Michael Ruhlman’s “The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America”

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Michael Ruhlman submerges his reader into the unrelenting pace of culinary school on the first page of The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America.  He exposes in intimate detail the lifestyle of a student at the Culinary Institute by documenting his personal experience at the school.  Ruhlman instantly begins to share his culinary experience through this book from the opening chapter when he first “untied the bundle, shook out one of two pairs of houndstooth-check trousers, and stepped into them, then buttoned the immaculately white, double-breasted chef’s jacket over [his] white T-shirt” and proceed to his first class at the Culinary Institute (5).

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Photo is borrowed from this source.

The reveling tone of this book keeps the reader hungry for more information about the Culinary Institute.  It is written as if Ruhlman is unleashing all the secrets of the country’s leading culinary school. Reading this book gave my tour last spring even more depth, providing a voice for the chefs and students behind the glass walls of every kitchen classroom. As I walked down the cinnamon infused corridor of classrooms at the school with my mom I was desperate to hear the chefs deliberating orders to their students as they prepared lunch for the rest of the school.  The vociferous kitchen dialog in this book showcases the culinary passion and fiery tempers of each of Ruhlman’s chefs throughout his two year experience.  By the end of Part I you feel as though Chef Pardus has taught you personally how to make a correct stock and consommé.

After my tour I still wondered, however; what a typical day looked like for a student at the Culinary Institute as I watched two chefs fervently prepare innovative BLT wraps speared together with seasonal watermelon triangles.  Their speed and finesse was impeccable; I instantly desired to know what their daily training consisted of.  Ruhlman makes you a witness to everything that happens behind the showcase glass windows at the Culinary Institute.  He maps out what a representative day might look like from the classes he attends, the homework he is assigned, his teachers’ expectations, the final exams, altercations betweens students and chefs, and his time spent outside of the kitchen.

After visiting Hyde Park I left anxious and excited to begin my own culinary experience, but naturally I still felt uneasy about leaving for college.  Once I began reading this book I clung to it because it provided a sense of comfort– providing me answers to questions I was too afraid to ask on the tour.  My friends and family commented on how long I was taking to read such a short book; however, I looked forward to escaping off to class with Ruhlman and his classmates everyday at breakfast only to encounter a minor melodrama of serving a burnt parsnip to the school’s former President Metz.

I highly recommend this book if you are considering pursuing a culinary education or are interested in what a culinary school entails.  Ruhlman creates a realistic experience because he does not withhold any information. He shares with the reader the teachers he admired and aspired to be like after graduating, the engaging classroom setting, and the passion among all the students for food.  However, he also shares the unpleasant side of the food industry informing the reader about the demanding, long hours spent in the kitchen and challenging, militant teachers he encountered. The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America will transport you from the introductory class making soups, stocks and sauces to the final days before graduation working in the school’s American Bounty Restaurant.