Life at America’s premier cooking school, the Culinary Institute of America, is anything but glamorous: frenetic, demanding, humbling, and difficult, yes, glamorous, no. Writer Michael Ruhlman spent two years at the CIA attending classes and talking to students, chefs, and administrators in order to get a firsthand look at a culinary education. From his first attempts at making sauces in Skills to his final class on the grill station at the CIA’s American Bounty Restaurant, Ruhlman generously shares the intimate details of kitchen life in The Making of a Chef.
The book itself is not unlike the school in its whirlwind pace and its demands of the reader – woe to the unlucky reader who doesn’t grasp the concepts of mise en place or “being in the weeds” for Ruhlman explains it once than dashes on to in depth discussions of force meats, mache, and his inexplicable obsession of whether brown sauce should be made with a brown roux or a pale roux. Ruhlman also uses lots of italics to capture the cadences of the teaching chefs’ lectures which, although a bit distracting, are a surprisingly effective way of understanding their passionate lessons.
Some of the cooking concepts are pretty technical, but for those willing to wade through the jargon (or those who are adept at skimming), The Making of a Chef offers a fascinating look at the personalities and philosophies that influence today’s chefs.