cover image Making of a Chef

Making of a Chef

Michael Ruhlman. Henry Holt & Company, $27.5 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-4674-8

Ruhlman (Boys Themselves) tagged along with students at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York (""the Harvard of cooking schools"") and describes the intense and frenetic life of a chef-in-training. Ultimately, it is personalities that mark Ruhlman's experience, and he does an expert job of profiling various characters: Adam Shepard, a talented but slightly sullen student who understands both the physics and the feel of food; chef Michael Coppedge, who runs the bake shop and makes bread sexy; and Philip Papineau, who oversees service at one of the CIA restaurants and provides a sociological perspective on table service. Ruhlman is an accomplished writer, and his material is fresh. While he starts by noting that he has come ""to impersonate a student,"" he takes the challenge to heart, learning to peel carrots and make stock with the rest of the class. And when a snowstorm makes the journey to the school perilous on the day when Ruhlman is scheduled to take a ""cooking practical,"" he gets in his car and drives in dangerous conditions because his instructor has implied that chefs are made of stronger stuff. Despite his outsider status, Ruhlman still gives an insider's take on, for example, the long-simmering debate among CIA faculty about whether brown sauce should be made using a brown roux, as many prefer, or with a blond roux, as described in the school's own textbook. The culmination of an education at the Culinary Institute is time spent working in its restaurants, and Ruhlman conveys how heady and how frightening that experience can be. (Dec.)