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Food Chef Memoirs Continue to Mystify Us With Tales of Mayhem and Madness

14:45  21 september  2020
14:45  21 september  2020 Source:   shondaland.com

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In 2020, it’s easy to feel like we’re living in a dystopian tale, and many of us are in survival mode. We naturally look to food, water, safety, clean air, masks, jobs, and healthcare for sustenance. But we also look to stories to keep us going. We at Shondaland understand the power of storytelling because that’s what we do. We also know the power of a good book. Now more than ever, we realize their importance to help us feel connected and comforted during trying times. With that in mind, we decided to explore the world of books and publishing as it exists today, from trending genres to the survival rate of independent bookstores to the destiny of audiobooks. Happy reading!

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a man wearing a blue shirt: A chef reflects on first-person accounts from culinary luminaries. © Luxy A chef reflects on first-person accounts from culinary luminaries.

I first read Kitchen Confidential in 2003, shortly after I started culinary school in Pasadena, California. Like many enthusiastic cooks, I was drawn in by the glossy, soft-focus gastronomic porn featured on the still-new Food Network, where perfect dishes seemed to come together effortlessly with a loud “Bam!” Having spent several years in the film industry, I decided to change gears and build my career and life around food. I was back in school, and this book became an unlikely guide.

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The seminal memoir by Anthony Bourdain, released just a few years earlier, was at once shocking and mesmerizing in the way it portrayed the culinary world’s underbelly — the testosterone, drug, and alcohol-riddled rhythm that pulsed through real restaurant kitchens, giving them life. It was a far departure from the pipe dreams of on-camera stardom and success that sold many students on culinary school (when I enrolled, my school was still equipped with a television studio, “to prepare us for our potential,” I was told during a trial visit).

For most readers, Kitchen Confidential was voyeuristic fiction — an imaginary soap opera potentially lurking behind every restaurant’s kitchen doors. But for culinary students like me, Bourdain’s universe — this gritty reality — shook our world. It was scary, yet undeniably cool, at the same time. Bourdain’s memoir spun off a spate of similar books, among them Heat by Bill Buford, released in 2006.

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The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White, also released in 2006, followed his original book White Heat — part cookbook and part autobiography — released in 1990. Lauded as the original “rock star chef,” White Heat arguably ushered in the era of “bad boy chef” memoirs that Kitchen Confidential would later come to epitomize. White became the first culinary sex symbol in a generation, and White Heat detailed the first “Hell’s Kitchen” under which cooks such as Gordon Ramsay would train, suffer and later craft their own style as chefs.

Chef memoirs. Why do we read them, and what connects us to them? The answers to these questions have evolved since the first cookbook — itself a memoir of sorts — was printed around 500 years ago. To really understand and appreciate them, we need to understand why they were written and their intended audience.

So what exactly is a memoir? Technically, it is defined as a personal narrative or account of something noteworthy; it’s often an autobiography. A memoir is usually, but not always, written by the author. Like cinema, so many of these memoirs rely on a carefully constructed narrative, and the power lies with who controls the gaze.

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The first printed cookbook, De Honesta Voluptate et Valetudine (“Of Honest Indulgence and Good Health”) was published in 1474. In addition to the preparation of food, the earliest printed cookbooks marked the evolution of the world at large, exploring issues including politics, gender issues, and colonialism. Rather than just existing as textbooks of recipes, they explored dietary fads, medicine, gardening, fashion, and even the future. The earliest cookbooks were printed primarily for the upper classes — those who could read. They were often commissioned by wealthy patrons to document their power and influence, as a sort of record.

By the 17th century, cookbooks were no longer considered luxury items. The genre was split between professional cookbooks — those that served large kitchens in wealthy homes — and those by and for common housewives. In the 18th century, issues of the enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution were explored as they related to cooking, and by the 19th century, the world had its first celebrity chef and author, Marie-Antonie Careme.

“The books of Careme, artworks in their own right, lead directly to Escoffier and the master chefs of today,” write Anne Willan and Mark Cherniavsky in their lauded work, The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes that Made the Modern Cookbook. This is also the era that ushered in gastronomic commentary and introduced food critics and criticism.

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As they evolved over the centuries, these books became more personal, as intimate anecdotes and stories were woven in with recipes, introducing the cooks through their tales, along with tips and cooking philosophy.

Before the popularity of chef memoirs, many of us got to know famous chefs and cooks through their cookbooks. Before I trained under Chef Paul Prudhomme, I watched his shows and specials as a kid, then studied his cookbooks. His Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen may start with tips for making a roux, but then he introduces himself, his background, and slowly but persistently draws you in with his passion for food and the power of cooking for others as a means of communication and love.

As much as cookbooks, and later memoirs, may have focused on turning the gaze outward to what a city, or a cuisine, might offer, these works also became very introspective, exploring the personality and thoughts of the author. As jovial as a Graham Kerr cookbook might be, the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan was striking in its voice (one reviewer counted over 60 “f-bombs”) and the way it explored the mind and philosophy of chef David Chang through his curated recipes.

Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan © Clarkson Potter Momofuku by David Chang and Peter Meehan

For many readers, the majority of modern chef memoirs, like good fiction, offer an easy escape from reality. Readers are fascinated by the larger-than-life personalities working in a world foreign to the everyday of so many of us. After all, who works in an office where the boss may throw a pan at you? Or offer you a line of coke before a grueling shift? Or brag graphically about his latest conquest, pointing her out in the dining room setting tables before a shift, without the fear — or even knowledge — of a human resources department? And then create perfection on a plate?

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For those of us who work, or have worked, in the industry, these timely memoirs may give proof to our own realities, particularly in the era of #MeToo. Since culinary school, I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of the world’s top chefs. I’ve had incredible experiences with genuine talent, but have also been in kitchens where sexual harassment is the norm, and physical violence is a weekly occurrence. (My favorite job was at an internationally-renowned restaurant and my best friend — and the only cook with whom I trusted with my knives and my back — had spent 18 years in prison for murder before getting a job in the kitchen.)

Chang has a new memoir coming out, where he is expected to explore his mental health and anger issues in the kitchen.

In addition to Momofuku, a number of recent memoirs, including Chang’s own Eat a Peach: A Memoir; L.A. Son by Roy Choi with Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan and Guerrilla Tacos: Recipes from the Streets of L.A by Wesley Avila with Richard Parks III, are a major departure from more genteel luminaries such as Julia Child (My Life in France) and Jacques Pepin (The Apprentice). It’s similar to the way that independent cinema today often varies in narrative structure and purpose from classical Hollywood films. These newer books have a different purpose, sermon, or plea.

Are they a biography or confession? Do they soothe or anger? It depends. For some writers, these memoirs may both serve as a catharsis, for others a warning. The no-rules, pirate-like work environment that was prevalent for so long in kitchens, and in the literary environments that reported on them, was accepted without question. Until recently.

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Are they a biography or confession? Do they soothe or anger? It depends. For some writers, these memoirs may both serve as a catharsis, for others a warning. The no-rules, pirate-like work environment that was prevalent for so long in kitchens, and in the literary environments that reported on them, was accepted without question. Until recently.

Many chefs and restauranteurs, along with writers and editors, have been forced out of the industry because of their actions. Others have matured beyond their own intolerance for mistakes, ideals of perfection, and inadequate social skills, if not worse. As in other industries, some of these leaders have sought forgiveness through interviews and memoirs.

I once was told that writing about food is like a window. Which is true. We can either cover how food issues look outward onto the world, or we could use that window to look inward, on the issues of food and how it is impacted by external forces. In a way, memoirs do both. Especially now.

Noelle Carter is a chef, food writer and culinary consultant at Noelle Carter Food. She was the longtime Test Kitchen director and food writer at the Los Angeles Times and a longtime contributor to “The Splendid Table,” a nationally-syndicated radio program from American Public Media. A native Southern Californian, she also holds a degree in film from the University of Southern California. Follow Noelle on Twitter @noellecarter.

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Judges on popular cooking shows reveal 12 of the biggest mistakes competitors make .
Famous judges from shows like "Chopped" and "MasterChef" shared some of the most common ways competitors mess up and ruin their dishes.But according to the judges, many of these missteps can be avoided.

usr: 1
This is interesting!