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The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  3,830 ratings  ·  245 reviews
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 renowned Thomas Keller of the French ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published August 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published June 26th 2000)
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Community Reviews

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Petra Xtra Crunchy
Oct 22, 2014 Petra Xtra Crunchy is currently reading it
This book was written before the Food Network invented Masterchef and Chopped. Except they didn't invent them at all. "Masterchef" was a qualification offered by the Culinary Institute of America. It involved 10 days of cooking tests to chefs of the level that some owned restaurants. Some of the tests involved mystery baskets.

This is just the first chapter and I'm loving it. This is great.
Tony
If you are not a foodie, then move along, this book is not for you. I am a foodie, and so is my wife. She surprised me with this very cool book at Christmas. It is a non-fiction tale told in 3 parts: the first is about the Culinary Institute of America's (CIA) certified Master Chef examination; the second part is a case study of a rising-star modern chef (who is a graduate of the CIA but who does not hold a CMC title); the third part is about an established top American chef and his number-one r ...more
Patty
It took me a moment to get into this book. But once it had me, it held me. I am a sucker for a chef's memoir, and this was an in-depth foray into not only the world of a chef, but also into the heart, mind, and yes, the soul of a chef. I found myself pining for my kitchen days, and wondering who I would have been if I had gone to culinary school instead of college.

The book is broken down into three parts, one addresses the incredibly difficult CIA Grand Master test, which just seemed grueling a
...more
Bruce
Aug 30, 2008 Bruce rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: food
When I grow up, I want to be Michael Ruhlman. That guy gets to hang out with the best chefs and write about it. I'm jealous.

Ruhlman's account of three chefs are more than just biography; he makes each story compelling and interesting. His account of Brian Polcyn taking the CMC examination kept me awake far too late on a work night as I wanted to finish it. The author's examination of what makes a chef are extremely interesting.

Ruhlman is a very good and entertaining writer.
Johnny Galt
Yes it is three essays tied into one, but I didn't feel they were disconnected at all and each one gets into the question of what makes a chef and how is it measured very well. I was very excited that everything I learned about cooking was synthesized here in this book by the words of some of the most famous and unknown chefs in the kitchen. Learned some good cooking tricks at the same time. Very enjoyable but pretty technical and sometimes esoteric.
Schuyler
Ruhlman, from Ohio. Dude can write a food book.
moshimoshineko
When I bought this book, I thought it was going to be exclusively about the Certified Master Chef exam that the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) has produced to create a measurable standard of basic culinary abilities for chefs. Sounds easy. It's not.
10 days of cooking. Creating menus from mystery baskets and mystery classical menus that the evaluators chose for you. It's a long, draining process which most chefs don't make to the end. It's tough.

However, this book is beyond just an exam. I
...more
Jennifer
I had very mixed reactions to this book. I loved the first two sections (almost to a 5 star level) and really disliked the final third. The first section focused on chefs trying to pass the Certified Master Chef exam given by the Culinary Institute of America. 10 days of grueling cooking, judging, and trying to live up to impossible expectations; I found it fascinating. Admittedly, this book was written in the late 90s (before such shows as Iron Chef and Chopped made competition style cooking se ...more
Mundi
I must hedge here a small amount, as I can't quite commit to saying that it was "amazing", but it most certainly was one of the most interesting and engrossing books on food I have read. So we can say, 4.5 stars, eh?
Broken down into three separate sections, examining the life and styles of three different modern, American Chefs, all of whom are successful and in love with what they have chosen to do, Ruhlman explores what makes each man (in this case) get up in the morning, every morning, and p
...more
Linnea
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrice Sartor
Jul 19, 2011 Patrice Sartor rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Patrice by: Food For Thought Book Club
Shelves: food, non-fiction
I highly enjoyed this one and would give it closer to 4.5 stars. Ruhlman breaks down his journey into three sections. The first focuses on the CMC, the Certified Master Chef exam, going into more detail in chef Brian Polcyn's story than some of the others. This is a brutally difficult, multi-day test of specific and precise cooking. Next, Ruhlman provides background on Michael Symon, currently an Iron Chef and owner of Lola in Cleveland. The book closes with an entire section on Thomas Keller an ...more
Robyn
Half-Price books again.

Overall, I'd say this would be a better book if Ruhlman had titled it something like "Mastery in Culinary Craft, Three Essays", instead of pretending there was any sort of continuous thread leading him from one project to the next. These were not unified at all. Ruhlman clearly selects great projects, because I keep reading his books even though the man drives me crazy (and not in a good way). I'd never pay full price for anything he's written, though.

Finished Part 1: Cer
...more
Kim
Sep 09, 2007 Kim rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: foodies
I enjoyed this book, which is an in-depth look into three different chefs in three different environments (the Certified Master Chef exam, a laid-back bistro in Cleveland, and a very haute cuisine restaurant in California). Ruhlman is a terrific writer, but I thought the book dragged toward the end and went a little long. That said, the insights into chefdom and the restaurant biz were fascinating, and the food descriptions delectable. I look forward to trying the recipes included at the end.
Mysteryfan
What do the CIA's Master Chef examination, Michael Symon, and Thomas Keller have in common? This book attempts to explain. It explores what makes a great chef from several different viewpoints. Is it adherence to classical cooking, a sense of fun, creativity?

This book was written in 2001 so it was interesting to read in light of what we know now. Michael Symon is a big name on television and Thomas Keller is still revered as the chef for the French Laundry. I hadn't heard about the Master Chef d
...more
diana
i feel like this book is a little disconnected, and asks the reader to draw too many conclusions on her own, but i like selected parts A Lot. the master chef certification exam is really fascinating and i'm stoked to read more about thomas keller. i've got about 75 pages to go.
Marcus Roberson
I pushed through a few of the pages to be completely rewarded and totally hooked. Mr. Ruhlman can now rest assured he has a fan.
Mj
Awesome insight into three different phases of the life of a chef and the eternal pursuit
Emily
I think I"m going to swear off food reading for a while after this one. This book was divided into three parts: the first about the grueling Certified Master Chef exam administered by the Culinary Institute of America, the second about then up and coming chef Michael Symon and the third about Thomas Keller, chef at the French Laundry and who many believe to be one of the best chefs in the country.
The first part about the exam was the most interesting. How do you test the qualities of a great che
...more
Louise
Soul of a Chef is food writer Michael Ruhlman’s experience as a student going through the esteemed Culinary Institute of America. For someone who’s thought about working in a restaurant, the book was an eye-opener; it gave me a view of the CIA without actually having to attend it.

Ruhlman manages to deftly convey his enthusiasm for food as well as the enthusiasm of the people he writes about. Instructors and teachers all have their own personal quirks and beliefs and Ruhlman writes them down with
...more
L
Two-thirds of this book raced along well but it ground to a screeching halt when I reached the final section. Ruhlman followed a group of chefs pursuing the debatably-important achievement of CMC (Certified Master Chef). This was almost like watching an episode of a reality TV show where contestants are voted off, one by one. Although his observations were heavily slanted toward one chef (Brian Polcyn), I still felt like the author gave us pretty good insight into the other chefs and their reaso ...more
Nikki
This book is worth reading for the portrayal of (in my opinion) the greatest American Chef this land has ever know, Thomas Keller. I learned more about what drives this Zen-master of cooking in this book than any articles I have read about Chef Keller or even from his drool-worthy cookbook.

Michael Ruhlman is a great journalist. He has heart and is a passionate food writer. He doesn't go as in-depth as I would perhaps but he brings a chef's sensibility from his own experiences to his writing whic
...more
Shana
This book is separated into three parts. The first portion is all about the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and their Master Chef program. It's an amazing description of the most detailed culinary program/distinction around. The requirements described to become a master chef are amazing... and resonates with any foodie or individual in the industry.

The remaining two sections are about two different restauarants, the second of which was the French Laundry in Yountsville, CA. After reading th
...more
K
Oct 02, 2008 K rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommended to K by: Dad
Pre-read: So on the cover of this book, above the title is a quote from Anthony Bourdain :"A hold-your-breath-while-you-turn-the-page thriller that's also an anthropological study of the culture of cooking." Wow! I was really looking forward to reading a book like that.

Post-read: Huh? What book was he reviewing? Because after completing this book it's clear that the review must have been for some other book.

This book is written by another food writer who submerges himself into the world of cook
...more
Joanie
Have you ever had it happen where you read about something for the first time and then you read something else that mentions the same thing?

A few weeks back I read Pat Conroy's cookbook/memoir and he talked about when he wanted to learn to cook he bought Escoffier's cookbook and taught himself to cook. I had never heard of Escoffier and had no idea that he was basically the master of French cooking. While reading The Soul of a Chef, I again encountered Escoffier.

The Soul of a Chef is comprised
...more
Wm
That Ruhlman later writes books with two of the three chefs profiled in this book and appears to be friends with the third shouldn't diminish the fact that he does say some interesting things about, well, the souls of chefs. You gotta get close to the subjects in order to get the material that he does.

On the other hand, those with allergic reactions to Thomas Keller deification should probably skip this book.

And Ruhlman never quite fully interrogates the deeper aesthetic underpinnings to his co
...more
Jacob
A pleasant read, if strangely disjointed. And the author inserts himself into the narrative in ways that do not always serve it well. It’s a follow-up to a book in which Ruhlman enrolled at the CIA (the culinary school, not the State Department). I haven’t read that memoir yet, so maybe this book would read better if I’d experienced it as a sequel as intended.

Part a report from the Certified Master Chef exam (a grueling exercise of dubious value), part profile of Michael Symon (before he reache
...more
Becky
Two stars seems a little harsh, but according to the Good Reads scale it really was "okay" for me. I have two bits of advice about this book (1) don't read it during the first trimester of pregnancy--I'm pretty sure this book never really had a fair chance. Sweet meats, forced meats, foie gras and anything else that marinates cold in it's own fat does not get any more appetizing by writing about it in French. 2) The second and third parts of this book are significantly better than the first. The ...more
Mike Zyskowski
In his continuing quest to understand the world of food, Ruhlman focuses on the story of three chefs. A bit disjointed, the first third of the book is like a mystery full of suspense, almost a survival of the fittest as chefs vie to be a Certified Master Chef. The second third focuses on Michael Symon as he's just starting to explode on the culinary scene in Cleveland. The final section focuses on Thomas Keller of the famed and frankly imo insane French Laundry

He tries to wrap it up in a neat li
...more
Neelz
Ruhlman longs to know what makes a person a good chef - is it just a set of skills, or is there some innate quality that sets some chefs apart from the rest? To answer this question, Ruhlman pursues three possible avenues: the Certified Master Chef exam, a popular and successful chef with limited critical acclaim (Michael Symon), and a chef widely reputed to be the best in the country (Thomas Keller of the French Laundry). Each of the sections are interesting in their own right, and at the end o ...more
Natalie
This book covers three landmarks in the world of high cuisine: the Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, Michael Symon's Cleavland-based Lola Bistro, and Thomas Keller's French Laundry located in the Napa Valley. Between the tantalizing descriptions of food being prepared and flawlessly served, Michael Ruhlman attempts his hand at describing the true agony and ecstasy of being a chef which is a true dedication and never-ending journey. Ruhlman reveals the man under the ...more
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Michael Ruhlman (born 1963 in Cleveland, Ohio) is an American writer. He is the author of 11 books, and is best known for his work about and in collaboration with American chefs, as well as other works of non-fiction.

Ruhlman grew up in Cleveland and was educated at University School (a private boys' day school in Cleveland) and at Duke University, graduating from the latter in 1985. He worked a se
...more
More about Michael Ruhlman...
The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing The Reach of a Chef: Beyond the Kitchen The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef's Craft for Every Kitchen

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