Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Snapshot Book Review: Sous Chef

Sous ChefSous Chef by Michael Gibney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's important that I specify that I'm an outsider to the food industry. The closest I ever came to working in a restaurant was when I worked at a coffee shop on my college campus. While I suppose that technically "counts," it was also an insulated experience due to the fact that it was operated by the campus dining services and nearly impossible to get fired.

I enjoyed this book, but I think I'd have enjoyed it a lot more if I were part of the same insiders group as Gibney--that is, chefs, cooks, and anyone else involved in the preparation of food in a restaurant. You do get a sense of his experience in the kitchen, which is what I was looking for, but he sticks to the insider's lingo, which is alienating without footnotes to reference (I was halfway through the book before I discovered there was a glossary in the back!), and the frequent conversations the cooks have in Spanish are never translated, leaving me to guess what they might have said with the help of my incredibly limited knowledge of the language.

His descriptions of food in its various forms--packaged, raw, cut, cooked, served--are very beautiful and sensory, which is great, but for an impatient reader like me, I thought Gibney got carried away, so much so that he lost the forest for the trees. I didn't want to read a manual on how to properly de-bone a fish; I wanted a book that tells me a story. And this book, quite honestly, didn't. "A day in the life of" was a very accurate depiction, but at the end, I didn't much care about any of the characters, including Gibney himself. Sure they might be real people and this might be a real day, but I needed at least a whisper of a story in there, to keep me hooked. Instead, I was left feeling adrift as I turned the last page.

The book does earn three stars, however, because it accomplishes what it set out to do: give the reader the experience of being sous chef for a day. Complete with second-person narration and all. I read the book to understand that experience a bit better (admittedly as research for a book I intend to write), and I now feel that I do. So bravo for that. And now I'm going to go read a proper story.

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