Stern but realistic advice to those with their hopes pinned on the art of cooking, along with some strangely obvious culinary comments for such an audience.
Boulud’s short, formal-toned work is ostensibly aimed at those who have already logged some substantial hours in the kitchen: “You, on the other hand, having spent three years in cooking school, know a lot more about our craft than I did when I threw myself into this career.” But why, then, does he write, “It all starts with heating the ingredients”? Doesn’t his audience know, when it comes to roasting and sautéing, that this is the case, or that “braising means to cook on a braisier”? Such comments suggest that Boulud, celebrated chef at New York’s four-star Daniel, among others, is reaching for a wider audience, but it also reveals a modest lack of focus, for most home cooks don’t need to know his more arcane details—for instance, that venison “does not have space in its fibers to absorb and hold moisture.” Still, there’s information here that anyone with a glimmer of interest in top-level kitchen life will find intriguing, including even the dedication: “When you are not working, you are thinking about work.” Boulud tells us everything from where the profits come from (dessert and wine) and what the team character of a great kitchen is like (woe to the sous-chef who forgets that “there is only room for one ego in a kitchen when the crush of service is on”), to the need for paying your dues at each station in the kitchen and the absolute necessity of attention to detail, from the quality of the ingredients to the welcoming smile of the maitre d’.
Something more fascinating than advice and admonitions: the chance to live briefly inside the head of a great chef who keeps more balls in the air than any juggler ever attempted.