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The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection [Hardcover]

Michael Ruhlman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books (July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067089155X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670891559
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,543,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
Chef Dieter Doppelfeld leads the way to kitchen station four, followed by two men in lab coats with clipboards. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding 27 Oct 2000
By A Customer
For anyone even remotely interested in the cooking profession or in becoming a chef read this book immediately. Although may people may not rate the CIA as a particularly modern way of learning to cook it is still the most structured and what seems to the toughest way of earning your qualification in the US, The book goes into great depth about what the chefs have to go through to finish this course - mentally, physically and emotionally. A really excellent book and well worth reading.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review for Ruhlman 7 July 2008
Michael Ruhlman's books are an absolute must for anyone who is considering going into the food industry. I highly recommend all his books, they are actually unputdownable! Just reading these have changed the way I work in my kitchen for the better.
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5.0 out of 5 stars great read 7 Jun 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
this book helped me understand the essence of my soul better
and now i have already written words for helping me to explain to others why i do what i do
a must read for anyone desiring to get a better and deeper understanding of the esoteric creatures of the culinary artists
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  95 reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for foodies! 29 Jun 2000
By sam t. - Published on Amazon.com
this new hardcover, written by michael ruhlman is excellent. the first section in particular is truly gripping(esp. if you are a food nut like i am!) the almost blow by blow account of a group of chefs trying to pass a series of incredibly arduous tests (a ten day herculean nightmare)in order obtain the title of master chef from the Culinary Institute of America makes the Iron chef challenge look like a stroll though the park! one of the main themes of the book is the quest for
perfection in cooking and it's intriguing to say the least. it is like night and day, comparing the book to kitchen confidential by anthony bourdain where it focuses mostly on the dirt and the dysfunction that goes on. needless to say both capture many different truths about the restaurant industry. another exciting section is the fascinating behind the scenes of The French Laundry, a highly acclaimed restaurant and how the chef's personal philosophy affected the running of the restaurant.there is also a well written account of a dinner with john mariani, one of america's preeminent food writers. the author's journalistic objectivity has served the book very well especially in a field that is filled with hype.
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, Good Insight into American Culinary Culture 19 Mar 2004
By B. Marold - Published on Amazon.com
`The Soul of a Chef' is the second of Michael Ruhlman's journalistic explorations into the world of culinary life in America. The book contains three long essays that chronicle parts of the careers of three different chefs at three different levels of achievement. Thus, the journey toward perfection is more the journey of the author than it is a journey by a single chef.

The first essay is a telling of the events in one examination for the title of `Certified Master Chef'. The certification is carried out and bestowed by the Culinary Institute of America, often characterized as the Harvard of American cooking schools. The examination runs for more than a week when, on each day, the candidate must complete a particular task. The candidate knows the object of each task at least a day in advance, so they may at least mentally prepare for their challenge. Almost all tasks are taken from the pages of classic French cuisine, some lifted almost directly from the pages of Escoffier's books on the subject. Out of about a dozen qualifiers competing at each session, held once every six months, usually only two or three candidates pass the test and are awarded the title. The author participates in the competition under the ruse of being an inspector from a fictional qualifying organization that is verifying that the tests are worthy of an imaginary certification. In that way, the author can observe and interview all the candidates without arousing suspicion or apprehension in the candidates. Thus, this book picks up the narrative on American culinary careers at very much the same place the author left off at the end of his first culinary investigation `The Making of a Chef'. Most candidates have been chefs for a few years and are looking to add to their credentials and marketability, especially those who work as consultants to food service organizations. In many ways, this chapter is the most interesting, as it holds your interest to see if the featured candidates in the narrative will achieve their certification.

The second essay had a much weaker hold on my interest, although the quality of the writing was equal to that in the first essay. The essay title, `Lola' is the name of a major Cleveland restaurant whose owner and head chef is Michael Symon, a CIA graduate, who may be familiar to some of you as one of the co-hosts on the Food Network show `Melting Pot' where he and Wayne Harley Brachman explore eastern European cuisines. In addition to this distinction, Symon has been recognized as a `Food and Wine' best new chef, so he really does not need the kind of recognition one achieves by earning the Certified Master Chef award. Symon's position in the middle essay is a sign of his rank above the CIA Master Chef candidates and below the very top of the American culinary scene represented by the chef in the last essay. The most interesting episode in the tale of Symon and `Lola' is in the story of a visit by John Mariani, a major American restaurant critic where it seems as if just about everything goes wrong. The moral of this story to me is its demonstration of how difficult it is to maintain 100% food quality in a very good restaurant. There is a very good reason why the executive chef stands at the expediter's table and checks on outgoing dishes. The connection between the second and third essays is the fact that Symon and his new wife go to Napa Valley to dine at the French Laundry restaurant for their honeymoon.

The third essay takes us to the very top of the American culinary hierarchy of achievement. It deals with the career of Thomas Keller, the owner and executive chef of The French Laundry. He has been recognized as the best chef in California, followed by recognition as best chef in the country by the James Beard awards. His quest for perfection is legendary. It is no coincidence that Ruhlman is the co-author of Heller's `The French Laundry Cookbook' as I am sure this essay was done at the same time as he was working on the cookbook. Keller's reputation is well known among foodies, so I won't dwell on it here. I will only recommend this essay, plus a chapter in Tony Bourdain's `A Cooks Tour' as excellent profiles of this very important American chef.

For knowledgeable foodies, this book is a pure delight. Just knowing how to make pasta Puttanesca enhances one's enjoyment of the story in the second essay. For non-foodies, the book will appeal as well or better than other famous journalistic essays such as Tracy Kidder's `Soul of a New Machine'. The book contains some recipes.

Highly recommended reading.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars READ THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY, IF NOT SOONER. 27 Aug 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Although I love to cook, for some reason I never got around to reading The Making of a Chef when it first came out. However, I realized that one third of Soul of a Chef was devoted to Thomas Keller and The French Laundry, so I ordered it. To my suprise, I could not put it down. The book is wonderful because the subject matter is interesting, and the writing is excellent. Mr. Ruhlman is a writer who became a cook, not a cook who became a writer. While I was reading the book, I laughed out loud, I did high fives in the air, I muttered, and when I was done, I wanted to hang out with the author. I can't say I've had that reaction to a book before. If the subject matter interests you at all, you won't be sorry you got this book while it is still a hardback. Then if you haven't read The Making of a Chef, it will be your next purchase! If you enjoy this book half as much as I did, it will still be five stars. They wouldn't let me give it 10. The Soul of a Chef and The French Laundry Cookbook together would make a fabulous gift.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, beautiful book. 22 Nov 2003
By John Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this book, Michael takes us into the kitchens of the CIA once again. He shows us some of the best chefs in the country, as they labor under the enormous stress of taking the CIA's 'Certified Master Chef' exams.
He then travels to two of America's finest restaurants and explores the character of the Chefs who created them. Along the way, we meet some other colorful characters and some very delightful-sounding food.
That's it in a nutshell. The reason I love this book is because it shows the heart and intensity of what I can only call the 'love of food' and the 'striving for excellence' that both of these Chefs possess. The discussion of their ingenuity in creating new dishes is very interesting as well, but it is the sheer PASSION for cooking that Michael communicates to us that kept my eyeballs glued to the pages.
I have now read both of Michael's books on this subject: The Making of a Chef and The Soul of a Chef. I finished them both in about two weeks and my understanding of the world of cooking, not to mention my faith in the human race (how could you not love a species that is capable of such positive, again, passion??), has simply been...transformed.
Thank you, Michael.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars SEARCHING FOR EXCELLENCE 20 Oct 2001
By Kenneth P. Childs - Published on Amazon.com
In his prior book, "The Making of a Chef", Michael Ruhlman wrote about what its like to attend the Culinary Institute of America and go through a rigorous chef training program. In "The Soul of a Chef", Ruhlman writes about the next step - being a professional chef and reaching for that always elusive standard of excellence. If you enjoyed TMOAC (a good book) and learning about the CIA, you'll enjoy TSOAC even more.
TSOAC is three stories. In the first, Ruhlman sits in and observes seven chefs, and one in particular, as they attempt to pass the ten-day Certified Master Chef examination, a rigorous test with a low passage rate. In the second, Ruhlman tells the story of Lola, a restaurant in his home town of Cleveland, and of Michael Symon, Lola's owner/chef and a rising star in his profession. And in the third, Ruhlman tells the story of Thomas Keller, the head chef of the French Laundry in Napa Valley, which some critics have declared to be the finest restaurant in America.
For the home cook who occasionally fantasizes about being a professional chef, TSOAC will be both stimulating and sobering. Being a chef may be interesting, but its not easy; in fact its damn hard work. The anxiety level created by the Master Chef Exam, the pressure Symon goes through to perform for reviewers and the demand for absolute perfection that Keller imposes on himself are all highly intense experiences - perhaps even to the point of being self-destructive.
Ruhlman is not only an observer, he is also participant in a sort of George Plimpton-like manner. In writing TMOAC, Ruhlman attended CIA classes as a student for a year. Between TMOAC and TSOAC, he worked as a cook for a period of time at a Cleveland restaurant. He knows many of the examiners in the Master Chef exam from his school days at the CIA. He helped out a little in Lola's kitchen. And while he did not cook at the French Laundry, he did spend part of his time there helping Keller write a cookbook. One gets the feeling that Ruhlman may be suffering from an identity crises - "Am I a writer about cooks, or a cook who also writes?", but for the most part his perspective is helpful. There is some enjoyment in hearing Ruhlman describe with some level of experience what its like for a restaurant to hit a rush on a big night, even if he is only a "paper chef".
Towards the end of his story about Lola (Part Two of TSOAC), Ruhlman is having dinner with a group of people that includes a restaurant critic of national repute. Ruhlman asks him whether he ever worries that being a food critic is in the end a shallow and self-indulgent way to spend one's life. The critic responds that he has thought about that and goes on to explain how a cookbook helped unite Italy by creating a common language and suggests that if a single cookbook can have such an impact, then the topic may not be so trite after all. Writing about cooking in America right now involves a subject of potential importance. There is lots of talk about a current culinary revolution, but no one has yet clearly defined exactly what that means. Ruhlman is helping us do that.
In the end, TSOAC is not just a book about a cooking exam and two cooks, its about what cooking and restaurants have become in America. Its a subject that is slowly becoming an important part of America's cultural fabric and, as with any such subject, it needs its commentators. Ruhlman is fulfilling an important role. We can only hope he will not conclude that the topic is too unimportant for further study.
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