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VINE VOICEon February 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In his illuminating book SOUS CHEF, Michael Gibney grabbed both of my vulnerables, reading and eating, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Who knew of the wild rumpus I created in the kitchen when I placed my food order. I didn’t know my arroser from hot pommes until I read this book that describes a busy night in a starred NYC restaurant. Bravo to a true artist and thanks for inviting me to dinner. Incidentally, an extensive glossary is included in the book to acquaint the reader with culinary terms in case you’re not familiar with your own pommes.

Behind that swinging door to the kitchen is a community of white clad lunatics. The only redeeming feature they all share is their dedication to providing quality food to the customers gathered out front. Unlike Denny’s, where a couple of gum chewers grill hamburgers, fry hash browns, and dip soggy spaghetti, the fine restaurant has a strict hierarchy of many employees with a myriad of complex tasks. The failure of a single duty spells disaster with the possible downgrading of the restaurant’s standing. But the back staff is highly individualistic and slightly paranoid about their presence, making cohesiveness a real challenge.

So the big time cooks and chefs start planning, prepping, chopping, and slicing early. Fragile fish, unwieldy raw meat, temperamental fruits and vegetables, and fragile herbs and fungi must all be prepped. Delicate pan sauces, complicated confits, and large quantities of house-made pastas must be concocted. This entire bee-like bustle is aimed at making the evening dining rush manageable and smoothly accommodated. On a busy Friday night five hundred people will receive their orders and gasp at the looks and taste of the specially prepared meal set in front of them. In spite of the wild scene behind the doors, the patron is served calmly and speedily in his or her haven of pleasure.

Behind the austere dining room there is shouting, arguing, crude commentary and fighting for position. Hung-over kitchen staff members have been known to puke in a trash can, an act that does not bode well for the unfortunate miscreant’s future. Occasional kindness and helpful assistance is offered through the veil of bad behavior. After the last order is sent to the dining room and clean up time has arrived, an atmosphere of brotherhood and togetherness descends and post trauma arrangements are made for drinks, a little snack, and reflective conversation. As staff members stumble home after an exhausting day and heavy drinking night, the new day soon arriving is ill-prepared for with the few hours sleep they will get. An occupational hazard, it seems.

Michael Gibney has been there. He has worked his way through the stations to the position of sous chef, second in command, of the restaurant he describes and also has a MFA in writing from Columbia University. He is an excellent writer with great instincts about what a reader likes and what details need to go into a readable memoir. He has parlayed all this knowledge and training into SOUS CHEF, a great book that will catch the reader’s attention. I loved it.

Schuyler T Wallace
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VINE VOICEon February 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Although there have been an effusion of chef autobiography's as of late, Michael Gibney's fictionalized account of a single day in the life of a sous chef at a high end NYC restaurant is a fresh view of life in the kitchen. Gibney takes the reader into the tumultuous underbelly of the restaurant. Employing the uncommon the second person narrative style, Gibney places you, the reader, in the middle of the kitchen.

An amalgamation of people and restaurants, Sous Chef captures perfectly the stresses and triumphs of the eponymous role. Fortunately, for those of us not familiar with restaurant kitchens, Gibney maps out the landscape, people, and roles, both graphically (with diagrams), and with text descriptions. He also, helpfully includes an extensive glossary for equipment, people, food, and terms used in the kitchen, from cook to stagiaire and from LOI to Wondra flour.

This behind the scenes portrayal of a restaurant kitchen is both a fun and educating read.
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VINE VOICEon January 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I cut my earliest employment chops in a catering hall, doing every kind of support job in a kitchen you can imagine. It was one of the hardest physical jobs I ever had, but also, the feeling that came at the end of an event, or a dinner rush, was a satisfaction like no other. High fives all around for the team! The restaurant business is like that, and so much more, as detailed in this great memoir. The author Michael Gibney, is writing from the heart and from an incredible range of experience. He's also a gifted writer. Who knew that cheese could be so alarmingly sexy, or that knives could inspire such devotion? From a sequence of situations where he's called upon to not just execute amazing culinary dexterity, but incredible forbearance and courage, the pages just kept turning. I was taken on a riotous ride through the most amazing kitchens filled with every kind of co-conspirator, high technology equipment and doubtful raw materials, to watch from the sidelines (where it's much safer) while the collaborative efforts produced fine art. Highly recommended to anyone who eats food, wonders how to prepare a salad Nicoise, or what the heck a Santoku knife is used for. A glass of wine on the side table is recommended. This book is gonna make your mouth water!
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VINE VOICEon March 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Unlike most memoirs I've read, or avoided, about restaurant life, Gibney's isn't self-centered. In fact by writing in the second person, he puts the reader firmly at the center of the kitchen.

That's just the most obvious thing that makes this book great. It depicts 24 hours in the life of a Sous Chef in a three-star New York restaurant. This gives the book that compactness in time of a great play as well as providing both a natural rhythm and climax to the book. Since you know it takes place in one day, you know it will build to the dinner service and then taper down. Built in, a perfect structure and focus for the book.

That's the second thing that makes it great. Unlike too much creative non-fiction, Sous Chef has elements of a great novel: a central character (you), compactness of time, and a real climax, all combining to give the book focus, lacking in so many other books.

There are so many other great qualities to Gibey's book. He does a fantastic job of describing the other workers in the kitchen, drawing them with quick strokes and small touches that bring them alive. They may be composites of many of the people he's worked with, but each is an individual, not a cardboard cut-out or placeholder.

Because he wants diners to be reading his book, not just people inside the industry, he does a great job of explaining this somewhat unknown world. Like a good teacher, he explains things as he goes along, deftly putting the definitions and explanations into the text.

His zeal for bringing you into this world goes even deeper, he wants the reader to be able both to picture and understand this place and it organization. To this end, early in the book, he has chapters explaining the physical layout of the kitchen and the business structure of the kitchen's staff. For anyone unfamiliar with restaurant kitchens, this is enlightening.

He's an excellent writer, telling an engaging story. And that's more than enough to make Sous Chef worth reading. But, I wondered, did I learn anything from it? As someone who eats out several times a week, I thought about this at lunch when I was at a restaurant yesterday. Gibney's taught me how to recognize a restaurant by higher standards and for that I'm grateful.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Sous Chef follows Michael Gibney in that role for 24 hours. It's an intimate look into the lives of the people who are so devoted to their craft of service there is little to no room for a personal life.

When I worked for the corporate office of a large quick service chain, I worked 10 shifts in the restaurant to learn about the people and jobs I was supporting. It was very eye-opening for someone who had never worked in food service. Those people work VERY hard for very little money. I used to say, it's not rocket science, but it kind of is. You have a lot of plates to keep spinning.

While Gibney's restaurant is an upscale dining establishment, there were many similarities to what I had observed in a fast food environment. The layout of the kitchen, the prep work, the hot/cold lines, food safety, and forecasting are pretty much the same no matter the size of the restaurant. Whether the restaurant offers foie gras or a a side of fries, there are deliveries to be checked in, waste to be managed, and positions to cover when someone doesn't show up.

I hope that this book helps restaurant patrons view the people who work there in a new light. It may puff up your own self-worth to speak disparagingly to that person handing your food to you in your car or to send your steak back for the third time. But if people are really trying to do a good job, acknowledge it. And no job is beneath you.

Whether you've dreamed of being a chef or just enjoy shows like Chopped or Top Chef, you will enjoy this book.
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VINE VOICEon January 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very fast read. It is a book from the perspective of a sous chef in a very fine upper end restaurant where perfection is the only acceptable outcome. Anyone who has been to places like that may wonder how they do it and do it so effortlessly. It isn't because there is so much behind what we see on the plate. Fine restaurant meals are pricy because of the tremendous labor, resources, high cost ingredients, waste and management that are all in the cost structure. This book reveals all those things that we have taken for granted. The book covers the design of a top notch kitchen and the various stations and functions. It also covers the entire management structure of the kitchen. The books covers the preparation for one day of service. The personality issues are very interesting but all in the context of how the operation of such a fine restaurant may be affected. There are also many food related insights as to how such fine plates of food is really put together. What are part of this level of perfected. The book also has various tips on food preparation for those adventourous foodies (or just curious one) as to how to butcher certain fish and how the skin is made crispy (weighed down for a few seconds while being fried on the skin). This is a book you can't put down. It is that good. Of course, it wouldn't be if one isn't interested in how a restaurant is run or food in general. It is a foodie read for sure. Highly recommended.
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on April 9, 2014
What do you do when you're enjoying a book so much you don't want to read it because then it will be over? Well, you have no choice but to keep flipping the pages because you're hooked and can't put it down! I loved everything about this tale, including the use of "you" instead of the more common first person narrative. Such a device pulls you in to stand in the author's shoes for the day and try to imagine the pressures, discomfort, multi-tasking and never-ending details of his job. One must really love food and service to be so dedicated and single-minded about serving the perfect meal. SO glad he wrote this - everyone who visits restaurants should read this to truly appreciate what those in the industry do to make us happy. Loved it.
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on April 1, 2014
I consider myself to be a semi-professional eater. I've been to hundreds of restaurants from Red Lobster to Alinea, and travel sometimes specifically just to go to a restaurant. Although I've looked at many kitchens, I never really had a good idea as to how the food actually ends up on my plate. Sous Chef does an amazing job at describing that process, in a really interesting and unique way.

Anyone who has ever had an enjoyable experience at a restaurant should enjoy this book. Heck, even if you have had only bad experiences, this book may help you be more sympathetic to the folks who prepare your meal.
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VINE VOICEon February 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was transported into another world. A world of protein and acid, searing heat and discipline, knives and teamwork. It's the fascinating world of the working fine-dining kitchen, seen though the eyes of someone with a decade of training and experience. Fast-paced, bubbly, educational. The author seems authoritative with both cooking and sentence structure. The 24 hours day-in-a-life format works well, with the only weak spot the mentions of a girlfriend that have no arc or the use of longish Spanish phrases in banter between cooks. But the rest is solid. Enjoyable fast read, and makes watching cooking shows like Hells Kitchen even more fun since I now have the behind-the-scenes peek at how a brigade of cooks should work together to bring perfection to the pass.
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on April 21, 2014
I was enjoying much of this book and heading to give it a four star review when suddenly, bang, it just ended. I turned the kindle page expecting more text and there was a list of terminology. I was so surprised that I went to the table of contents to see if I'd somehow missed out on some chapters. So a very disappointing ending. Hence only three stars.

It never merited five at any stage as I found some things irritating - the use of acronyms without any explanation and without the book telling you they were explained in a chapter at the end, and the use of spanish frequently throughout without it being translated. I understand spanish but still found it frustrating to suddenly launch into spanish dialogue. I also noted it wasn't always correct - that example was from an SMS quoted. OK maybe the texter wrote bad spanish but it seemed wrong to include bad spanish somehow

So overall an interesting read but could've been better
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