An American woman's transcultural education and discovery that an unpaid culinary apprenticeship is “not just a culinary experience” but “a human experience.”
Following employment in a leisurely restaurant in Toulouse, France, Shockey embarked on a personal excursion to practice in several renowned kitchens around the world. From haute cuisine to fusion cooking, and from emphasis on technique to taste, her episodic debut reveals the pride and frustration of learning and mastering innovative as well as classical approaches. In her travels—which included enduring hierarchical, occasionally sexist commentary in New York and Paris, sampling challenging (to her Western palate) fare in Hanoi, or rediscovering casual dining in Tel Aviv—veteran foodies and Top Chef fans will recognize the tedious prepwork and the burden of performing over long hours. Shockey attempts to enliven these familiar topics with anecdotes about her struggles to find relationships in ex-pat communities; the resulting patchwork reinforces the book as the tale of a 20-something in search of direction. The author does not glamorize her travels, candidly noting the awkwardness of financial privilege in Vietnam and half-joking that Parisians are “a clan of snobbish people.” Shockey avoids esoteric, gastronomical musings or in-depth coverage of each city’s history and offerings, but she provides convincing evidence that immersion can be the fastest, most effective route to learning. As she remarks at several points, culinary school did not prepare her for what she encountered. Realizing that few chefs actually spend time behind the burner and that the role is often managerial created disappointment, but led to the rewarding affirmation that home-cooking is a passionate, inspiring, valid outlet. Each section includes recipes, many of which translate to the average kitchen.
Cooking for clientele and friends alike, Shockey highlights the importance of hands-on, communal involvement—food as nourishment with “soul” rather than high artistry.