A while ago I was telling a friend about this interesting book. It was called The Fourth Star and it was a non-fiction look at a new high-end restaurant in NYC opened by celebrity chef, Daniel Boulud. All of his restaurants up to this point received 4 stars from the New York Times, and it was almost becoming a fait accompli. But the unthinkable happened: Boulud’s restaurant was given only three stars. HORROR! The author follows Boulud around for a year and chronicles the daily life in the kitchen, the reception, the wine cellar, the dining room, etc as they go to incredible lengths to win back that coveted fourth star.
My friend said, “Sounds good, but have you ever read Michael Ruhlman?”
I hadn’t, but soon afterwards I picked up his The Making of a Chef and was hooked.
Michael Ruhlman is a journalist first. He has the greatest job in the world: he gets curious about something, he researches it, and then he turns it into a book and gets paid for it.
I’m sure it’s not as easy as all that, but maybe?
His curiosity led him to enroll in the Culinary Institute of America (cheekily referred to as the “other” CIA). The Making of a Chef is his account of what these chefs-in-training must go through before graduating. It’s a fascinating read, and something happens to Ruhlman part way through the year (SPOILER). He actually considers leaving journalism behind and becoming a full-time chef. He becomes so immersed in the culinary world that it takes over his life.
Today, Michael Ruhlman is a well-respected culinary journalist and has written a number of worthwhile books. He also is a frequent tweeter and you can follow him @ruhlman if you like. He will often post recipes and offer tips and advice to his followers.
A few years after writing about attending the CIA as a student, he went back to see how things had changed. He writes about this in The Reach of a Chef. He explores the way “celebrity” has been attached to so many chefs in our pop culture these days and the irony of how chefs are too busy with public appearances, product lines and signature chain restaurants that they don’t have any time to do what made them famous in the first place.
In The Making of a Chef, Ruhlman first discovered the magic of the culinary ratio. It’s the idea that so many basic recipes can be remembered in terms of simple ratios. For example: Angel Food Cake=3 parts egg white: 3 parts sugar: one part flour. Or stock=3 parts water: 2 parts bones. (I could go on and on!) There is great part in the book where Ruhlman discovers one of his instructors keeps ratio crib sheets in his office and he feels like he’s stumbled upon the Rosetta Stone or something. Ruhlman investigates the mysteries of culinary ratio in his simply titled 2009 book, Ratio.
Not satisfied to stay in the traditional kitchen, Ruhlman has also written a couple of books on curing meat. Chartcuterie: the art of salting, smoking and curing and Salumi: the craft of Italian dry curing.
Perhaps his most traditional “cook book” is his Ruhlman’s Twenty in which he takes the reader through the 20 most common skills a chef should have, and 100 recipes that everyone should know. It’s a beautiful coffee-table style book with lots of pictures. Highly recommended.