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Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen Hardcover – April 16, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (April 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399155619
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399155611
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #964,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Your lack of experience doesn't bother me, Jurgensen's first boss in a restaurant kitchen told her. It just means... you haven't learned any bad habits yet. From that auspicious beginning, Jurgensen, pastry chef at Dressler in Brooklyn, makes a few mistakes along the way (one time, she managed to burn a hole in the bottom of a pot while trying to melt chocolate), although she steadily improves, landing jobs at several impressive Manhattan restaurants (with an interlude as a chef for Martha Stewart's TV show). In this amiable narrative, she describes various pitfalls: a hookup with one of her bosses eventually settles into a dating relationship; when they break up, it's right back to work for Jurgensen ever the professional. The edgy backstage atmosphere will be instantly familiar to fans of chef memoirs, but Jurgensen's promise of a feminine perspective to the sexist environment is barely fulfilled by the indifferent telling of a few raunchy anecdotes and her insistence that she got over it because she had no other choice. Individually, the stories are never anything less than entertaining, but when they're put together it feels like there's one more ingredient missing—an elusive something that would make a good dish great. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Great insider stuff and a valuable addition to the annals of first-person culinary history."
-Anthony Bourdain, author of Kitchen Confidential

"This is a personal memoir of a young chef's experience in restaurant kitchens. It is funny, interesting and - for me, as a chef and owner of a restaurant - an illuminating insight into how other kitchens work. I loved reading it and plan to give this book to all my chefs."
-Ruth Rogers, Chef Owner, The River Café, London

"Never anything less than entertaining.... In this amiable narrative, Jurgensen describes various pitfalls: a hookup with one of her bosses eventually settles into a dating relationship; when they break up, it's right back to work for Jurgensen, ever the professional. The edgy 'backstage' atmosphere will be instantly familiar to fans of chef memoirs."
-Publishers Weekly

"Everything you always wanted to know about working in a high-powered restaurant kitchen. She has experienced nearly everything in and out of a high-end kitchen: on-the- job romance, getting freaked out by a visit from New York Times review goddess Ruth Reichl and, of course, being privy to some brilliant food. Despite the up-and- down wackiness of the restaurant world, Jurgensen loves her lot in life, and her debut memoir reflects great affection for the professional kitchen. Jurgensen does a nice job with the female perspective in the testosterone-centric kitchen culture. She gently dishes on former part-time employer Martha Stewart, and her experience as a pastry chef puts a slightly different slant on the proceedings."
-Kirkus

"Jurgensen's book takes readers on a culinary adventure through her rise as a pastry chef at New York's best restaurants. A quick read, this book will appeal to those interested in chef stories and what happens behind the scenes in the kitchen."
-Library Journal

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Customer Reviews

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about the restaurant business or professional cooking.
J. Finkel
It is also lighter-weight than that book, and it moved right along with a breezy, first person style that was very enjoyable.
Sean P. Logue
The worst part of the book was the sexual talk that didn't seem to add to the story and seemed out of place.
Amy Senk

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Amy Senk VINE VOICE on March 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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 By Andrew McCaffrey VINE VOICE on April 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Tidline VINE VOICE on May 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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 By crispywaffle on April 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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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