Debut memoir describing the author’s ferocious dedication to great food and the long, grinding road he traveled to become a top-flight chef.
Psaltis may be starting his own Manhattan restaurant, but he, like many of his forebears, started at the nadir of the food chain: packing the Dumpster and swabbing the greasy pots at his grandfather’s small diner in Jamaica, Queens. He was ten years old and rarely left the kitchen after that, slowly working his way up to more accomplished positions. In formal, flowing prose (crafted with twin brother Michael, a literary agent), Psaltis explains that when he felt he had learned or achieved all he could in any particular establishment, he would find a better place to work, even though each move up in restaurant quality meant a move down for him in the kitchen hierarchy. It was worth it for the knowledge he gained: about efficiency and speed; about food that is fancy, not fun; about finesse, not flair; about the chef as primary source of energy, dedication, inspiration and atmosphere in the kitchen. It’s hard to imagine a more exacting individual, yet impossible not to admire his dedication: In a chef’s life, he avers, the few hours not devoted to work are largely consumed by (insufficient) sleep. Psaltis is curious and unafraid to experiment, organized and fanatically clean, exacting and refined. Highly attuned to food, he writes that “becoming a chef in your own right . . . means understanding why you were doing each step.” Psaltis became a chef the old-fashioned way, and he has plenty of good stories about what it is like to work your way up in the kitchens of David Bouley, Alain Ducasse and Thomas Keller. He is too proud to talk out of school, but he has no problem explaining his take on the pros and cons of each establishment, and he recalls incredible snafus as well as brilliant creations.
Think becoming a surgeon is tough? Psaltis’s apprenticeship makes a medical internship look relaxing.