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Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America Hardcover – May 3, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“How lucky for those of us who are fascinated by food and the people who make it that Jonathan Dixon chose to go to the CIA and to write about it. All about it. With wit and insight and a hefty dose of humor. You could probably learn just a smidgen more if you went to the CIA yourself, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as sitting in your favorite chair, sipping your favorite drink, and reading Jonathan’s story."
--Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table

“Jonathan Dixon's talents are such that I simultaneously envied and pitied him while reading his book. He brings the trials of joining the rigorous Culinary Institute of America to terrifying life. I enjoyed the journey so much that I never wanted him to graduate.”
--Joe Garden, features editor of The Onion
“If you think culinary school is just about slicing and dicing, think again. Jonathan Dixon’s compelling, deeply personal account of his trial by fire at the Culinary Institute of America lays bare the physicality, politics, and soul-searching that are part and parcel of a cook’s education. Third-degree burns, public humiliation, and a bubble-bursting externship at a beloved New York City restaurant are just a few highlights of this coming-of-age journey that the author—insanely? commendably?—embarked on when he was nearly forty.  He’s a better man than I.”
--Andrew Friedman, author of Knives at Dawn
“There are certain experiences in our lives that we never forget and help define who we are and what we become. The CIA is one of those life-changing experiences. I never thought it could be put into words until I read these pages. Congratulations, Jonathan, for both surviving and your ability to share this with the world.”
--Johnny Iuzzini, James Beard Award winner and author of Dessert FourPlay

“With an original and refreshing voice, Dixon excels at capturing the mixed emotions of promises delivered and denied as he challenges convention and conquers the odds. VERDICT Rock star chefs have added to the allure of culinary education, and Dixon’s vivid and honest portrayal should provide a reality check for fans of TV cooking competitions. Shelve this next to Michael Ruhlman’s The Making of a Chef for a well-rounded collection.”
--Library Journal

“A companion of sorts to Michael Ruhlman’s more clinical The Making of a Chef (1997), Dixon’s candid course-by-course account charts his education as he gets whipped into shape by intimidating instructors (whose default temperaments seem to be near apoplectic) alongside classmates often half his age. …[A]s a writer he has the steady-tempoed, clarified ability to make his pages-long descriptions of crafting a test menu rival the drama of anything you’ll see on a competition cooking show.”

“Beaten, Seared, and Sauced, Jonathan Dixon's account of his chef-training at the CIA, is funny, gripping and immensely enjoyable. It reads like a picaresque novel.”
--The Wall Street Journal 

About the Author

JONATHAN DIXON—a former inspector of nurses’ shoes, janitor in a coffin factory, messenger, nanny, newspaper book and music critic, staff writer at Martha Stewart Living, and creative writing instructor at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York—received his culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in 2010.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Clarkson Potter; First Printing edition (May 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030758903X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307589033
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #732,402 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When Jonathan Dixon decided to become a student at the Culinary Institute of America, he was already at an age when most men and women are settled into a career, not deciding what they want to be when they grow up. Pushing 40, with some food writing background and a love for good food, he and his long-suffering girlfriend pull up stakes and head for upstate NY and the Basil and Balsmic covered halls of Gastronomic Academe.

Does Jonathan have what it takes to join the ranks of Molto Mario, Bobby Flay, Cat Cora and Michael Simon? You'll have to read the book to find out. And you won't be sorry. Dixon let's us feel the heat. It's not easy being older by decades than most of your fellow students. His 38-year-old feet and back don't hold up as well as they used to, and his patience with operatic chef-instructors is a little thin, too. Learning how to make the classic mother sauces, dice a rutabaga into tiny, precise and identical cubes, and not forget one small but crucial ingredient in a complex recipe make culinary school less of an Easy A than he anticipated. Even being a gopher at a busy NYC restaurant is tougher than imagined, as Dixon learns during a semi-disasterous externship.

"Beaten, Seared, and Sauced" is a fast, fun read. And for those of us who dread the ubiquitous "my life, the early years" portions of a memoir...you know, where the author moves away...far away...from the topic we are interested in and tells us all about his happy years with Lad the Labrador, or about Great Grandfather Spencer, noted Civil War General, or how Uncle Zbazo escaped the Great Massacre (who cares which one, there is always a great massacre going on somewhere, stay with me)... Dixon spares us this. He sticks to the topic the way a good chef should stick to the recipe.
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12 Comments 21 of 24 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dixon keeps his text fairly close to his experiences leaving the reader feeling like a sudden narrative turn may occur without any actually taking place. After making several references to his girlfriend's impatience and dissatisfaction with his schedule he follows her request for him to make a specific dish with the revelation that he never did. The reader could be forgiven for expecting that to mean something more, but like so much of Beaten it means exactly what it says and nothing else. Those recipes are just something he never got around to making, not foreshadowing for relationship doom. When someone catches his eye and they smile at each other, it's just a greeting. This is a memoir that deals very strictly with how he was taught at CIA and how he felt while he was being taught. Dixon doesn't place his experience in a larger context or weigh it with any baggage from other experiences, Beaten is what it appears to be, how one guy felt about his classes. I can't fault it for that. Beaten held my attention, however the feeling that something more lay around the next corner was never fulfilled. Classmates are introduced but rarely followed. No summary of where they all went or comment on their feelings about the experience is offered. Beaten suffers from that narrow focus as Dixon's journey is ultimately forgettable. He wanted to go to CIA. He did. It was difficult, sometimes he had doubts. The end. While Beaten would certainly be an interesting gift for someone considering a culinary education it's crossover appeal is somewhat muted by the lack of broad focus. I ended the book having enjoyed it but with no real sense of fulfillment or desire to spend more time with it's subject.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a behind-the-scenes look at one person's journey through the Culinary Institute of America. If you've ever watched Top Chef or other competitive cooking shows, you have probably heard of the CIA. The Institute also operates restaurants that are open to the public. The author, Jonathan Dixon, was a somewhat non-traditional student in that he was 38 years old at the time he began the two year program. Some students enroll right out of high school, and others are in their mid-twenties. Dixon brought a more mature attitude than many, along with some regrets at having (as he sees it) "wasted" so much time in his twenties and early thirties.

Prior to enrolling in the CIA, Dixon knocked around, doing a lot of jobs. He was a free-lance writer of music and book reviews, and an adjunct professor at Pratt Institute in New York, teaching creative writing and literature. This background shows in the book, which is well written and engaging. I especially enjoyed the chapter pertaining to his "externship." Every student at the CIA is required, as part of his or her training, to spend four and a half months working in a restaurant approved by the CIA. The author wanted to do his externship in New York City. Only about twenty restaurants in the city are on the approved list, and Dixon did not get his first choice. His account of his time on the job there is very interesting and fun to read.

I've read Tony Bourdain's books and liked them. This book is somewhat in the same vein, and was every bit as good. I'm interested in finding out how the author fares in the world of cooking, and will keep an eye out for a future book.
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