Four Kitchens – A Review


Four Kitchens:  My Life Behind The Burner In New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv and Paris by Lauren Shockey
Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

If you have ever wondered what it was like working in the kitchen of a restaurant, this book is for you.  After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, author Lauren Shockey apprentices in four very different restaurants around the world.  The book is broken up into four sections documenting her experiences at each restaurant.  Starting at chef Wylie Dufresne’s wd-50, in New York City, she then travels to Hanoi, Vietnam to stage (apprentice) at La Verticale.  After three months in Vietnam, she travels to Tel Aviv, Israel to apprentice at Carmella Bistro.  Finally, she ends her last stage in Paris, France at Senderens.  Each kitchen is very different and so are her experiences in each.  What we do see is the hierarchy of the kitchen and the tedious jobs that apprentices are assigned.  These workers put in twelve plus hour days, sometimes spending hours cutting Brussels sprout leaves or shelling pounds of crabs, only to get up and do it all over again the next day.  Having eaten at wd-50, I found that chapter to be the most interesting.  While many famous chefs don’t tend to be very hands-on in the kitchen, as seen in Shockey’s apprenticeships in Israel and France, Dufresne cooks most nights on the fish line along with his staff.  I enjoyed reading about the molecular gastronomy that went into the preparation of food that I had eaten at wd-50, like the everything bagel and the cold, fried chicken.  Even with language and cultural barriers in Vietnam, Israel and France, Shockey seemed to have successful apprenticeships and forge new friendships with fellow co-workers, roommates and friends of friends.  I found those chapters to be insightful to the culture and food of the respective countries. Shockey provides recipes throughout the book inspired by each restaurant that she staged at.  She also noted that apprenticing taught her more about being a chef than culinary school.  While culinary school may teach you how to cut a carrot, when you work in a restaurant, you will have to learn how to cut the carrot the particular way that chef wants it done.  I found it somewhat difficult to understand how she could afford to spend a year working four, unpaid apprenticeships around the world after spending $40,000 at culinary school.  Then after the whole worldly experience, she realizes that she doesn’t want to work in a kitchen for a living.



Andrew Zimmern’s Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, & Wonderful Foods


Andrew Zimmern’s Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, & Wonderful Foods by Andrew Zimmern and Molly Mogren
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

My nine year-old daughter found this book during one of our weekly library visits.  She’s watched a few episodes of Bizarre Foods and recognized Zimmern on the cover.  This book is organized in alphabetical order, beginning with alligator meat and ending with wildebeest.  The first page of each food gives a basic summary of what the food tastes like, where it may be eaten, whether Zimmern likes the taste of it and more.  But then, the book somehow goes off-tangent.  Depending on the food topic, like circus peanuts,  Zimmern then writes about elephant facts and famous clowns.  Similar tangents are featured for almost all of the foods.  You will either find it interesting or off-topic.   Regardless, there’s a wealth of information in this book that was new to me.  In our library, this book is filed under the “Teen-non-fiction” section.  This is a good book for reluctant, older readers with lots of interesting facts and a high “eww, gross!” factor that may keep them reading.

*This book was borrowed from the library.


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (Book Review)


Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:  A  Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

I knew author, Barbara Kingsolver, as a fiction writer, having previously read her book The Poisonwood Bible.  I had first started listening to the audiobook version of this book, narrated by Kingsolver and her family several years ago.  I had not finished listening to it before it was due back at the library and hadn’t attempted to finish it until now.  For those who have read Plenty (see our review here) this book will seem familiar.  Kingsolver and her family move from Arizona to a farmhouse in the southern Appalachians, with the goal of eating locally for a year.  Kingsolver and her family use the land to grow vegetables and raise chickens and turkeys.  If they can’t grow or raise it themselves they choose to buy it from someone local who does. This book differs from Plenty, in that it is a family undertaking.  Lily, is just eight, when the family underwent their year of living locally.  The family also allowed for some luxury “cheat” items, including coffee, hot chocolate and dried fruit. Although Kingsolver’s teenaged-daughter, Camille, was away at college for the majority of the year, the book includes occasional excerpts in which she shares her thoughts on the experience.  She also provides recipes and seasonally appropriate meal plans.  Kingsolver’s husband, Steven, also provides additional commentary and information on current food issues.   The book is not all serious and preachy.  I found Kingsolver’s chapter on turkey mating to be humorous and interesting.

Some critics of this book feel that Kingsolver gets a bit preachy and they are not wrong.  For many of us, it is unrealistic for us to grow our own food, make our own bread, can fruits and vegetables, raise chickens, etc.  But I agree with Kingsolver that tomatoes in January, transported to the grocery store from across the country (or world) do not taste as good as the fresh tomatoes grown in our garden in the summer.  Just because we can get any type of produce throughout the year, doesn’t mean we should.  However, while making homemade cheese sounds fun it is realistically not something that I see myself doing.  My husband is not home to make fresh bread daily (and that’s not something that I am undertaking!).  Reading this book will make you think about the food you’re eating in a new way.  It brings up the importance of eating locally and seasonally and the effects that industrial agriculture has on small farms.   I am almost positive everyone who reads this book will learn something new.

*I borrowed this book from the library.


Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise


Garlic and Sapphires:  The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

I first listened to this book on CD many years ago.  I only recently picked up the book to read again and loved it as much as I did listening to it the first time.  This memoir follows Ruth Reichl from 1993 through 1999 while she was the restaurant critic for The New York Times.   Well-known, and recognizable, Reichl realizes even before she officially starts her job that she’s going to need to disguise herself while dining out.  Through this book we meet several of her different personas including Molly, Miriam, Chloe and Brenda among others.  Reichl discovers that when dressed in “character” she actually becomes a different person, from her behavior and mannerisms, to her speech.  I found it fascinating to get an inside peek at the life of a restaurant critic.  I’ve always said that a restaurant critic is my “dream job.”  However, reading this makes me see that it isn’t always that glamorous.  We see that recognized restaurant critics get preferential treatment over the everyday diner.   Reichl has had to eat many less than stellar meals and sometimes experience horrible service when disguised.  She would dine at restaurants like Le Cirque five times before writing a review.   She isn’t a food snob though and enjoyed little hole-in-the-wall restaurants as much as the fancy ones.   I also realized that restaurant critic isn’t such a great job for a mother, when Reichl’s young son wishes his mommy could eat dinner at home with him every night.   This book is not focused much on cooking but you will get some of Reichl’s recipes and amazing descriptions of foods that she’s eaten in the many restaurants that she’s reviewed.

*I borrowed this book from the library.

The Most Disgusting Foods On The Planet


The Most Disgusting Foods On The Planet by John Perritano
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

With the not-so-new anymore Common Core Standards, there is a big push for students to be reading more non-fiction books.  For the reluctant reader, I think just the title of this book will help interest them.  This book is part of the Capstone Press “Disgusting Stuff” series.  Other titles in the series include The Most Disgusting Animals, Jobs and Places on the Planet.

The book begins with the author noting that different cultures have different food practices.  Some foods that we may think are gross may be considered delicious to them.  This book has six chapter that include topics such as bugs, soups, drinks and even disgusting desserts.  While the book is thin it is not a beginning reader book as the text is small.  It is aimed towards 3rd and 4th grade readers, but will interest both younger and older readers.  Each page is accompanied by real photographs.  More difficult words are defined on the page and there are occasional facts and additional information boxes provided throughout.  Chicken butts, cow urine cola and poo coffee will surely be of interest to some readers!  Maybe even have your child read this to you.  Even I learned some new things from this book.

*This book was borrowed from the library. 

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