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
"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 food52.com 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