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In Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, Gibney cobbles together a typical day-in-the-life, taking us into the back of a restaurant to reveal the difficult and unglamorous side of being a professional chef. Although he hardly covers new ground here (see my review of Bill Buford's Heat, for example), Gibney's account is nonetheless interesting, informative, and well written.
Sous Chef starts when Gibney arrives at the restaurant on a Friday morning and then details exactly how the staff prepares for the evening's dinner service, from food prep to plating. The sous chef oversees all these tasks plus makes sure the wait staff understands the day's specials and acts as liaison between the head chef and the rest of the employees.
Rounding out the descriptions of the food, kitchen layout, and equipment, Gibney writes about the complex dance (as he calls it) that allows the cooks to work smoothly on the line, serving over three hundred customers in a single evening. This is grueling, hot work and tempers are on edge, but if the staff can't find a work together, the restaurant will not succeed. A competent sous chef is key to keeping everything under control.
Gibney's cock-sure attitude could be hard to take, but he recounts enough of his blunders to soften his personality. On the other hand, by the time he stumbles into the restaurant on Saturday morning to begin prep for the weekend brunch, Gibney is going to need that self-assurance; only the strong (or crazy) survive to cook another day.
If you've read the likes of Anthony Bourdain, Bill Buford, and Marcus Samuelsson, you won't be surprised by Michael Gibney's Sous Chef. Regardless, whether you're new to restaurant memoirs or an old-time foodie, make room on your shelf for this informative and nicely crafted tale of the trade.
I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition (Random House Audio; 5 hr, 46 min), read by the capable Fred Berman, whose enthusiasm for the book kept my attention throughout. My full (and positive) audiobook review will be available from AudioFile magazine. Note that the introduction to the audiobook is read by the author himself; unfortunately, Gibney's performance is not very engaging and it's a shame that the audio sample comes from his section and not from Berman's fine narration.
Published by Random House / Ballantine, 2014
Source: Review (audio) (see review policy)
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