Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line - Michael Gibney

I consider myself somewhat of an expert in the kitchen — and by that, I mean I watch The Food Network there as I feed my family soup, sandwiches and lots and lots of pasta. I also love to collect cookbooks, read about chefs, and pin pages of new recipes to my pinterest page, while I eat my soup and sometimes, if I’m feeling adventurous, a quesadilla.


When I requested this book from NetGalley, I was worried that it would ruin the restaurant experience for me, as some others had done (temporarily). But this is not that kind of book. For one thing, it is not a generalized view of the restaurant world; it is instead 24 hours in the life of a sous chef in an upscale New York restaurant. It is, quite simply, a love letter to the art of cooking. And, even more surprising to me, the author of this letter is as skilled a storyteller as he is a chef. In fact, he has impressive credentials to support him either way.


The book caught me a little off guard when I saw that it was written in the second person. I’m not usually a fan of this approach to narrative, but in this case, it has the effect of putting the reader directly into the action. In this bustling kitchen, there is plenty of action. There are almost 300 people coming for dinner service tonight, and we have to get ready. The chef will kill us if we do not have our mise en place prepared, if our station is not scrubbed, and if we have not completed the many jobs we need to do before we even begin to think about the first order being fired.


Having been in the restaurant business (ok, it was a Friendly’s), I was familiar with the setting. Seriously, this was the kitchen of a high-end restaurant; they operated on a level I can only imagine. Thanks to Gibney’s exceptional writing, I can feel the heat in every detail. When he wrote about each cook using a timer to coordinate the different parts of a table’s order, I broke out in a sweat. I was so nervous for a good part of the time I read this book that I hardly had the stomach to eat. And when I did eat, it was so disappointing to eat what I could prepare. As a diner, I have a new respect for the service I receive, and for the effort it takes to bring a high quality meal to the table.


My high school French also came in handy, as I was able to figure out some of the more basic terms. There is a nice long glossary in the back that was fun to read, but I would have loved it if the words had been footnoted throughout the ebook, since many of the words weren’t in my kindle’s dictionary. However, it did have the result of making me feel smarter at the end, since most of the terms I had, by that time, looked up somewhere else.


If you like to read a couple of books on the same topic, I would recommend this book along with Last Night at the Lobster. (You should also watch the movie Big Night, and then, you will need to do some serious eating.) Both of the books chronicle one day in the life of a restaurant, though they are vastly different. Last Night at the Lobster is an old favorite of mine, and Sous Chef, happily, is a new one.