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Four Chef-ish Books on Cooking Lives and Kitchens

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Jessi Lewis

Staff Writer

Jessi Lewis has her MFA in fiction and an MA in Writing and Rhetoric. She was one of the founding editors of Cheat River Review and now works to bring her own fiction, poetry and essays to eyes each month.     Twitter: @jessiwrit

blood bones and butterWhen I tried out Prune restaurant in NYC a few months ago, I was so excited by the interior of that restaurant alone. First of all– I don’t get to eat this kind of food too often (If I had no budget controls, I could eat sweet breads all day). Before I even got to the food, the interior of this place made me so happy. The restaurant was so simple, so tiny, so suitable for what Gabrielle Hamilton is going for in the comfort and casual quality of a restaurant. Later, when I read her memoir, Blood Bones and Butter:The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, it was clear that Hamilton’s childhood of making it on her own has shaped her food, her resourcefulness and her outlook. I had this lovely realization then that her book made me connect with her food in a different way. I had the deviled dark meat chicken and it made me very happy. Now, after consuming the book too, I have a different connotation of her food altogether.
Love to try new foods about chefs and the cooking life too? Check out books for people who love to spread their gastro-wings (so-to-speak). And note, these aren’t recipe books, though sometimes they toss those in there too.

yes chefYes, Chef, a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson and Veronica Chambers is being pushed as a young adult read in some stores. There’s a message here about Samuelson’s life as he took a journey from Ethiopia to New York City, to chef stardom. The discussion that the book starts off right away on Samuelsson’s mother and his relationship with his distant family. The complexity of this situation already shows the depth of this Chef’s viewpoint. If you’re so lucky to try his food, you should see if you can pair his dinner with this book. I do wish that he wrote this himself, though maybe it’s better for another writer to get paid so that this book can meet its audience well. Chambers does a nice job.


buford, heat


For those who wish they could be a cook, but can’t really imagine making the career shift, check out Bill Buford’s Heat. Live vicariously through Buford who left his writing gig to work in Mario Batali’s kitchen in Italy. Heat has been recommended by a lot of people and seems to be the go-to book when explaining an outsider’s viewpoint of a kitchen. In addition, there’s a clear story of Batali’s life and how a guy like Buford responds to a famed chef.




sous chefFinally, there’s the very different Sous Chef: 24 Hours On the Line. This one is more focused on the movement of kitchen staff and the culture behind it. The author here started working in restaurants at the age of 16, and brings the reader exactly what he promises– a book focused on 24 hours in a New York kitchen. The choice to make this book second person is an interesting choice– an attempt to make the reader feel the author’s reaction, or maybe to make it seem as though the reader is welcome in a usually closed-off world.



Together, these books are an amazing window into the restaurant cooking world– how it works and how chefs dive into it.