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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spiced, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Blancmange
Although the job of professional chef is something about which we civilians may be very curious, I imagine in broad terms it's not hugely different from the jobs that many of us have. You still have co-workers you may or may not get along with; you still have a day-to-day routine that you willingly or unwillingly fall in to. So many times the trick to these...
Published on April 25, 2009 by Andrew McCaffrey

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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Slight Variation on The Same-Old Chef Memoir
I love cooking, books about cooking, chef's autobiographies, television shows about kitchens and cooks. If it's chef-restaurant related, even if it's not top-quality, I'll likely give it a chance and enjoy it on some level.

Spiced, the story of a New York pastry chef's rise from student to hugely successful, seemed a book right up my alley. Not only was the...
Published on March 7, 2009 by Amy Senk


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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Slight Variation on The Same-Old Chef Memoir, March 7, 2009
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I love cooking, books about cooking, chef's autobiographies, television shows about kitchens and cooks. If it's chef-restaurant related, even if it's not top-quality, I'll likely give it a chance and enjoy it on some level.

Spiced, the story of a New York pastry chef's rise from student to hugely successful, seemed a book right up my alley. Not only was the book going to take on the perspective of a woman in the kitchen, but it also was going to focus on desserts. Women and desserts famously don't get a lot of foodie respect. What would Dalia Jurgensen have to say for herself?

Well, honestly, nothing too surprising. The book seemed to cover a lot of the same ground of the hard work and burn marks that were covered better in books like Heat, or those by Michael Ruhlman. And guess what? Restaurant kitchens are full of sexism and hostility toward women.

The best part of the book was discovering how she learned the art of pastry and dessert making at Nobu,
and then built on that knowledge until she was able to create her own dessert menus that earned her national acclaim at restaurants she helped open.

The worst part of the book was the sexual talk that didn't seem to add to the story and seemed out of place.
Dalia had a lesbian affair with a waitress? So what? Another chef talked in graphic terms about his previous evening? Allrighty then. I am not sure why the out-of-the-blue sex talk bugged me, but I think it's because they didn't seem to add to the story and therefore struck a weirdly false note.

Maybe this isn't the best chef memoir ever. But certainly, if you have the food fascination that I have, you'll enjoy enough of the book to make it a worthwhile read.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spiced, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Blancmange, April 25, 2009
By 
Andrew McCaffrey (Satellite of Love, Maryland) - See all my reviews
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Although the job of professional chef is something about which we civilians may be very curious, I imagine in broad terms it's not hugely different from the jobs that many of us have. You still have co-workers you may or may not get along with; you still have a day-to-day routine that you willingly or unwillingly fall in to. So many times the trick to these behind-the-scenes exposés is to succeed at three things. First, describe the mundane and monotonous tasks in an interesting and insightful way without needlessly dwelling on them. Second, pick out the unusual or note-worthy moments and relate them as humorous or thought-provoking anecdotes. Third -- and surely the most difficult -- present yourself as someone the audience could understand (if perhaps not immediately relate to), as someone with whom the reader would want to spend three hundred or so pages.

At those three tasks, Dalia Jurgensen succeeds admirably. She manages to evoke herself as an interesting person. In the beginning potions of the book she carefully strikes the correct balance between describing confidence in her skills (and her ability to learn) and a worry that she's in over her head.

SPICED opens with Jurgensen already frustrated with her conventional office job and taking two steps towards profoundly changing her life. She enrolls in culinary school and trades in her desk job for a lowly position at Nobu in New York City. By the end of the book, she's become a full fledged head pastry chef. There are several detours along the way, including some jobs with salad and entrée preparation, a stint as a caterer and even preparing recipes and cooking on-set for Martha Stewart's TV show. There's a moving chapter in which she describes the charitable reactions of her and other New York City restaurants in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001.

Jergensen's writing skills are quite strong and she has a great ability to explain terms to the layman without coming over as condescending. Of course, the real fun of the book lies within the descriptions of the typical bizarre but ubiquitous occurrences in restaurant kitchens, such as swearing and foul-mouthed chefs, drunken and irrational superiors, and hostility between different classes of restaurant workers. (This is not exactly a female version of Anthony Bourdain's KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, but it is definitely a look at the same world from a female point of view.) Jergensen manages to effortlessly portray both the normal day-to-day work as well as out of the ordinary events (at one point a food critic from the New York Times is spotted and it's amusing to watch the controlled panic that sets in as they frantically pull out all the stops to create something special).

SPICED starts off good, but I actually enjoyed it more the further along I read as I got to know the author better. It's a quick read, which I say as praise of the quality of the author's prose, not as a criticism of the substance. In a book of this kind, it is the writer's voice and personality that must serve to keep the audience interested no matter how predisposed a reader is towards learning about the profession. That sounds like a simple thing for a writer to get right, but where other insider books have failed, Dalia Jurgensen has produced a winner.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dahlia Jurgensen the Diablo Cody of Pastry Chefs, May 27, 2009
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I picked up this book expecting it to be like Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential or the many other books I have read from people in the culinary world. As someone who has graduated from culinary school and also at one time worked in a bakery I thought that I would be able to relate to this book. I will say that Dahlia does a good job of describing what she went through in her career. From her beginnings just starting out and all the way to the point where she has made a name for herself. She also shows that the culinary world is not an easy world for a woman and it is a world where respect is earned and not given. And sometimes you have to fight for it. My main problem with this book is that Dahlia seems to go off on expletive filled rants and give way too much detail on subjects that have nothign to do with baking. At times it felt like the book was Julia Child mixed with Sex and the City. The book is a decent read but I have read far better and would suggest a few of Anthony Bourdain's novels before reading this one.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All in all, a nice little read, April 13, 2009
I actually set out expecting to hate this book. Oh here's another dilettante checking out of her cushy job to tackle a "life of cooking". I find the whole belly-of-the-beast restaurant-kitchen and/or food memoir genre to be entirely too crowded. What can this memoir possibly add?

Two things: diversity of experience, and a woman's perspective. It turns out Jurgensen is not just a dilettante, but someone who made a major career change to professional cooking long ago. So unlike Bill Buford's Heat (which I loved, by the way, don't get me wrong), it is not a manufactured experience to write about. Her diversity of experience goes from Nobu to Layla to Veritas, with stops along the way with catering companies and even Martha Stewart's test kitchen. This keeps the story interesting with different descriptions of approaches and kitchen cultures.

We learned from Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential that a restaurant kitchen is a variation of a fraternity house. Reading Bourdain is reading it from the perspective of head frat boy himself. The difference with Jurgensen is that you are hearing it from someone who is the target of the sexism in the kitchen.

Some details I could have done without: we know there's tension between the cooks and the waitstaff, okay already. I also found her romances and sexual exploits to be the least interesting parts of the book.

All in all, Spiced is a nice little read: compelling and well-written.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Insider's view of the kitchen, April 4, 2009
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Dalia Jurgenson takes a chance with her life, and abandons a sure-thing job to attempt a career where her true passion lies--in the kitchen. Sacrificing money, security, and most of her social life, she is thrown into a completely foreign atmosphere: one where sexism, disrespect, and rudeness seem to prevail. All for the love of cooking! Her memoir takes the reader right along on this journey and it is a fairly bumpy ride.
Jurgenson's writing style is easygoing and intelligent. Restaurant kitchens are an intimidating place, and we cringe alongside her during her early days. She is able to make us feel as if we are standing alongside her, with burned forearms and the stress of a full restaurant, with VIP's waiting for food, and the possibility of a food critic arriving at any moment.
After giving up her old life, that included friends, the occasional boyfriend, and regular nights out, Jurgenson finds a new social life, typical of restaurant workers that includes many late nights, and few traditional dates. Not to say she lacks a social life altogether.
While Spiced is an enjoyable fast read, I was left somewhat wanting. There's a few teasers thrown out there that make the reader believe her career is about to turn another corner, but the corner is more of a curve. The sexual tidbits thrown in seem a bit gratuitous, as though she was encouraged to include it in her memoir even though she is more comfortable keeping her private life to herself. Those anecdotes would not be missed should a stricter editor get ahold of this book.
Overall, a nicely written memoir, suitable for a cross country flight.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A page turning, good read, March 23, 2009
By 
Rala Ivy (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
The fact that I read this book so quickly is a reflection of this author's command of the written word. She retells her rise from young enthusiastic intern to seasoned pastry chef with ease and affectionate wit. Having worked, myself, in restaurants for many years, I enjoyed revisiting the atmosphere of the kitchen through her experiences and found it hard to put this book down. Effortlessly, a clever and efficiently creative persona is revealed through both her writing and cooking styles. The scenes and characters are illustrated so concisely .. I feel like I know them, but I didn't have to labor through unnecessary, tireless details. She's given us just the right amount to keep the flavors enjoyable and distinct, like a good chef should.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read for Foodies!, April 13, 2010
I am a Foodie. So, when I read about this book I was extremely excited. I started reading it the day it came in the mail. Guess What? I absolutely adored this book! It took me 3 short days to read it and I finished with a smile on my face. Dalia is a talented writer as well as a talented pastry chef (unfortunately, I do not have personal validation of her pastry skills...yet!) This book is essentially Dalia's journey as a person as well as her journey as a Chef. Spiced contains a behind the scenes look at restaurant kitchens and restaurant life as well as some Romance and hilarious stories.

There were only two things I would change about this book (and both involve adding more content!) I really wish that I could have read the unfinished version of this book. There were a few things that I wish she had talked a little more about (the Romance part for instance), but then it wouldn't be about her journey as a pastry chef. I am hoping that Dalia continues to write about her life. The second thing I would add is recipes! Dalia talks about all of these amazing things she is making...I would love to have some of her recipes (Dalia...if you read this...cookbook next, please!!) She did however post a few recipes on her blog.

The verdict: 5 stars!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read, May 21, 2010
Dalia Jurgensen quit her publishing job to attend culinary school. Given a choice between sweet and savory, she chose savory; but, in the end, the sweet chose her. With zero experience, Jurgensen managed to score a huge feather in her cap right out of the gate--assistant pastry chef at Nobu.

After a few years with Nobu, it was time for a change and Jurgensen was offered a position at Nobu's sister restaurant, Layla, where she met Chef Joey who would become a major player in her life, both privately and professionally; allowing Jurgensen to utilize her savory skills and eventually come into her own as a noted pastry chef.

With a few detours along the way, including working in Martha Stewart's test kitchen and catering halls where she recovered from burn-out due to the frantic pace and grueling hours, Jurgensen managed to make a name for herself at the opposite end of the culinary spectrum from where she started.

Told in an easy-flowing voice, Jurgensen deftly relates the frenzied and often chaotic pace of the kitchen, her struggle to gain the respect of those working the hot end of the kitchen, as well as the outlandish and crazy things that happen behind closed kitchen doors and quitting time.

Spiced is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for those who have worked in the restaurant industry, an after-hours war-story for those that still do and an entertaining look behind the culinary curtain for everybody else.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!, April 23, 2010
By 
New York Buyer "New York Buyer" (Kew Gardens Hills, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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Excellent summation of the life of a person finding their place in the hectick world of a resteraunt work. Took me on a journey, but kept things moving, never dwelling on ay experince for to long.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spiced, April 14, 2010
This book gives an amazing amount of insite into the restaraunt kitchen, or so I must assume having never been in one. I never thought it was all Rachel Ray happy and Martha Stewart perfect but I never imagined the sexism, yelling, or injuries that seem to go along with cooking in upscale kitchens.

To be honest, I toyed with the idea of going into the culinary arts but after some research realized that I did not want to work horribly long hours and every holiday and also had no desire to chop onions for someone for most of my life. Dalia suffers through all that and 100 times more to make it to the top and become recognized as a Pastry Chef. I think the book was an extremely good balance between professional insight into cooking for a restaurant and a glimpse into her personal life. These people spend an amazing amount of time together and it is no wonder the two aspects seem to become blurred occasionally. The one thing I would have liked to see more of in the book was information on her inspiration as a child and young adult. She does mention once or twice that she loved cooking with her mother when she was young and continued it as a favorite pasttime in college but as a mom I wanted MORE. My daughter (age 8) has already decided to open her own bakery and I would love to know how to encourage her to follow those dreams.

All in all, I would highly recomend this book to anyone who is interested in cooking (some of the recipes she makes sound so good I was tempted to eat the BOOK!) or on going into the culinary arts. Dalia doesn't sugar coat the truth of the business, only the rose petals she bakes with!
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