One man's journey from short-order cook to acclaimed chef.
As Van Aken (My Key West Kitchen: Recipes and Stories, 2012, etc.) readily admits in his delightful, oftentimes laugh-out-loud memoir, his journey into the life of restaurant cooking occurred by happenstance: He needed a job, and a diner needed a cook, no experience necessary. What unfolded over a 20-plus-year span was the slow maturation of a teen into a man and of a clumsy and untrained novice into a chef who rode the edge of the New American cuisine wave as it broke on the shores of America. From Illinois to Key West, Van Aken takes readers behind the scenes and deep into the hearts of the restaurants for which he worked, where the kitchen life was energized, hectic and often swelteringly hot. With no formal schooling in the culinary arts, the author watched like a hawk, asked numerous questions and read cookbooks by some of the best chefs in the world while learning the ins and outs of French cuisine, ethnic Latin American, Italian and Japanese foods, as well as the new fusion style of American cooking. At first, however, he did it all with a certain amount of reluctance, as he writes: "A kitchen job again? Oh my God! What crimes did I do in a former life to merit this role again?" Nicely intertwined with the fast-paced antics of the kitchen are Van Aken's reflections on his romantic life with his wife and son. The author pays homage to the many chefs who influenced him in his career and recounts moments with some of the greats, like Julia Child, Charlie Trotter and Emeril Lagasse. As an added bonus, Van Aken includes a wide variety of recipes mentioned in the text.
A lively romp into the frenetic life of a significant American chef.