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The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection
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The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  4,311 ratings  ·  273 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 X
I read this book first. I should have read The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the CIA first. It would have made more sense and been a great deal more enjoyable.

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.

The bo
Ruhlman, from Ohio. Dude can write a food book.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
A timeless tale of life in the culinary underbelly. Ruhlman's training as a chef allows him to speak fondly and technically about food and the process of preparing it yet his background in investigative journalism permits him to convey even the most technical ideas in a detail-laden way that any person can envision. At times this is definitely food porn and if you're a food enthusiast you'll definitely walk away with a host of recopies you want to try. Further, and perhaps even more so for the m ...more
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.
This was written before competition cooking shows existed so keep that in mind starting out.
The first section of the book is about the Culinary Institute of America's Master Chef exam. It's fascinating. Loved that part of the book. It was fascinating and since I didn't know anything about that side of the cooking world, very informative as well. That first section warrants 4.5 stars.
The second section follows Michael Symon around (before he's a Food Network star) at his restaurant, Lola. Again,
I am a bit surprised that I enjoyed this book so much. I don't usually pick up books about cooking, so I haven't read the first book, The Making of a Chef. It wasn't necessary in order to follow this one. It was an interesting look into what it takes to be a top chef.

I would never make it as a chef. One, I can't stand some of the things at least one chef in this book considers delicacies, especially the offal. Where I come from, there is a reason why the word sounds like 'awful.'

Two, I don't ha
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
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.
Awesome insight into three different phases of the life of a chef and the eternal pursuit
Freddie Mckenna
Read this for personal reasons - once worked for the authors late father, who was a delightful man and excellent boss. Well written, if a bit rambling. The book is disjointed. First part is about the Certified Master Chef exam and second part is about 3 chefs, but primarily, the famous Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. Not enough of a foodie to say this is a must, but it probably would be a must for foodies, especially those who dream of dropping $400 per person on a 9 course meal at the Laun ...more
My friend Amanda recommended this book and I'm glad she did because I wouldn't have heard about it otherwise. It's not a new book. It was published in 2000, but it doesn't feel outdated. It's the follow-up book to The Making of a Chef, which was a book about the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) process of becoming a chef. This second book is divided into three parts, the first of which is an inside account of the competition to become a Certified Master Chef at the CIA. This part is fascinati ...more
This is not my favorite read of Ruhlman's. You can tell it is his earlier writing, as it is not as solid as his newer stuff. Nevertheless, an interesting read for those interested in the profession.

I particularly enjoyed the background and information about French Laundry, especially when Keller talks about killing and skinning his first rabbits. “It had been hard to kill those rabbits because life, to Keller, wasn’t meaningless. If their lives hadn’t meant anything, it would have been easy to k
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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 about Michael Ruhlman...
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