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Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris Hardcover – July 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

At the French Culinary Institute, Lauren Shockey learned to salt food properly, cook fearlessly over high heat, and knock back beers like a pro. But she also discovered that her real culinary education wouldn't begin until she actually worked in a restaurant. After a somewhat disappointing apprenticeship in the French provinces, Shockey hatched a plan for her dream year: to apprentice in four high-end restaurants around the world. She started in her hometown of New York City under the famed chef Wylie Dufresne at the molecular gastronomy hotspot wd-50, then traveled to Vietnam, Israel, and back to France. From the ribald kitchen humor to fiery-tempered workers to tasks ranging from the mundane (mincing cases of shallots) to the extraordinary (cooking seafood on the line), Shockey shows us what really happens behind the scenes in haute cuisine, and includes original recipes integrating the techniques and flavors she learned along the way. With the dramatic backdrop of restaurant life, readers will be delighted by the adventures of a bright and restless young woman looking for her place in the world.

Amazon Exclusive Essay: An Edible Education
Lauren Shockey

It's ironic that I ended up becoming a food writer. As a child, I was certainly one of the pickiest eaters around. What I didn't like constituted a veritable universe of the edible: hot dogs, chicken legs, salmon, broccoli, olives, sushi (save for cucumber rolls), Brussels sprouts, oranges, cabbage, beans of any kind, apple juice, fish sticks, spinach, hard-boiled eggs, tofu, shrimp, and even peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches (though peanut butter alone, on white bread with the crusts cut off, was acceptable). Plus a slew of others, but you get the idea.

But cheese topped my list of despised foods, especially those malodorous varieties, like Roquefort, Taleggio, and Limburger. And melted cheese was even worse—how the smell amplified when it was cooked! I considered a night at a fondue restaurant equivalent to child abuse. I even turned up my nose at pizza—at slumber parties I peeled the mozzarella off my slice, delicately placing it in a small congealed heap at the edge of my plate. When I went to Italy with my parents as a middle-schooler, I mastered the phrase "senza formaggio," or "without cheese." Imagine the laughs the Italians got out of that one!

Yet a funny thing happened around the time I hit adolescence: my tastes began to evolve slowly. I became a little more adventurous. Shrimp scampi suddenly didn't look so scary, and who knew—Brussels sprouts actually tasted great if they weren't overcooked. Seduced by its warm creaminess, I even began leaving the cheese on my pizza.

"It's a slippery slope once you start eating mozzarella," cautioned my father. "Next you'll be showering your pasta with Pecorino."

"No, that'll never happen," I said.

But, of course, he was right, and not only about the Parmesan. By the time I started college, I was spreading chunks of chevre on crackers at parties and no longer withholding the grated Parmesan in my Caesar salads. And the more I freed my palate, the more I realized just how much I'd been missing out on. I also discovered that I loved the thrill of experimenting with new and exotic ingredients in the kitchen. This was a big reason why I went to culinary school and not long after set out on a year-long journey to write Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris.

I hope in reading the book, you'll share my joy at the stove and at the table as I explore a world of new tastes. That you'll share my wonder as I apprentice at wd~50, a restaurant that serves kooky dishes like cubes of fried hollandaise sauce and Tater Tots made not from potatoes but green tomatoes. That you'll fall, like I did, for the verdant herbs gracing the tables of roadside restaurants in Hanoi. That you'll be want to stock your kitchen with zaatar, a musty spice blend I discovered in Tel Aviv that goes amazingly with anything from roast chicken to velvety sweet potato and feta soup (recipe included in the book!). And that you'll appreciate the dedication and impossibly long hours it takes to be a chef in a top Parisian restaurant.

And, most importantly, I hope it will inspire you to follow my lead and open yourself to new edible adventures. Your taste buds will thank you. Trust me, mine did.--Lauren Shockey


"Something hot to read this summer."—The Providence Journal

"This interesting blend of history, culture, cooking, and travel is highly recommended for any lover of literary travel writing. Those who enjoy cooking will learn through her experiences and be inspired to try Shockey's kitchen-friendly recipes featuring the spices and flavors she discovers along the way."—Jane Hebert, Orange Cty. Lib. Syst., Orlando, FL, Library Journal

"A charmer, an honest and good-humoured behind-the-scenes look at life in the kitchen, very much in the vein of Bill Buford's Heat or Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential." The Globe and Mail

"Rich descriptions of coworkers and locales accompany her main theme of struggle and growth, and recipes inspired by items on the menus of the restaurants she worked further enhance it. . . . Just as her talent and skill earned Shockey respect in the kitchens in which she worked, her unique memoir will garner her favor from the world of food writing."—Booklist

"An American woman's transcultural education and discovery that an unpaid culinary apprenticeship is 'not just a culinary experience' but 'a human experience' . . . reveals the pride and frustration of learning and mastering innovative as well as classical approaches. In her travels-which included enduring hierarchical, occasionally sexist commentary in New York and Paris, sampling challenging (to her Western palate) fare in Hanoi, or rediscovering casual dining in Tel Aviv-veteran foodies and Top Chef fans will recognize the tedious prepwork and the burden of performing over long hours . . . She provides convincing evidence that immersion can be the fastest, most effective route to learning. As she remarks at several points, culinary school did not prepare her for what she encountered. Realizing that few chefs actually spend time behind the burner and that the role is often managerial created disappointment, but led to the rewarding affirmation that home-cooking is a passionate, inspiring, valid outlet. Each section includes recipes, many of which translate to the average kitchen.

Cooking for clientele and friends alike, Shockey highlights the importance of hands-on, communal involvement-food as nourishment with 'soul' rather than high artistry."—Kirkus Reviews

"With Four Kitchens, Lauren Shockey immediately establishes herself as an adventurer and raconteur-and as one of the most appealing food writers of her generation."—Amanda Hesser, co-founder of and author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook

"Four kitchens, four countries and four delicious adventures from a young cook with moxie. So many food lovers have dreamed of cooking their way around the world, Lauren actually did it! Luckily for readers, along with her knives, she traveled with a sense of humor and an ear for a good story."—Dorie Greenspan, author of Around My French Table

"Aspiring cooks will love following Lauren's trials and tribulations as she immerses herself in each kitchen's microcosm, and shares the lessons she learns."—Clotilde Dusoulier, author of Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris and founder of Chocolate and Zucchini

"Kitchen Confidential meets Eat, Pray, Love; Shockey's book is full of heart and humor and is essential reading for anyone who plans to work in a restaurant kitchen."—Adam Roberts, creator of The Amateur Gourmet

"An insider's ode to all the sweat, blood and tears that goes into the finest meals of the world, told with reverence, affection and honesty. Lauren Shockey is a fearless chef without borders, and her appetite is infectious."—Cathy Erway, author of The Art of Eating In

"Kitchen memoirs are common enough, but how many are composed by actual writers? Four Kitchens by Lauren Shockey is one of them, well enough written that it can stand next to Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. The prose is smooth and free-flowing, exciting enough that you'll race to the end of each section. What's more, like any good travelogue, we learn more about these places than we would from a guidebook-and pick up a wealth of cooking tips along the way, along with valuable insights into why chefs go through what they do to become chefs."—Robert Sietsema, author of The Food Lover's Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City

"What makes the book come alive are the stories. Shockey clearly understands what it takes to get along with the varied and often ego driven personalities. . . The four kitchen adventures are challenging and Shockey makes the most of each one. The smells and rhythms of the countries permeate her writing, as does her appreciation of what she is learning."—Jewish Book World

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (July 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446559873
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446559874
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #888,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Lauren Shockey is a food writer whose articles have appeared in many print and online publications including "The Village Voice," "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal," "Slate," and "The Atlantic Food Channel," among many others. A graduate of The University of Chicago, Lauren also holds a diploma in Classic Culinary Arts from The French Culinary Institute and a Master of Arts in food studies from New York University.

You can visit her website at

Customer Reviews

As it being one of the last books on the shelf to buy, I decided to purchase it.
Lauren Shockey's riveting tale of her year traveling the globe as a stagier is truly inspiring.
Jessica G.
I think that out of the four places, I would like to visit the restaurant in Hanoi the best.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By misplaced cajun on September 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
When Lauren Shockey completed culinary school, she decided to round out her education with four very different stages (like an internship, in a kitchen) in four different countries. She begins at wd-50 in New York, chronicling the daily grind in a popular molecular gastronomy restaurant kitchen. From there, she moves to Vietnam where she explores the local cuisine and works at La Verticale. In Tel Aviv, she spends less time talking about her restaurant experiences at Carmella Bistro and more time detailing her experiences cooking with new friends. Finally, she finishes in Paris at a high-end restaurant called Senderens.

While reading, I was a bit confused about Shockey's approach in telling the story of her time in each restaurant. By the end of the book, however, it became clear that Shockey's experience, which began as a way to learn about how different restaurants approach food and cooking -- trying them on for size to see where she might fit in the industry -- became something very different for Shockey. In the end, she decides that these restaurants are not, in fact, the place for her. That she much prefers cooking and entertaining for loved ones and friends (like her experiences in Tel Aviv) rather than the grueling behind the scenes work in a professional kitchen.

Overall, a very honest and entertaining food and travel memoir.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Deborah VINE VOICE on September 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Before reading this book, I didn't know much about what went on in restaurant kitchens. Obviously I knew that people were busy behind the scenes making my food, but I never really sat down to think about the entire process of what went on. I was interested in this book because I did want to learn about life behind the scenes. I found that Lauren Shockey has written an excellent foodie and travel memoir that's both fun, entertaining and yummy.

At first I was appalled at how mean some of the people were to Lauren when she first started in the restaurants in NYC and Paris. I don't understand why people expect everyone to know everything as soon as they start and then they get yelled at even though they were not told exactly what or how to do things. In contrast the restaurants in Hanoi and Tel Aviv were more laid back and willing to explain things without yelling. Is it the locations and atmosphere that make the difference? Is there a sense of snobbery in bigger cities that put people on the edge?

Shockey gives several chapters to each restaurant and goes into detail about the style of the restaurant, the food the serve, and the people and culture of the area. It's interesting to see how each restaurant was different, not only in terms of food, but in how they did things in the kitchen. No matter how much she learned in one place, she had to relearn things all over again at a new restaurant. There are so many different styles of cooking to keep track of and so many inside information to learn. Shockey also makes a good point of how it's hard to be a woman in the field and how the industry is very heavily male dominated.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Robert Labrenz on November 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I suspect that Lauren may have known before she embarked on her journey that she was cut out to be a food writer and not a chef, but such a wide-ranging, adventurous, and insightful journey at such a young age, apprenticing in some very different restaurants, formed a firm foundation for what I hope to be much future success. She knows what she's talking about, as she's done it. Now she can build a career as a food writer with a background of experience to share a "from the kitchen" view of how our food is prepared. I find culinary workers - whether they be chefs, cooks, or dishwashers - to be a fascinating breed of people. I enjoy reading these tales, and I look forward to reading more from Lauren. I recommend this book as a window into some fantastic kitchen adventures.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Village Dweller on December 4, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Four Kitchens is a well-written, engaging and honest look behind the scenes at how that fancy food makes it onto the diner's plate in a big-time restaurant. Lauren Shockey doesn't shy away from exploring both the ups and downs of restaurant life. While I am not a big fan of Wylie Dufresne and molecular gastronomy, I felt like I was standing right in his wd-50 kitchen as I read and learned to appreciate his approach. Highly recommended for anyone thinking about going to culinary school or working in restaurants --and for anyone who has wistfully toyed with the idea.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gregg Anderson on July 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
"Four Kitchens", written by Lauren Shockey, is a welcome treat to any reader who stumbles across it. With a personal story woven throughout, the book is a tale of self discovery, a journey around the world, and a peek into, as the title says, four kitchens.

Schockey starts out in New York, where she receives a more academic training foodwise, as well as some eccentric experience at wd~50, a restaraunt known for its exotic molecular gastronomy.

For me, things really picked up once Shockey arrived in Vietnam. Here was a peak into a world I really know little to nothing about. She navigated both her way in the kitchen and life as an expatriate in an energetic, lively manner.

The sections in France and Israel were interesting as well, but honestly, I could have read a whole book about her life in Vietnam!

Overall, an inspiring piece of work, even to someone who has little to no idea about life in the kitchen. I would recommend this book to anyone!

--Kerry Anderson
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