Essential Reading for Culinarians

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If you are considering entering the culinary world, of course your primary objective should be building skills and techniques. Some kitchen knowledge, however, does not come from the kitchen. To better understand the choices, motivation and passion of successful chefs,here are the essential texts to prepare you. These recommendations are not just my own but compiled from various staff and also work well together as a reading list. Most of the authors have written multiple books, these are just what I suggest as starting off points.

1. Letters to a Young Chef by Daniel Boulud is our number one most highly circulated book here at the International Culinary Center Library. Even though it came out in 2003 it remains the most frequently checked out book year after year. Boulud gives practical and straightforward advice in an accessible way that anyone can understand. This advice is not preachy or heavy-handed, but practical knowledge about the kitchen that you may not necessarily learn in culinary training all interwoven with anecdotes of his own personal experiences. The book is divided into  many short letters perfect for trips on the train or quick breaks at work. It’s a great place to start and Daniel Boulud provides a perfect jumping off point for future chefs.

2. White Heat by Marco Pierre White always comes highly recommended by Chef Jose, and I often see him in the library showing it to new students. White is sometimes considered the original bad boy of the kitchen, and White Heat does give a glimpse to this edgier side in the striking photos by Bob Carlos Clark. It includes thoughts and reflections from the chefs White has worked with, his own passionate opinions about cooking and a section of recipes. White Heat is unusual, in that it is not easily categorized as a memoir or cookbook but it is a source of culinary inspiration which manages to capture the back of house world of fine dining.

3. Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White this comes recommended from Chef Joe who says “It’s the real deal”  – if you started with White Heat but want a little more Marco look no further. White likes to push buttons, the book was originally published under the title White Slave in the UK in 2006. He is also known for screaming and throwing pans. That passion gained him the honor of being the youngest chef to be awarded three Michelin stars. This book tells the story of Whites childhood and how he broke into the food world up through his success and exploits.

4. The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection by Michael Ruhlman comes recommended from our VP of Culinary Chef Candy. She says it captures the mindset and passion of chefs – which is something that certainly cannot be taught. Combining Journalism and Memoir, Ruhlman examines the Certified Master Chef competition at the Culinary Institute of America and answer questions about what success looks like in the culinary world. This is the second in Ruhlmans series on chefs, starting with The Making of a Chef and ending with The Reach of a Chef.

5. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain If you’re not familiar with Anthony Bourdain, you’ve probably been living under a rock. While he is not best known for the Taste,Mind of a Chef or one of his other TV shows, this is the book the started it all. Many chefs were outraged by the book and attacked him, not wanting kitchen secrets aired publicly. Jacques Pepin came out in his favor, saying that everything he said was true and he addressed problems all chefs have to deal with. Although Pepin did not know Bourdain personally, he appreciated his work.

6. The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacues Pepin Last but not least, the memoir by our esteemed dean Jacques Pepin. This book also comes highly recommended from many chefs here. Pepins life story is fascinating and it is recounted well in this incredibly readable, charming and fast paced memoir. Young culinarians today may have it easier than the old world French system Pepin got his start in, but the motivations and emotions are timeless.

I know what you are thinking – where are the ladies?! While there is a big gender disconnect in the culinary world, a special post on female foodies is coming soon. So check back next week! And, as always, stop by the library to pick up any of these titles.


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