Make way for the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ rolling boys” from behind kitchen doors. The most famous chefs have the most infamous reputations and have put it all on record. Start with Marco Pierre White’s autobiography, move onto his protégés Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal’s stories, and then on to Raymond Blanc who gave White his big break. Jacques Pépin is on the list too and Michael Ruhlman tells it all about the Culinary Institute of America. This reading list will change everything you know about the international food industry and you’ll never look at your humble plate the same way ever again.
The Devil in the Kitchen by Marco Pierre White
In The Devil in the Kitchen or White Slave, as the British edition is titled, the man himself tells his story which began in a small town in Leeds, UK. White struggled with dyslexia at school at a time when nobody knew what dyslexia was, and chose to follow his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps into the world of food. He began working at his first restaurant at the young age of 16 and this paved the path to success for him as he and his bosses realised his gift.
A journey with it’s own epic struggles led White to become the first chef in the UK and the youngest in the world to hold three Michelin stars at his restaurant. Such an honour wasn’t enough for White, he returned the stars when he felt it was taking over his life. In the book, White also amuses readers with early anecdotes about how his father would cheat at the dog races and he finally sets the record straight about his infamous falling out with Ramsay, (the response to which you can read in Ramsay’s autobiography). A living legend, this book helps us get a step closer to understanding the greatness that is Marco Pierre White.
Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsay
There is more to Gordon Ramsay than the rude, obnoxious chef yelling on your TV screen. In Humble Pie he writes about his early life and covers decades in the culinary industry revealing all including his current struggles with fame. The heart and soul underneath the man’s angry veneer shines through and brings to light his brilliance. From his childhood of growing up with a violently abusive father, to his failed football career, piece by piece the autobiography puts together Ramsay’s life and immense success.
Gordon Ramsay also shares an insight into the workings of the Bourdain-kitchen and explains why and how he left the position of a Sous Chef at Marco Pierre White’s restaurant at the height of its success to start from the bottom as a Commis Chef in Paris, all for the sake of learning more. Reading Humble Pie will take us closer to understanding Ramsay’s outbursts and his expectations of high standards from his television trainees.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Michael Bourdain, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a New York Chef for twenty five years, has worked with the Greats of the cooking business – Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal. His claim to fame started with Kitchen Confidential wherein he spilled the beans, let the cat out of the bag, and revealed the secrets of commercial cooking. Bourdain believes the kitchen is no place for a dilettante to be and a pure irrational commitment to cooking is what makes the cut. His writing is honest and brilliant.
He describes his first encounter with an oyster as, “this glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive.” He leaves the reader wanting more and DSSC recommends this should be the book to read if you’re only going to read one from this list. Kitchen Confidential is wrought with all that you hope for – drugs, sex, masochism, scandalous stories and tips to order better.
Heston Blumenthal: The Biography of the World’s Most Brilliant Master Chef by Chas Newkey-Burden
This book is the story of celebrity chef and gastronomic genius Heston Blumenthal. The author follows the self-taught culinary scientist’s method to magic, and pens down the chef’s battle to the top for the first time. Blumenthal is known for his innovative dishes like the bacon-egg ice cream and reinventing the experience of eating-out with ipods playing sounds of the sea when patrons are served seafood. Blumenthal’s self-acquisition of knowledge resulted in his opening his first restaurant, The Fat Duck in 1995 and receiving three Michelin stars within 10 years. The Fat Duck currently holds the title of being one of the best three restaurants in the world as declared by Restaurant Magazine. Read the biography to know more about the man who is revolutionising the fine-dining world one molecule at a time.
The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin
This world-renowned culinary genius’s TV shows have been credited with being responsible for the way the world eats. In The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen he writes about how he dropped out of school at the tender age of 13 to fulfill his dream of becoming a chef and made his way from France to the United States. Pépin’s buoyant attitude has accompanied every decision he’s made along the way, like turning down an offer to work as JFK’s chef for an opportunity to work at a Howard Johnson restaurant in Times Square, New York. When life gave him a blow in the form of a car accident and Pépin could not work in the kitchen anymore, he turned his gaze outwards and began sharing with America all that he knew about food. To read more about Jacques Pépin’s infallible appetite for life, grab his autobiography now.
The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America by Michael Ruhlman
In 1997, American journalist Michael Ruhlman decided to take classes at the Culinary Institute of America and write firsthand about the CIA. He never graduated but published a wonderful account of culinary education at one of the world’s most prestigious cooking schools in The Making of a Chef. This book remains as a primer to those considering enrolling and recounts the day-to-day happenings of the Culinary Institute.
One of Ruhlman’s most interesting anecdotes is about the importance of the mise en place. Before the cooking actually began, Ruhlman would spend hours making sure everything was in place. That and the knowledge of the recipe, what came when, is an almost foolproof way of making sure the dish is done well. He mentions though, that nothing can fall apart while cooking unless one actually burns the dish. Anthony Bourdain describes Ruhlman, “the greatest living writer on the subject of chefs and the business of preparing food.” Now if that’s not a reason to pick up this book, we don’t know what is.
A Taste of My Life by Raymond Blanc
Raymond Blanc is considered a powerhouse of all that is culinary. Born in a rural village in Eastern France, this self-taught legend began his career working as a waiter and the turning point was when he decided to take over the kitchen on a day that the chef was sick.
He opened his first restaurant in 1977, Les Quat’Saisons in Oxford but his real dream came true in 1984 with his restaurant and hotel, Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons which was awarded two Michelin stars before it even opened! Under Chef Blanc, Le Manoir has been serving magnificent food for decades and is an ideal which hotels and restaurants in the industry aspire towards. Read more about Raymond Blanc who trained the best chefs in the UK – Marco Pierre White and Heston Blumenthal in A Taste of My Life.