Reading About Restaraunts

This year I've read, and listened to, a lot of books about chefs and restaurants. I worked in a few during college and have always found the dynamic fascinating. Back of the house, front of the house. Servers, bussers, hosts. Bartenders, managers. Cooks, dishwashers, expediters, prep-cooks. Openers, closers. Tuesday night crew... Friday night crew. I never had the privilege of working somewhere particularly high-class, but I was still able to appreciate the structure, organization, and  culture that working in a restaurant provides. 

I've read about chefs and restaurants from the around the world, from a variety of backgrounds and with different experiences. The one thing they all have in common? Grit. This is a highly over-used word (especially in education) right now, but it perfectly describes the hard work that people like Marcus Samuelsson and Josh Ruxin have put in. Creating a successful business in this industry is extremely tough- the odds are not in your favor. 

Here are my favorites that I've read or listened to (a few didn't make the cut, unfortunately):


Medium Raw and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Both of these are great, if you like Bourdain. He narrates both audiobooks with his typical, charming "take no shit" tone. His stories about the darker side of the business are always entertaining and eye-opening. His candor and combination of self-deprecation and ego are always humorous.

Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
Wizenberg doesn't narrate this, but it's still great listen (although I don't love the woman's voice, she takes unnaturally long pauses at strange spots). Wizenberg must come to terms with her unconventional husband decides to open a pizza joint, turning the whole endeavor into a DIY project. Apparently they also have an LA location that I'd love to get to at some point. 

Sous Chef by Michael Gibney
This book chronicles Gibney's day from start to finish working as a sous chef at a fine-dining restaurant in New York. The syntax is brilliant, as is the energy and wit. The pressure of working in a fast-paced kitchen is palpable. I can almost guarantee that this will be on my best-of list, come December.

Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Hamilton had a bit of a rough time growing up, her family dissolving when she was just a kid. She was forced into independence, and hit some speed bumps along the way. Eventually she starts her own place, Prune, turning in a literal shit hole into something amazing. The end bring some Italian travels, which I enjoyed. I was also very appreciate of her writing proficiency- that's what you get when a chef has an MFA.

Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
Samuelsson examines the more classical route chefs take in terms of starting at the bottom and working their way up, position by position. He works at many restaurants throughout Europe and it's fascinating to hear about the way the kitchens are run and how the traditional staging process works (especially pre-Internet when he has to write letters and visit chefs). He also brings in a racial component, which is obviously timely. 

Back of the House by Scott Haas
Haas, a psychologist, shadows Tony Maws and his restaurant staff for over a year trying to figure out what makes them tick. He becomes quite involved, learning about their personal lives and the dynamics of the kitchen. He also picks up some skills himself, further immersing himself into the lifestyle. While reading this I often felt like I was watching a documentary- it was very captivating. 

A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda by Josh Ruxin
I initially thought this book was going to be more so centered on the restaurant, but it turns out the emphasis was focused on Ruxin and his wife's aid work in Rwanda. It turns out that I actually learned a lot about how relief work should work and how one goes about establishing a successful small business in a developing country. 

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