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At the Chef's Table

Culinary Creativity in Elite Restaurants
Narrated by: Anna Crowe
Length: 7 hrs and 42 mins
Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Arts
3 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Summary

This book is about the creative work of chefs at top restaurants in New York and San Francisco. Based on interviews with chefs and observation in restaurant kitchens, the book explores the question of how and why chefs make choices about the dishes they put on their menus. It answers this question by examining a whole range of areas, including chefs' careers, restaurant ratings and reviews, social networks, how chefs think about food and go about creating new dishes, and how status influences their work and careers.

Chefs at top restaurants face competing pressures to deliver complex and creative dishes, and navigate market forces to run a profitable business in an industry with exceptionally high costs and low profit margins. Creating a distinctive and original culinary style allows them to stand out in the market, but making the familiar food that many customers want ensures that they can stay in business. Chefs must make choices between these competing pressures. In explaining how they do so, this book uses the case study of high cuisine to analyze, more generally, how people in creative occupations navigate a context that is rife with uncertainty, high pressures, and contradicting forces.

©2015 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University (P)2015 Redwood Audiobooks

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  • 10-10-18

This book exposes the ridiculousness of some sociology, but not much about the culinary world

First, this reads like an extra-long paper for a low-level graduate sociology class. The jargon is barely useful. Sometimes it seems like parody. Read (or listen to) the appendix, which describes the “methodology,” before you read anything else. This will prepare you for the socio-babble you’re about to endure.

Second, the conclusions in this book are either obvious or unsupported, and the ethical conclusions are just a bit silly. For instance, the silly: A chef is “ethical” if he—you’re thinking it’s if he treats employees well, doesn’t steal, etc., but no—does not imbue his food with too much flash, just to get attention.

Then there’s the obvious—that is, obvious to all but the Christopher-Columbia-like explorer, who finds a world “new” because he’s never seen it before: Chefs who study under other highly skilled or highly regarded chefs are more likely to become highly skilled or successful themselves.

And the unsupported: Chefs who start their own restaurants are likely to choose a region/cuisine that is different from that of their mentors because they need to distinguish themselves and avoid being thought of as having stolen recipes.

There are a few gems. For instance, highly regarded chefs claim that culinary schools (like the CIA) are not good preparation, and therefore that they prefer not to hire those graduates, but that they predominately hire them anyway.

If you long to hear words like “normative” (used in two different ways) and “phenomenological” and “duality” and “dichotomy” all used within two sentences, this is your kind of screed. If you want to learn about the culinary world, read a book by or about a chef, like Marcus Samuelson’s “Yes, Chef,” or Marco Pierre White’s “The Devil in the Kitchen,” or even Bill Buford’s “Heat” or Daniel Boulud’s “Letters to a Young Chef.”

By the way, the performance was adequate for the material, and I doubt any performer could have made this dry drivel any more interesting, though I didn’t get the sense that this performer tried.

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