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Restaurant Books: Behind the Scenes

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As a frequent diner at restaurants that range from holes-in-the-wall to holes-in-the-wallet, I admit to being quite ignorant of what goes on behind the scenes. Just what happens between my placing an order and my order being placed in front of me?

I would love to read a book---or books---that deals with restaurant operations. I don't want a textbook or a how-to for restaurateurs, but something more lively that captures the everyday trials and tribulations of a working kitchen. Something that provides some insights into the coordination, staffing, and workflow that most of us never see.

Suggestions appreciated. Thanks.

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  1. I'll start: Eric Ripert has a new book out titled "On the Line" which spends the first half describing the duties of each station at Le Bernadin. The second half is recipes. Bill Buford's "Heat" spends much of the first half depicting the author's manning a prep station and then a couple of cooking stations at Batali's Babbo, but then meanders into tours of old Italy and long permutations on the origin of egg in pasta recipes. My favorite cooking books, with great writing and interesting anecdotes, are the trilogy by Michael Ruhlman, his "Making of..." "Soul of..." and "Reach of a Chef." These books start by chronicling his experience at the Culinary Institute of America, then profile chefs such as Thomas Keller and the then little-known Michael Symon, and are great reads. For a wonderful guide and philosophy of service and front of the house, Danny Meyer's "At Your Service" (or a title close to that) is inspiring, and Debra Ginsberg's "Waiting" is a light, entertaining account of her experiences serving at diners and country clubs and bars and everywhere in between. You don't even need to invest in books (though the shipping costs more than used copies on amazon); if you go to Ruhlman's website, you can read much more than you'll ever have time for just accessing the blogs he links and going on from there.

    1. "Kitchen Confidential" as well, and to see what kind of place chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal got their starts in, check out Marco Pierre White's "The Devil in the Kitchen".

      1. Just finished Kitchen Confidential....MOAR....any updates/further suggestions?

        I was intrigued about back of house operations after our large family ate at a recommended restaurant - all five of the short ribs came to us delicious, but hot on the outside, stone cold by the bone. It was rectified IMMEDIATELY and appropriately but I was then curious as to how food is prepared, stored, and then reprepared for the customer without losing quality. I liked Bourdain's Pirate kitchen talk and his suggestions on what NOT to order (like fish on Mondays, and avoid Sunday buffet tables).

        Will look up all the ones suggested by Nosh and ktb, thanks!

        2 Replies
        1. re: leetmom7

          "Service Included" by Phoebe Damrosch. Behind the scene at Per Se restaurant.

          1. re: markabauman

            Yes - that was a good read. Also Heat, perhaps.

        2. "Don't Try This At Home" is a wonderful book about major chef's' kitchen disasters. (Like Ferran Andia ruining 900lbs of lobster.) Each chaper is an account of a true chef nightmare. Great reading.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Leper

            The Fourth Star....Excellent book

            1. re: pg1chef

              You might want to check out The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White.

          2. Steven Shaw, one of the founders of eGullet, has a book called "Turning Tables".

            1 Reply
            1. re: margshep

              Dirty Dishes by Pino Luongo
              Waiter Rant

            2. In addition to all of the other suggestions the first 1/3 of "L'Atelier of Joel Robuchon" may be of interest.