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The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life Hardcover – Print, November 20, 2012
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“If you crossed Jason Bourne with Julia Child, you’d end up with Tim Ferriss.” – Marco Canora, Chef-Partner of Hearth & Terroir
“Wildly inventive.. [a] rangy, obsessive immersion in food and its many wonders. [T]he tools needed to learn to cook well can be deployed in every manner of endeavor, from skinning a deer to memorizing a deck of cards. The author distills them into minimal, learnable units and examines how to order the units so as to keep readers engaged in their endeavors. Ferriss is a beguiling guide to this process, at once charmingly smart aleck-y and deadly serious, and he aims to make readers knowledgeable and freethinking.” - Kirkus Reviews
"Tim Ferriss distills kitchen wisdom like a rotary evaporator on power surge. The results are potent, lucid, and delicious." - Nick Kokonas, Co-Owner, Alinea, Next, The Aviary
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Second disclaimer: I am NOT a Tim worshiper. The 4-Hour Workweek is a sometimes unethical pipe dream that a couple people writers imitating Tim have made money on. For most of us, it contains a couple tricks to be more efficient at our 9-5. The 4-Hour Body is a relatively interesting and fun book on fitness and diet experimentation. I learned a few tips and tricks from it and really enjoyed reading about his experiences. I have read most of Tim's blog and consider it a sometimes better alternative to "Life Hacker".
Those two disclaimers being said, this is a GREAT book if you come in with the right expectations. If you're looking for 600+ pages solely devoted to grocery shopping, prep, recipes, cooking and eating, you will not find it here. You'll find about 200-250 pages dedicated solely to such, and 200 more at least somewhat related--consisting of wilderness cooking and survival, great restaurants, 140 character recipes, and basic tools you need in the kitchen. At a macro level, the most useful cooking lessons are Tim's notes on equipment to have in your kitchen, his 10 easy recipes (most of which are really interesting/easy shortcuts), and the charts on spices that go with different countries. At a micro level, I picked up a few random tidbits from the 1/2-pagers on how to quickly defrost a steak, how to make the perfect cup of coffee, etc. The most important part of this section is that Tim teaches you HOW to cook, not just how to follow a recipe. The best part about his methodology is that he removes all roadblocks from the reader--the excessively expensive equipment, the hard to find ingredients, and the difficult cooking techniques are all put nicely out of mind with shortcuts and detailed pictures.
The rest of the book, in my opinion, is actually more interesting. The first section is about a hundred pages are worth the price of admission alone. It details a method to learn anything efficiently--Tim is merely using cooking as a MEDIUM to teach this method. I've started applying this first section to learning a number of skills already. As the middle sections are the ones devoted to cooking and wilderness survival that I detailed above, the appendix is related to random skills and interesting "life hacks" that you can learn quickly. Yes, these feel like last-minute additions but if one thing is clear Tim actually cares about his readers, why not throw in these interesting pages--they do not detract from the focus as they are part of the appendix.
If I can say one thing--buy this book. For me, I can see myself going back to it for years anytime I'd like to learn a new skill (be it with cooking or otherwise). If you want to learn HOW to cook taught in an unpretentious tone with easy to follow pictures, you'll find it here. If you're interested in shortcuts to learning complex skills, you'll find it here. If you just want to pick up a few cooking shortcuts, you will most definitely be delighted with this book. And lastly, if you are a fan of Tim and his other works, absolutely buy this book.
Lastly, a note on format, BUY THE HARDCOVER. I bought the Kindle as well since it was on sale for just $4.99 on Amazon and it does not even come close to comparing to the hardcover version. This book is meant to have pages cut out and marked up, its detailed color pictures to be seen, etc.
-Buffet style learning. The book is intentionally written in discrete sections, and the author specifically advises that if you're a certain type of reader you may feel free to skip around and pick the bits you want. This is great. Too many self-help books are basically just a handful of points stretched out because you have to print so many pages before your publisher will call it a book. No such issue here- those five points will be a bullet list up front, and the author is perfectly fine if you want to skip the explanation portion of the chapter and get on with your day. Only read the intervening part if you want that insight.
-Holistic learning. The author realized a whole lot of skills in life can be learned essentially the same way, so the "chef" portion which teaches you cooking is meant to be an example of the overall technique. I'll even hand you the basics free of charge- it's the 80/20 principle. Basically, find the 20% of what you need to learn that will get you 80% of results. You don't need to memorize the whole dictionary to read this review- 20% of the dictionary will probably be plenty to read every word on this page. On top of that, sequence your cooking in a logical order so you learn that 20% in an efficient way. A great example is that if you want to learn to cook, one of the best ways is to start by making eggs (which are included toward the front of the cooking program). Eggs require a lot of skills. There's ingredient selection- you can't pick out cracked eggs. There's dexterity- cracking the shells and flipping the eggs. There's heat control and observation- you have to flip the eggs and move them around to prevent them from sticking or burning. Cook some eggs, and you'll efficiently learn half a dozen skills at once rather than slowly getting to them separately. It turns out a lot of skills- from language learning to three-point shooting in basketball, can be approached with these principles.
-Data-driven results. Tim Ferris made himself a guinea pig, and shows you what he did and the results of his learning. That's one proof these methods work. Tim generally also has his friends try the method, asks his readers to try it and report on results, and asks experts what they'd recommend or change. He takes all those inputs, and gives you the notes.
This is a bit of an odd book. It's not a cookbook, there are only a few recipes and they're dumbed down so that you can learn to cook. You may want to move on to the "real" recipes later. A great example is that his first recipe is "Osso 'Buko'", a dumbed-down version of Osso Buco. It tastes great, but it's meant to teach you cooking skills, the recipe itself is just a tool. Similarly, he shows you tips for memorizing lists of numbers or for learning a language. In each case, what he shows you is an example. One great example is that he shows you how to memorize a deck of cards, shuffled into any order, quickly. Not many of us are going to need that. But what if you could memorize a seating chart in a few minutes, so that you can know exactly where every single person in a company is seated after only a few minutes of review. Now that could be useful- no more guessing who's who in a new office.
Anyone with some familiarity with Buddhism or Zen is going to see the parallel, and why some people aren't taking to this book. As the parable goes, sometimes a teacher points toward something the teacher wants you to see, but the student instead focuses on the teacher's hand and thinks the pointing hand is the lesson. If you only look at the hand- like if you only look at the recipes in this book- you'll totally miss what you're supposed to see. Again, the real key is the 80/20 principle combined with sequencing. The whole book is an exercise in helping you spin up on those skills. Every example is an example of those learning skills, and it only happens to give you into a window of learning languages or starting a fire.
This guy makes you a better human!