There are no shortages of books and other publications about (or taking place in/around) restaurants. As someone who works in this business and is an absolute fanatic about the industry, I try to read whatever I can get my hands on; whether the weekly updates from Nation’s Restaurant News or the more esoteric reading of George Orwell’s turns working in hotels and restaurants in his 1933 classic Down and Out in Paris and London…I gain something from them all.
Below I’ve listed some of my favorites. Check them out and see if they are some of yours as well.
The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pepin
There are many reasons cooking in America has been elevated to an art form and a calling for many people, and Jacques Pepin is one of them. He helped bring not only the passion of French cooking to this country, but the much harder to master technical skills as well. Sat across the room from him at a perfect dinner in 2002 at The French Laundry.
Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin
Shopsin’s is a one-of-a-kind deli/market on the Lower East Side of New York. It’s owner, Kenny Shopsin, is famous for his surly demeanor, his promise to throw out any vegans who come in the door and his ability to not only memorize, but execute a menu that runs into the HUNDREDS of options. Click below to see what I mean…
A documentary about Shopsin’s titled I Like Killing Flies came out in 2004. A must-see and you will laugh out loud at this curmudgeon with a heart (and spatula) of gold.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
For restaurant lifers like me, this was it…this was the inside joke, the wink across the room, the silent toast celebrating what only we knew.
Bourdain’s tome hit like a freight train for industry people, who upon reading for the first time, and the 2nd time and the 5th, would exclaim “YEAH MOTHERF#*&ER!” regarding the truths we found inside.
He wrote it as a love letter of sorts to the guys and gals who populate restaurant kitchens across this land of ours, and while he has moved on to different adventures on Food Network, etc, he remains on the bucket list of fellow inmates with whom I will drink a bourbon someday.
Comfort Me with Apples + Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
The cool thing about Reichl’s work is not just the love affair she has with food and cooking but the INTIMACY with which she writes about them. She makes you feel like you are right there, whether in her position as the editor-in chief of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine or in her anonymous, yet powerful, roles as food critic for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.
California Dish by Jeremiah Tower
Jeremiah Tower was present at the dawn of what is now chef-driven dining in America. A self-taught devotee of food, Jeremiah (after receiving a masters degree in architecture from Harvard), approached the temple of locavore cuisine Chez Panisse and its sorceress Alice Waters and began one of the famed culinary partnerships of all time.
This book is a great look back at the evolution of modern American cooking. Jeremiah eventually left Berkeley to chart his own course with the legendary Stars restaurant in San Francisco, a launching pad for many culinary superstars of the 90’s and into today: Mario Batali, Mark Miller(Coyote Cafe), Brenden Walsh (Arizona 206) and Mark Franz(Farallon) to name a few.
Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness and the Making of a Great Chef by Marco Pierre White
If you want to know why Gordon Ramsey acts the way he does, look no further than this man. Once one of the youngest chefs to earn three Michelin stars for culinary excellence, he ran roughshod over the competition and demanded total excellence from the people working for him. Ramsey and many other young turks grew up under his iron gaze.
While today kitchen’s are a tad more…civilized…Marco Pierre White in his heyday was someone with a singular vision and to hell with anyone who got in his way.
The Soul of a Chef / The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
I hate Michael Ruhlman.
Ok, I don’t really hate him. I just covet his writing skills and his ability to make it all seem so effortless. These two books did a great job of distilling down what it takes every day to be a great cook at the level successful restaurants demand.
The Making of a Chef found Ruhlman enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America to take us inside this country’s most prestigious cooking school. His follow-up, The Soul of a Chef, details top chefs from around the globe vying for the Master Certified Chef designation. In the 2nd half of the book, Ruhlman compares and contrasts passionate cooking through the eyes of the vaunted Thomas Keller and then-newcomer Michael Symon.
Both are fascinating to read and well worth the time for a restaurant pro or “civilian” alike.