen station four, followed by two men in lab coats with clipboards. Brian Polcyn stands before these men attentive but at ease in a paper toque and chef's whites. He has set his stainless steel table with cutting board, slicing knife, bain-marie insert filled with hot water, and latex gloves.

The day before the Certified Master Chef examination began I arrived at the office of Tom Peer, food and beverage director at the Culinary Institute of America, the nation's most prominent cooking school. Peer was for years the executive chef at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh, and he was now the certification chairman for the American Culinary Federation, a trade organization representing tens of thousands of chefs. Peer oversaw the master chef certification program.

This grueling cooking test, simply the idea of it, had completely captivated me, and it would become for me the beginning of a two-year immersion in the work of the American chef and professional cooking. But for a long while I couldn't get to the core of my fascination with the CMC exam. I asked Peer and Doppelfeld why they thought this test was important. Doppelfeld explained that this profession, the profession of chef in America, was relatively young. For most of its history the United States imported great chefs; we did not train our own because we didn't have anyone to do the training; the country didn't even have a cuisine it could call its own or any kind of tradition to speak of, beyond the home ec-style teachings of Fannie Farmer, perhaps, or the worldwide impact of McDonald's-style fast food. Yet in the past fifty years, most noticeably in the past two decades, the culinary scene had exploded. Cooks had become chefs, and chefs had become celebrities. Food magazines proliferated. National and local radio shows devoted to food filled the air on weekends. An entire television network was created to broadcast food and cooking shows twenty-four hours a day. Restaurants were becoming as famous as Broadway shows. And the work itself-once the labor of the lower classes-had become fashionable. Parents, once proud to say that their child had entered law school, now boasted that their child was in culinary school. An industry that was still young, huge and growing ($336 billion in overall food service sales in 1998, $376 billion expected in 2000) needed recognized standards of uncompromised excellence, standards that were acknowledged by everyone. The Certified Master Chef exam aimed to create exactly that.

—Reprinted from The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman by permission of Viking Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Michael Ruhlman. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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Soul of a Chef: The Journey Towards Perfection 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a cook and I don't read much else except cookbooks. This is one book I tore through in a night. I couldn't put it down no joke!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Picked up this on a whim and could not put it down! Can't wait to pick up his previous book
Guest More than 1 year ago
Micheal Ruhlman's book has lots of useful information about the life of a chef. The book at first gave me quite a thrill for I had never heard much about the Master Chef Exam before. Later however the book brought on confusion. I honestly liked the book but orignally thought that the book was only about the Master Chef Exam. I find a theme of the worth of the exam does last throughout however. I find this book very enlightening and recommend it for all readers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is an outstanding book. This book show the reader how a true chef has a passion to cook. It also shows how a chef must be really dedicated to his or her work. This book is based on the Certified Master Chef exam. I recommend this book to the die hard cooks and chefs. It is a very interesting book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am Board Certified in my profession, and I read this book because of its first part, about the Certified Master Chef exam. I know what it's like to voluntarily subject yourself to the competition of your colleagues and possible humiliation at the hands of a bunch of academics. Mr Ruhlman gives us an insider's view of these culinary professionals at work -- hard work! -- for no other reason than the satisfaction of getting it right. It is still refreshing, that great chefs sometimes haven't memorized all classic cuisine or its techniques, don't know how to make rice, forget ingredients, mess up their knifemanship, etc. The middle third of the book is about a "hot" midwestern restaurant, trying to stay ahead of the game, trying to get a name, and, maybe maybe maybe, trying to make a living. The conclusion is a wondrous portrait of Thomas Keller and the mythic "French Laundry" in Napa, which might be as close to the Platonic ideal of refined food as we can conceive. (Note that author Ruhlman is the ghostwriter for the "French Laundry Cookbook" -- q.v.) This book is a lot of fun: it didn't make me hungry, but did instead make me want to go to my own kitchen and cook!
Guest More than 1 year ago
You don't need to be a culinary professional to enjoy this book. Just someone who eats! A wonderful and insightful read. I will never look at restaurant food in the same way again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a story that is really three stories that are still only one story. The CMC exam section explains the breadth and depth necessary for chefs to begin thinking about being distinguished in a field with many stellar performers. The stories of the candidates and why they succeed or fail is theoretical prelude to a pragmatic view of them in the real world. The details of the exam and the notions of the examiners show the difference between the rigidly classical French cuisine and what actually happens in a living restaurant. The first two sections are the background against which the profile of Thomas Keller as archetype brings the disparate elements of the other two stories together. They are all facets of the same gem. Ruhlman's observations and conclusions about the chefs he profiles ties it into a neat package; a full circle that is finally self-referential. What is the soul of a chef? What is the nature of the elusive perfection they each seek? By the end of the book, you'll know. The writing sings and soars and lands smack-on. Smart views of kitchen-condition stuff that I could identify with because I've done it. And he shows the prices that the strivers have to pay for doing it all the right way. Ruhlman illustrates the passion and shows what it can do and what it can't. Anyone working in a kitchen needs to read it to see how they measure up and how much they still need to learn. Anyone who eats in restaurants needs to read it to see what it takes to get a dish in front of them. It's a good read for the information, the adventure, and the fire in the spirit it takes to be great.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After 35 years in this honorable profession, this is the first time I've seen a book that captures the true essence of real world-class American chefs. I've worked all the stations, sweated the line when deep in the weeds, owned and managed my own 'cutting edge' restaurant, lost same to unscrupulous partners, and never once have given up on the reason to be a chef - the food, damnit, the food! To 'foodies' that want to know why we do this, over and over again, why our food is so different from theirs - no matter how hard they try, and why some of us do make a difference, read this wonderful book. Michael's observations at the CIA (of which a few of my young budding chefs have addended - and some are still attending), his feel of the 'spirit' of a restaurant in Cleveland, his insight into the soul of Thomas Keller's French Laundry, all remind me daily of the reason why this hard, hard profession has endured. Michael has captured the very real aspects of those exceptional chefs among us that have managed to step outside the traditional and accepted boundries to forge their own uncharted way into the world of craftsmanship that most of us would like to imagine we could - if only we could. To those enterprising young chefs starting out on their precipitous journey, read this book, read it again, and when you're sick of boning fish, can't stand the sight of another artichoke to be peeled, hate the nightly cleaning and prep for tomorrow, tired from the heat and the pressure, read it again. Whenever your spirit flags and you find yourself wondering if you've made the right career choice, read it again! Congratulations Mr. Ruhlman, from all of us who still fight the good fight. A wonderul work!
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading The Soul of a Chef I was once more reminded why I entered into this field. I truly love my Profession. Micheal has caught the sometimes painful and demanding lifestyle of being a Chef and has given new life and insight to those of us who work in this business daily. I truly recommend this book to everyone who loves food and has a passion for it. This book allows you to travel further into the world of culinary arts than your Favorite Chef on TV. A Must Read...
Guest More than 1 year ago
The is potentially very enlightening. I was hoping to gain a leg up on the exam via Rhulman's experience but his efforts to be informative are frustrated by opinion and speculation regarding the 'validity' of the test itself and particularly his own eprsonal culinary feelings. Overall, however Rhulman has provided and herein proliforated an interesting view into the world of the AFC certainly worth acknowledgement by any professional.