Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sous Chef, Michael Gibney

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line


Michael Gibney


Category: Nonfiction; Food & Cooking

Synopsis: Gibney gives readers a 24-hour tour of a professional restaurant’s kitchen.

Date finished: 23 June 2014

Rating: ***

I was really looking forward to this book, because I love a good food memoir. While I have no desire to ever work in a professional kitchen (four years in the low-end restaurant business was enough of a taste for me) I enjoyed being a fly on the wall. I’ve always been a little in awe of two things when it comes to the restaurant business: (1) the nuances of cookery: honing one’s palette, learning how to successfully marry flavors, learning how to season without relying on it, and the techniques that are second-nature to chefs that would seem so foreign to home cooks (remember the scene in Julie and Julia where Julia Child is learning knife technique by chopping a mountain of onions?); and (2) the frenzy of the kitchen, each station dependent on the one before it, the timing of the different items to make a meal and the different meals to make a table’s order. And Sous Chef talked about all of this.

The part that I don’t enjoy about professional kitchens (or at least the ones that make it into memoirs) is the underbelly of the kitchen staff. Let’s be frank. There seem to be two types of chefs: the uppity kind who apprenticed in Europe and the delinquent kind who make cooking their art and who live the hard life full of drugs and booze. I’ll take the snobby French chef over the strung-out dude any day. But this book was full of the stoner kind, and that turned me off. As soon as the sous chef was off the clock, I lost interest in the story. It was too gritty and unappealing to me. The dialogue between chefs and the language used was just plain gross. Most people probably have a higher tolerance for that kind of thing than I do, but it kind of turned me off from eating at a “good” restaurant. So, that’s my bias.

Also, I was unsure—is this a memoir? Being written in second-person, it can’t fairly be called a memoir. I imagine it was based on Gibney’s experience, and the characters and menu were composites. This thought kind of bothered me, though that shows more about my personality than about Gibney’s choice of narrative.

In short, Gibney did a good job of presenting the demands of being a chef. The book is well-paced and presents the down time and hectic times well. I enjoyed the kitchen scenes a lot. The non-kitchen scenes, not so much.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
If they’re interested in such things, yes.

You might also enjoy:
Yes, Chef


  1. Nice review! I enjoyed Sous Chef a lot, but the second-person narration did take time to get used to. And I also liked the behind-the-scenes-in-the-kitchen parts more than the rest. Reading it confirmed that I no matter how much I love to cook, I NEVER want to work in a restaurant kitchen! (I've read and enjoyed Delancey, but haven't read Yes, Chef yet--I'll need to add it to my TBR!)

    1. Of the three, "Delancey" was by far my favorite. "Yes, Chef" fell a little flat for me, though I generally enjoy books about other cultures. It had the saneness of "Delancey" and the grittiness of "Sous Chef."