Josephine's Reviews > The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America

The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman
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Nov 06, 11

Read from October 26 to November 06, 2011

You know that old saying about how some people live to eat while others eat to live?

I think foodies think that living to eat automatically makes them somehow knowledgeable about food — you know, just because they like to stuff their gobs and eat a lot of both good and bad things.

I refuse to call myself a foodie because what I respect is different from a simple appreciation of good food — it’s the process that goes into growing food and getting it to the table.

When you read Michael Ruhlman’s “The Making of a Chef,” you can tell he’s the same way.

Having read “Heat” by Bill Buford, I really wanted to check out “The Making of a Chef” as well — in a way, it was a great way to see two different avenues for wannabe-chefs to learn the trade.

With “Heat” you saw what it was like learning on the line while, with “The Making of a Chef” you tagged along with Ruhlman as he toiled through the Culinary Institute of America.

And trust me, it was fascinating…or, maybe, I found it fascinating because I think good chefs embody everything that I value: It’s about paying attention to details.

In the winter of 1996, journalist Ruhlman joined the students at the Culinary Institute of America, the country’s oldest and most influential cooking school — which isn’t exactly easy.

“The curriculum is logical in conception and relentless in practice. Life here is marched out in three-week intervals and there is no stopping.” (p.16)

At the CIA, Ruhlman learns from several talented instructors. Chef Michael Pardus, who teaches Skills, hammers in the notion that you have to demand excellence in yourself.

What’s fascinating is when Ruhlman describes meeting Chef Uwe Hestnar, a team leader who presided over a team of twenty chef-instructors running the formative kitchens.

It’s cool reading about Ruhlman’s chat with Hestnar because this was where his book Ratio sprung from.

I know for sure that I’d never be able to hack it in culinary school. (Ruhlman even remarks in the intro that he’s had a few readers thank him for writing this book because it convinced them not to go to culinary school.)

Just take a look at some of the homework questions and what they were like:

Convert twelve quarts and twelve tablespoons into a single unit of quarts.
How many cups are there in four pounds of honey?
You’re catering a function of 350 people; you estimate that each person will eat three quarters of a cup of potato chips; how many pounds of chips should you order?

I thought this book was totally fascinating and I know I’ll definitely be picking up the other books in this series.
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