In his second in-depth foray into the world of professional cooking, Michael Ruhlman journeys into the heart of the profession. Observing the rigorous Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, the most influential cooking school in the country, Ruhlman enters the lives and kitchens of rising star Michael Symon and the renowned Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. This fascinating audiobook will satisfy any listener's hunger for knowledge about cooking and food, the secrets of successful chefs, at what point cooking becomes an art form, and more.
Like Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, this is an instant classic in food writing - one of the fastest growing and most popular subjects today.
©2014 Blackstone Audio, Inc.; 2001 Michael Ruhlman
I was worried when this book started out as I was thinking it was just another book trying to capitalize on the reality show / Iron Chef craze. The beginning covers the Master Chef exam and was like that. So, initially I was turned off but then the author began to detail a chef, really getting into the person behind the title. He then covered another, the head chef of the French Laundry in Napa Valley. The horizon of cooking then just really began to open through masterful story development. It helps that Michael Ruhlman actually went to the CIA, took classes and has developed a real insight into the craft of cooking and chefs.
The narration was excellent, a good narrator really opens up a book as it should be.
I highly recommend this book.
SciFi/Fantasy and Classics to History, Adventure and Memoirs to Social Commentary—I love and listen to it all!
I'm not a Kitchen Goddess, rather silly, actually (Seriously--I recently ordered Seared Ahi Tuna and discovered... that sucker's RAW!). But even I know about tension, failure, boisterous personalities, and the drive for perfection. "The Soul of a Chef" chronicles all that and then some.
We open to the enormous pressure to become a Certified Master Chef, follow with a wonderful chef who just makes you feel good, and end with the near perfection of The French Laundry (this latter part, by the way, was the only part I felt that made the book drag a bit).
Along the way is the devastation of having a PERFECT Duck Tureen that is OH NO! Spoiled by unfortunate knife skills. Humidity causing Crepe Crises! Overcooked pasta (Blasphemy! And: The delivery guy can wait... pasta can't)! Respecting food so much that you'll kill your own rabbits, thank you very much (Note: Rabbits scream).
And food combinations that'll have you scratching your head. Only dreamers and geniuses think like that, and God bless them, they're usually right.
Add to this an author whose own studies of cooking have him hungry (sorry, couldn't resist the pun) to seek out food, cooking, creatives, misery and you have a winner of a book. Especially since, when out with one of the most famous food critics, all he can think of is, "I've GOTTA remember to say that next time I'm out," you know you're in the hands of someone who can laugh at himself.
Except for the last part dragging a bit, it's a veritable love song to Thomas Keller, this is a fun book that'll have you cheering for the underdog, groaning when heat makes the shell of the creme brulee soft, and wishing that every chef, sous chef, line cook you know has such wonderful heart. Fine narration, great content, and may I say it? My stomach growled...
The thing liked about this book is the subject. Cooking is interesting, the mindset is fascinating and the CSI is mystical. The thing I loved about The Soul of a Chef is the believable peek behind the curtain.
"Life on the Line" is a book I might compare based on the detail regarding the inner workings of a professional kitchen and the conviction it takes to succeed. Likewise, "Butter, Bones & Butter" for the life psychology and growth as young cooks make their way from inauspicious beginnings.
Corren's read was flat for my tastes. Not a lot of dynamic range or inflection in the reading. Where some voice actors can make you forget your listening to a reader and transport you through the eyes of the writer, Donald Corren did not do this for me.
If The Soul' were to be made into a movie, the tagline could be "Brown Sauce, Taste It!"
The subject of the book made it compelling. Props to Ruhlman for being so dedicated to seeing the challenge through, but I do wish he had a bit more dynamic presence in his writing. The voicing didn't help. Hence the 4 stars.
I'd recommend it to someone in the cooking industry, but I probably wouldn't recommend it for the more casually interested.
The most captivating part, to me, was the first third of the narration, which focused on the CMC test. It had a sense of tension that the rest of the book was generally lacking. The last section on The French Laundry seemed to drag on too long for me.
This title could have benefited greatly from a narrator with a more lively voice. The narrator was very one-note, giving a fairly emotionless reading that bordered on sounding mechanical. Whenever he read a large list of foods, I felt like I was listening to a sleep app with the goal of knocking me out quickly.
There is a challenge with a food-centric book in that we are so often visual creatures when it comes to cooking. A documentary based on the book would certainly provide a better reference.
I should note that I'm coming into this review not as a chef or as anyone in the cooking industry, but as a person with average food knowledge. That may make the difference for you because so much of this book is about finer foods and techniques that I had no point of reference for. I believe those with this knowledge would find it more immersive.
Insight to the passion that some have for creating food, the detail at which they do it, and the never ending drive one needs to work in this profession.
Some additional tonal emphasis
The description of the Master Chef testing
Insightful glimpse into being an American chef...
fantastic book. the writing is excellent and really puts the reader in the author's place. great sense of the life and drive of a chef and what it takes to succeed in such a business.
also fantastic to hear about now-famous chefs before they were anybody were good, upstanding people.
I loved this, found myself telling my wife about the various life experiences in this work. Very well narrated!
It took awhile to get into. I found the whole first part rather boring, but then parts 2 and 3 were fantastic and brought in elements from part 1, which made it all worth it. I love hearing about food and cooking and the heart behind accomplished chefs, so I it was a fun read.
Donald Corren did a fabulous job narrating this well-written book. I could all but "taste" the dishes as I "felt" what the chefs were going thru. I couldn't put the book down.
Your Brother in Christ
According to Ecclesiastes, there are four things that God gives to man to make life enjoyable: bread, wine, the work of your hands and sex. In America, the protestant work ethic has emphasized the one to its own detriment. But here, where bread, that is food in all its forms, is the focus of the protestant work ethic, well then we begin to see life become enjoyable again.
The book starts with the CMC test at the Culinary Institute of America. It tracks six chefs taking this beast of a test and documents their triumphs and failures as well as the pros and cons of the test. The book then turns to look at other chefs running restaurants. Some of these chefs have taken the CMC others have not. It talks about their successes. It makes you want to eat. It makes you want to cook. It makes you want to travel and spend money on food.
Most especially, it makes you want to visit the French Laundry in Napa Valley California. Much of this book centers on Thomas Keller and the menu at the French Laundry. It becomes rather autobiographical concerning him and his pursuit of perfection in the kitchen that led to the success of this famed restaurant. This is definitely the American (protestant) work ethic meets food and wine in a rags-to-glory-story that is encouraging and inspiring.
I enjoyed the book. It was fun to learn the ins and outs of restaurant cooking, and what goes into becoming a chef. Most of the book concentrates on French and French-influenced cooking. This is something I knew a lot less about before reading this book and it makes me want to try a few things and learn more in this avenue.
"Annoying imitation of foreign accents"
Good book, but more philosophical and introspective than "The Making of a Chef", which I prefer. However, what really turnes me off is the caricaturization of foreign accents in this narrated version, specifically for French chefs. Totally uncalled for. Also the dramatization was over the top some points. The first book was narrated by other person, who didn't have to imitate foreign accents to deliver the story.
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