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Culinary Career Boot Camp for Amateur Chefs

The title of Bill Buford's new memoir of life as a line cook--Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as a Kitchen Slave--might send prospective chefs running from a culinary career. But amid the combat metaphors, Buford's book portrays a sentimental love of the chef's job.

Not for the Faint of Heart

Heat is the latest in the kitchen genre, which chronicles the frustrations and unexpected joy of a line chef's job. Established by Anthony Bourdain as an answer to the media's fascination with the glamorous celebrity chef, the line cook memoir reveals what a culinary career is really like behind the scenes. Buford's Heat covers what makes a three-star restaurant work, what it takes to be a TV food star, and the techniques and history of Italian cooking. Along the way, he offers a glimpse of daily life as an entry-level chef.

Culinary Boot Camp

Heat ought to be required reading for those headed to chef school. Long hours, hard labor, fast pace -- the entry-level chef's job is not pretty, but ultimately Buford joins an elite corps of chefs who can dice carrots into millimeter cubes, turn a 225-pound pig into sausage, and perform countless jobs that make a kitchen run.

Labor of Love

For those heading to chef school, the message is this: a chef job is hard work. Only those who truly love cooking--the sensuality and creativity of it, not the glamour--will thrive in a culinary career. Bourdain writes: "the best thing about cooking for a living is this: to enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one's hands, using all one's senses." It's the pleasure Buford takes when he serves "perfect bellybuttons" of tortellini to his guests.

And maybe it's what you feel when you pull a perfectly browned pie from the oven, or a juicy steak off the grill. Before you invest in chef school ask yourself, do you have a passion for cooking?

Sources

  • Bourdain, Anthony. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (New York: Harper Perennial, 2001)
  • Buford, Bill. Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany (New York: Knopf, 2006)
  • Dickerman, Sara. "The Chef's Apprentice," Slate.com
  • Hodgson, Moira. "The Apprenticeship of a Pot-Boiler," The Wall Street Journal ('Personal Journal,' June 16, 2006)