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Oct 9, 2007 08:33 AM

Chef Autobios and Bios, Other...

While I do some cooking it's nothing remarkable; my wife is the remarkable one in this dept.
I once heard a joke where the difference between being involved and committed is like this; in a plate of eggs and bacon the chicken is involved and the pig is committed. In this scheme I'm a chicken. Food Network got me as hooked as I am about soccer (fitba) in 2000 or so.

So while I have no desire to secretly be a chef or own a restaurant, I am fascinated by this particular vocation. My wife consults recipies while I read about the people who concoct them.

I'm reading Marco Pierre White's autobio Devil In The Kitchen (through a scribe surely) which is very entertaining and recommended.

Of course there's the Gordon Ramsay autobio (he must have just switched on a tape recorder, but I still liked it) Roasting In Hell's Kitchen, known in the UK as Humble Pie. Supposedly a movie's to be made, who'd play him, Ewen McGregor? Like him or not it's quite the story.

Jacques Pepin's book The Appentice is as lively and mischievous as he is and comes with recipes.

Bourdain's three titles Kitchen Confidentail, A Cook's Tour and The Nasty Bits are all as charming and frank as he seems to be, and the man does write (he has a couple of novels to his credit as well).

A more balanced look perhaps is Michael Chelminsky's The Perfectionist about the French Chef Oiseux (sp?) who ended up killing himself. Not just fascinating about him but you get a history of French cuisine in the process.

Also, not to be overlooked, Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London where restaurants figure prominently.

Should you have any titles to recommend, let me know.

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  1. While not an autobiography I am just finishing The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten and am loving it. I would highly recomend it and will be returning it to the library today!

    2 Replies
    1. re: leslievillian

      My wife read an article by him and said it was great so yes I'll have to check this out. I'm a bit put off by him on Iron Chef as a judge; he comes across a like a culinary James Bond villain, but I can put aside my prejudice and give the man his due. My wife has the Reichel (sp?) books as well, which are suppose to be good. Should read these too I suppose as we own them...Clearly I've been sexist in my reading on the topic. Cheers.

      1. re: Kennzer

        You MUST read Steingarten to get him as a judge. He has the dryest sense of humor that I literally laughed until I was crying at certain parts of his book.

        I think a lot of his Iron Chef thing is him being funny - or wishing to cut throught the fluff and hype. He is a lawyer by background and you'll read in the book that everything is very process-driven and factual - even in his pursuit of what could be an artform - amazing, well-prepared food.

        Anyway, anything by him is a must-read.

    2. Read the Seasoning of a Chef, a little known book about a chef who goes from working at his families diner to working along side Alain Ducasse. Also read Julia Child's Autobiography , Daniel Bouloud's Letters to a Young Chef is meant to be a guide . almost a how to for up-coming cooks, but it tells stories of Daniel's life anfd working career. By the way I bought Marco Pierre's book White Slave when it first came out , (which I quite enjoyed by the way), and was looking forward to reading his "new" book Devil in the Kitchen, but was disappointed to see it was the exact same book. I hate when people just change the names and re-publish the book.

      6 Replies
      1. re: chef223

        This all looks good, too, thanks. Now was it Ducasse who whipped a pan of boiling water at Ramsay, narrowly missing him?

        About title changes--blame the publisher. In the new edition White mentions that he's the new host of Hell's Kitchen in the UK, a property which Granada owns. There it has to do with turning celebrities into a brigade versus a competition. I imagine all parties concerned wanted a title that tied into this, especially as I can see that show popping up in North America eventually. My guess anyway.

        1. re: Kennzer

          Pretty sure it was Marco Pierre White that heaped all the abuse at Ramsey.

          1. re: KTinNYC

            If you go to YouTube and enter Marco Pierre White there's some good recent video plus a bit about him referring to Jamie Oliver as 'just a fat chef with a drum kit.'

            My wife adores Jamie (naturally) and wonders why some people in the business hate him. What can I tell her?

            1. re: Kennzer

              Well, I love Jamie Oliver--and Jenson Button and am the only one I know who read all of Maggie Thatcher's, "The Downing Street Years" (and am now reading Geoffrey Howe's book) go figure.

          2. re: chef223

            I picked up and read Bouloud's book and yes it was succint and insightful. The recipes at the back look good too. Thanks.

          3. While not a professional chef, Bob Shacochis wrote a great book called "Domesticity." He wrote the "Dining In" column in GQ in the 90s.


            1. Heat, which isn't just about Bill Buford's time in the Babbo kitchen, but also about how Mario Batali became Mario Batali.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Megiac

                I've seen this title and yes it's on my 'to-read' list; have just started a bio of Augustus Caesar. Apparently parasites from bad food were endemic, though we do get the concept of the tavern from the Romans. People in tenements couldn't keep food so ate at the taverna usually at the base of their building or nearby. Still sounds familiar; while keep food fresh isn't a problem, time is.

              2. The Modern Library has a series out called "Modern Library Food" ( ) and I'd recommend most every title.

                Along the lines of bios / autobios, I'd suggest "Life a la Henri," "Cooking with Pomaine," "Clementine in the Kitchen," and "Katish: Our Russian Cook" - fascinating glimpses into a long-gone time.

                Another interesting read is "Fragrant Rice" (sorry, cannot recall the author's name at the moment) - a young Australian woman traveled to Bali, fell in love with the land and moved there, eventually opening a restaurant and a cooking school - the rituals of the food prep. and serving is fascinating and quite hunger-provoking.