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The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  5,391 Ratings  ·  331 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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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
Jan 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-my-shelves
Ruhlman, from Ohio. Dude can write a food book.
An enjoyable read for the serious foodie or those considering becoming a chef. The culinary details of the CIA's master chef certification test would frustrate and have vexed even the most serious cooks, so while I found the entire book enlightening, I can't imagine people that aren't seriously in to food philosophies and techniques would be that interested. If, you are interested in the daily culinary lives of great, talented chefs, this could be for you.
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 03, 2007 rated it liked it
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.
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
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
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,
May 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobooks
Wow, this book was actually WAY better than I was expecting (even though it still lacked focus on what I was expecting the most: the actual process of becoming a Master Chef, which took only the first third of the book and was SO. COOL. Who would've thought that a book about cooking could be so thrilling??). I really enjoyed following the journey of these people who are so passionate about food and how they saw the culinary world. It is the sort of universe to which I'm not entirely familiar and ...more
Nov 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
What does it take to be a chef?

Michel Ruhlman explores this question in his book, The Should of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection. He spends a third of his time observing chefs as they try to attain the ultra elusive Certificated Master Chef (CMC) at the Culinary Institute of America. To this day, the total number of CMCs number less than 100. Is this what it means to be a true chef? The next third he spends observing the inner workings of the Lola restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio. Has Michael
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Patrice Sartor
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-stars, favorites
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
Knot (Claire-Edith) Telling
Having studied at America's premier institute of culinary education (and written his second book, The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America) author Michael Ruhlman now takes us along as he joins the participants hoping to be granted the Culinary Federation of America's certification as a Master Chef. It costs from four to around six thousand dollars to enter and be judged over eight grueling days at the desk and in the kitchen. This was fascinating and if the book ...more
Freddie Mckenna
Sep 27, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Sue Dix
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
I listened to this on Audible and enjoyed it very much. It took longer because I only listened on my way to and from work. I think I would not have enjoyed reading this book. I think it is probably a better listen. The narrator was sometimes a little much in pronunciation and intonation, but the story itself was interesting. I say story, but this is nonfiction. And yet it seems story like at times. Overall a tasty look at what it means to be a chef in various iterations and how different cooks t ...more
Mar 09, 2007 rated it it was ok
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.
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Awesome insight into three different phases of the life of a chef and the eternal pursuit
Marc Roberson
Nov 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Vernon Smith
Oct 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
The culinary journey continues...

In this volume, Michael Ruhlman, the writer unexpectedly turned chef after a writing assignment at the CIA, continues his well-written journaling of his culinary adventure.

The book is divided into 3 segments. In the first, he documents the trials and tribulations of a class of chefs as they take the Certified Master Chef (CMC) test at the Culinary (CIA). Here, the best part of the book in my opinion, he details the experience and comments from both sides of the
Shana Yates
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
Eye-opening (and hunger-inducing) book about great chefs and the ceaseless striving for perfection. Television viewers might recognize author Michael Ruhlman from his numerous appearances on Anthony Bourdain's television shows. Ruhlman had a long-standing fascination with cooking and broke into larger renown with his book, The Making of a Chef, in which he chronicled attending the Culinary Institute of America. His fascination with food and the people who master the art of cooking only grew and ...more
Dec 25, 2017 rated it liked it
this is like 2 different books. the first one being about the CMC and the second about how chefs ran the restaurants they owned. the CMC is like top chef but without a $10000 grand prize, in fact you have to pay $5000 (or however much it is now, this book is old) to take it. the CMC is similar to a masters degree or a phd. you can take it and if you pass you can show off your title. but it really doesn't determine your success in life. most of the billionaires and richest people in the world DO ...more
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Book Challenge Category: A Journal or Memoir

Wow! Another "discovery" of a favorite author--years ago, I read "The Making of a Chef"-- which I re-listened to many times, and became somewhat of an inspiration for me in grad school. So now, I discover this book, about the perfecting of craft and becoming eminent, comes to me as I hit mid-career -- a perfect timing and a rediscovery of a new favorite author. The book is lovely, the author is clearly passionate about food and the love and labor that
Margaret Mary
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am a huge fan of cooking shows, and this book really satisfied by appetite, so to speak. Michael Ruhlman takes us behind the scenes of the Culinary Institute of America for the Master Chef Certification testing.

Michael also takes us on a journey with three chefs, their roots, their training, their restaurants and their techniques. His chapters on the French Laundry are mouth watering.

This is an older book, but if you love cooking, chefs and food, you need to pick this up.
Kathleen Gilligan
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent window into the culinary school, something that fascinates but that I would never the vicarious thrill of attending "with" Michael Ruhlman was perfect for me. I really came to understand the dedication, the monotony, and the skills that are required to make it through a program like this, and then as a cook in the real world. Ruhlman is an excellent writer to begin with, and his personal experiences add wonderful color.
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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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“You can accomplish anything, anything at all, if you set your mind to it. One must adopt a can-do-anything attitude. You were a professional. You didn't say no, not ever. You didn't complain. You didn't get tired. And you showed up, no matter what. You got there. Nothing but nothing kept you from reaching that kitchen.

Also, you accepted the implicit obligation of excellence. Every effort would be your absolute best. Otherwise it was simply not worth doing. At the same time, you accepted that your best was never your best and never could be because you could always work faster, cleaner, more efficiently.

Many of the changes a formal culinary education wrought were in one's attitude, a kind of tougher-than-thou stance. I'm tougher than you, faster than you, better than you. I'm a chef. I work in inhuman conditions, and I like it that way. I don't have to sleep every day if there's work to be done now, you get the work done. Only got a couple hours' sleep last night, and you've got eighteen more hours of work ahead of you. Good. You like that. You're a chef. You can sleep later.”
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