A tasty venture in a culinary wonderland.
In his latest book, Friedman (Knives at Dawn: America's Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d'Or Competition, 2011, etc.), who has co-authored more than 20 cookbooks, focuses on the rise of the chef profession. The author anchors the book at the beginning of the 1970s, when “Americans, from coast to coast, and in large numbers, began voluntarily, enthusiastically cooking in restaurants for a living—a once forbidden and unrespected professional course—screw the consequences.” He argues that when ambition becomes a driving force in a young professional’s life, it quickly outweighs the possible repercussions. This was a new mindset at the time, when professional tracks were still highly structured and conservative. Specifically, Friedman explains that the Vietnam War created an urgency to take more risks in regard to pursuing vocations. He goes on to tell the tale of Wolfgang Puck’s rise to fame and creation of his signature restaurants, Spago and Chinois on Main, as well as the establishment—and sometimes, dissolution—of landmark restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, including Ma Maison, The Quilted Giraffe, Chanterelle, Le Cirque, and La Côte Basque. In discussing these restaurants, Friedman also examines the psychology involved in their success. For instance, the author describes at length the omnipotence of French cuisine in American food culture: “a funny thing happened to many of those Americans who mastered French cuisine: They quickly developed a desire to move beyond it, to forge their own style, whether a personalized answer to nouvelle cuisine, or—in many cases—the development of a distinctly American repertoire founded on the hard-earned techniques they’d picked up from the French.” Friedman is at his best when exploring the intricacies of the relationships among restaurant owners and chefs—Puck, Thomas Keller, Buzzy O’Keeffe, Larry Forgione, Marc Sarrazin, Paul Prudhomme, and dozens of others who were constantly innovating.
An intriguing perspective on a profession that very quickly captivated our attention—a great gift idea for the foodie in the house.