And while we're at it: Although wartime metaphors have been part of kitchen stories since the beginning, there ought to be a moratorium on them while people are actually fighting and dying. Let's get this straight: Professional cooking is hard, pressured and sometimes slightly dangerous, but let's not mistake cut fingers and scorched forearms for what happens in battle.
In an odd way, John Delucie's "The Hunger" is perhaps the most accurate description of the careers of many chefs these days. Delucie was a journeyman until the gods of fortune smiled upon him with a business partner named Graydon Carter, whose Vanity Fair Rolodex ensured a packed and illustrious dining room from Day 1 at their restaurant Waverly Inn.
Delucie is the kind of cook who takes pride mostly in his professionalism. He's a demon on food cost and efficiency. But when he talks about what he's cooking, there's little sense of passion. It seems he's mostly putting spins on dishes he knows will sell well from places he's worked before.
Probably the most revealing moment in the book is when, feeling full of success, he goes to a big foodie chef event in Miami thinking he's a star and realizes he's just climbed the bottom rung of yet another ladder.
'Under the Table'
On the other hand, Katherine Darling's "Under the Table," the story of her time as a student at New York's French Culinary Institute, is so ripe with folly it's probably best read as a Bridget Jones-like parody. Tired of her unglamorous life in publishing, Darling decides to go to cooking school with the intention of becoming the next Rachael Ray.
There are several problems. First, she is an utter snob of the shallowest sort; she seems to pay more attention to what her fellow students are wearing than to the cooking lessons (and her horror at having to wear school-issued front-pleated chefs pants is only alleviated by a trip to the tailor). She has little stomach for handling food (like crying in baseball, there should be no "ewwwwws" in a professional kitchen). Worst of all, Darling doesn't write very well. She apparently never met a cliché she didn't fall in love with (dishes are repeatedly described as "mouth-wateringly delicious"). But what's really delicious is the inadvertent hilarity. At one point she confuses fraisage (rubbing pie dough to get a flaky crust) with frottage (rubbing of an entirely different sort).
But I have to admit, I got my biggest smile of all picturing her working in Anthony Bourdain's kitchen.