The soul of a chef : the journey toward perfection

by Michael Ruhlman

Paper Book, 2000




New York : Viking, 2000.


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 the renowned Thomas Keller of the French Laundry. This fascinating book will satisfy any reader's hunger for knowledge about cooking and food, the secrets of successful chefs, at what point cooking becomes an art form, and more.Like Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, this is an instant classic in food writing-one of the fastest growing and most popular subjects today.

User reviews

LibraryThing member piefuchs
The Soul of a Chef is really three short books all based on Michael Ruhlman's observation of what it takes to become a chef. In the 1st , and by far the most enjoyable, Ruhlman observes the 14 day examination for the Certifed Master Chef title. In the 2nd, he follows Michael Symon's early career as he opens the Lola restaurant. In the 3rd, and least enjoyable, he describes his love for Thomas Keller. Ruhlman is a good writer, he knows food, and his books are definately worth reading - they are also annoying. When Ruhlman is observing and sharing, the books are fantastic - when he is opining, you just want him to shut up. He is always waxing poetical about the French style of cooking - he never talks about cooking in France. If you look at Thomas Keller as just another three star chef (who learnt from apprhenticeships) then he fails to look like the second coming. Furthermore, Ruhlman can cook - but he has never been a chef - still he accepts a holier than thou attitude about how to do things that is independent of financial necessity. Restaurants sink or swim based on profit margin, not on being true to Escoffier.… (more)
LibraryThing member cissa
I love cooking, but I now know I have NO desire to be a chef! This was a really fascinating read, though, and very inspirational.
LibraryThing member sturlington
This book contains three “backstage” views on cooking in contemporary America. My favorite two pieces were the opener, describing the excruciating Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, and the closer, spent in the kitchen of French Laundry — reportedly America’s best restaurant. Both accounts were crammed with detail, enabling the reader to experience an otherwise closed-off world to most of us. Ruhlman does get a bit long-winded and, frankly, over-effusive at the end, especially for someone who gets offended when anyone calls cooking an “art.” But the otherwise fascinating writing more than makes up for that.… (more)
LibraryThing member nakedsushi
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 without seeming too didactic or biased. I especially liked the section on the bread baking course because it’s easy to imagine the love the instructor of that course has for something as seemingly simple as a loaf of bread.

Soul of a Chef is informative and enjoyable to read, but I wouldn’t call it a page-turner. I had been stuck at the last few chapters of the book for a while because I just didn’t feel like finishing it. I do recommend reading it while eating though, because I found myself getting hungry otherwise. The book isn’t the most exciting thing I’ve read, I would recommend it to anyone thinking of attending the CIA.
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LibraryThing member JenneB
I started reading this when I wasn't feeling well, so now the idea of finishing it just makes me feel sick again.
Not your fault, Michael Ruhlman! It was pretty interesting when I was reading it.
LibraryThing member rkreish
I picked up this book because I saw him on a couple episodes of "No Reservations," and I was pleasantly surprised. My eyes glazed over with some of the in-depth descriptions of French and American cooking, and some of the perfectionism made for a boring read, but I was fascinated by the description of the insanity of the Certified Master Chef exam. One of the three chefs profiled in this book is from here in MI (and I loved the now-defunct Five Lakes Grill), and he teaches at Schoolcraft College, where I've had a few amazing dinners. I don't think I'll become an obsessive chef though.… (more)
LibraryThing member jms001
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 Symone, the owner of the restaurant, shown what it takes to be the ultimate chef? Lastly, he spends some time at one of the most popular and famous restaurants in the country, French Laundry, in Napa Valley, California. Does the story of failure to success of Thomas Keller exemplify what it means to be a chef? Read and you'll find out.

Ruhlman writes with an easy prose, captivating the reader in and describing in enough detail to get your mouth watering as you try to decide if you want to make the dish yourself. I did find that his narrative did seem to drag on a various points throughout his book, primarily near the end of each of the respective three sections. It really came down to Ruhlman asking himself the questions of what makes a chef a chef. And like most things in life, it really depends on the context of the situation. There's difference ways to measure, and perhaps his observations eventually led to his own self-discovery of what the answer to the question is.

It's a wonderful read, and it did require me to look up a few of the cooking concepts described. He even ends with a few complicated recipes at the end of the book. Perhaps one day if I feel up to the task, then perhaps I will look into these recipes.
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LibraryThing member Harlan879
This book is almost impossible to review objectively. Like Making of a Chef, the book is aimed at foodies, people who know their French mother sauces and the difference between a saute pan and a sauteuse. If you're not in that group, you may not be able to share Ruhlman's crazy passion and hero-worship of his subjects. Ruhlman's writing, if you are not into food, can be repetitive and cliched, and he doesn't break any new ground in terms of understanding food culture (cf. Michael Pollan's work). This said, Ruhlman has had some amazing, enviable experiences, and he writes about them with great zeal and clarity. The first section, about the CIA's Certified Master Chef exam, is totally compelling. The bio of Michael Symon is fun. The section about the French Laundry and Keller feels tagged on and thin in some ways, but is interesting nonetheless.… (more)


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