One of the few constants is my life is my “to-read” book pile which is constantly four and a half feet high. Displaying signs of under-use, it is semi-caked with dust and some of the books in it are a couple of years old from when they were purchased. I just have a notorious habit of buying books that I just can’t wait to read then put them on the pile. And guess what happens next? I schedule time in my mind to read that book soon, i.e., somewhere down the line, i.e., when I’ve got nothing else to do… er, i.e., practically never.
It is brain-dead stupid and I know it. But when I finally get around to reading something truly inspiring (or entertaining) plenty of self-ass-kicking happens. This was definitely the case with Michael Ruhlman’s “The Making Of A Chef”.
As it turned out, India was the perfect place with periods of “nothing to do”. Between work and researching food, I had a chance to finally crack the cover on this book. And what I found was a perfectly inspiring tale of a writer who fell so far into researching his subject – the Culinary Institute Of America and what makes it and its students tick that he ended up virtually making it a second career. (Ruhlman is also the writer of the ultra-beautiful French Laundry Cookbook plus several of his own books about chefs, the CIA, food, he is also the creator of one of the best food blogs on the internet called Michael Ruhlman; Translating The Chef’s Craft For Every Kitchen.)
The validation of the line that is drawn between the familiar and reality is inspiring. To wit: I worked for several years with Tom, a CIA student who took a three month leave from his work at Apple Computer to pursue his hobby, and ended up being a lead sous chef for him and the twice-a-year dinners he put on. In those moments, I had an inkling but didn’t truly know how a professional kitchen operated or what it felt like.
Ruhlman’s descriptions of the methods, trials and tribulations of the 60 year old institution created for me moments of out-and-out laughter and tears, recognizing that the familiarwas reality. Confirmation that we did run Tom’s kitchen in a very similar manner was powerful. The book also recreated, over and over again, the exhilarating rush of my week’s worth of working in the CIA’s Greystone Campus’ large, bustling kitchen late last year.
If you have ever wanted to know what makes some chefs and food-folk tick, this book fills that need completely. For me, the inspiration that this book created has forced a long-overdue sea change, and a major one at that. At this very moment I’m almost 100% sure of the direction but am still filling in the minute details. And Ruhlman’s book will come along for the ride as a reminder of some truer purposes in life.