Making of a Chef is not a new book; it was first published in 1997 and I only became aware of it because of author Michael Ruhlman’s latest, Grocery. But it’s not outdated at all, other than the numbers quoted for tuition at the Culinary Institute of America. I highly recommend it as a thorough and surprisingly passionate description of the student’s journey at “The Culinary” as it is known in the industry.
Similar to Bill Buford in Heat, Ruhlman goes into class planning simply to chronicle the process of culinary education but is soon swept into the vortex and finds himself abandoning his infant daughter (don’t worry, his wife is at home though she’s pissed) and driving through one of our wonderful upstate snowstorms to make a sauce. Instead of writing about being a cook, he decides to be a cook and seems to have succeeded.
I’ve spent some time in the kitchens of the CIA and have participated in many classes taught by professional chefs (and bakers, like Jeffrey Hamelman) who become teachers. His description of what goes on at the CIA is spot-on and will help you understand why they charge so much*. I am a proud non-graduate of the culinary training program at Trade Tech in Los Angeles, the oldest such program in America predating The Culinary by a few years. We worked in teams at this public institution so I can only imagine the precision and the challenge facing each student as he or she prepares a brown stock on an individual cooktop and then is judged one-on-one.
It is not surprising that chefs who become teachers are good at it; they are used to thinking on their feet and teaching every day. But chefs tend to have a more volatile personality than the average college professor and to be less tolerant of mistakes; Ruhlman captures this beautifully. I’m impressed that he was able to attend class and kitchen sessions, keep up with his classmates, and write about it in detail later.
Be warned: this book may make you want to quit your day job. Check it out.
*Here is a thoughtful article from Chowhound on the value of a culinary education.