One of the books I brought on my my trip was ‘How I learned to Cook: Culinary educations from the world’s greatest chefs’. The book came out in 2006 and you can hear an NPR feature about it here. It is a follow up to a previous collection ‘Don’t try this at home’ .
I really enjoyed the collection with its personal anecdotes, insights and reminiscences. It is fascinating hearing the different paths that these chefs have taken, some being born into cooking families, some having an early passion for food and others falling into the profession by accident. We hear about formative experiences, lessons learned and early mistakes. Many of the stories are humorous, some confessional, some tantalizing but all are engaging. Rick Bayliss wrote a touching story about working with his idol Julia Child and Chris Bianco wrote about how he had to learn to eat before he could learnt to cook. I particularly enjoyed Mark Bittman’s piece on the anxiety of a chef having friends over for dinner, feeling a huge weight of expectation. There are definitely some cautionary tales, including Michel Roux on how he learned punctuality and Ming Tsai on why he still can’t enjoy chocolate. Charles Phan’s advice to budding restauranteurs is ” If you really love to cook and you think you might like to do it in a restaurant of your own someday, here’s my advice: Stay home. Have your friends over for dinner and go nuts. But keep out of the restaurant business”.
Many of the chefs are well known from television (Anthony Bourdain, The Iron Chef) or from their writing or celebrity (Heston Blumenthal), but others I had not heard of. Each story is introduced by a short bio and one of the uniting themes is that the majority, if not all, of the chefs have won James Beard Foundation awards.