by Michael Gibney
Told in the second person, Sous Chef follows a young cook through a day in his restaurant, where he works as a sous chef. It is a hectic, fast-paced narrative that paints a brutal picture of the life of a professional cook, but it also celebrates the love of food and sense of satisfaction that brings so many people to this highly competitive field.
I wasn’t sure whether I should classify this as fiction or non-fiction. Gibney explains in the Preface that the day described is based on his experiences at multiple restaurants with several different groups of people, reworked into a single narrative. So it is not, strictly speaking, historically true. But it is definitely based on “real life”, so Sous Chef is a form of memoir.
I’ve never worked in the restaurant business, and Gibney’s book has convinced me that I wouldn’t last a day in the kitchen. Days are long and busy. Food must be prepped in the morning, but the timing must be perfect so that people aren’t getting dried out vegetables. Supplies must be ordered and stocked. The chef must prepare a specials menu (the restaurant described is not a chain where such things are determined by corporate) and coach his staff on its preparation. When the restaurant actually opens, the actual cooking begins, and every cog in the kitchen machine must perform flawlessly. But people are people, and so of course nothing works according to plan. Plus, you’ve got to keep some semblance of a social life, so after all this work the chef must go out with his coworkers to the local bar and relax for a while. You’ve got to be one heck of an adrenaline junkie to keep this going day after day.
As I mentioned, the entire book is written in the second person. I think that for some people, it will really drive home the immediacy of the narrative and contribute to the frenetic atmosphere. For me, the “you are doing this” and “you are feeling that” sometimes jarred me out of the story because the described sensations are so foreign to my experiences. (I am not a young white male, and the machismo of the chefs’ bantering just isn’t part of how I communicate.) But that’s definitely a personal taste thing.
One thing I just loved was the loving way Gibney talked about food and the preparation process. His delicate descriptions of selecting and preparing fish filets made my mouth water. (Am I weird? I guess that’s weird.) There are also some lovely passages about the relationship between a chef and his guests, and the importance of caring for people through food.
3 out of 5 stars
To read more about Sous Chef, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Nobody’s Secret by Michaela MacColl
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until May 24th
2011: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith
2010: Grass for His Pillow (Tales of the Otori #2) by Lian Hearn
2009: News: Reading the Future: Local bookstores bank on customer loyalty