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Sous Chef
Cover of Sous Chef
Sous Chef
24 Hours on the Line
Borrow Borrow
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY TIME

The back must slave to feed the belly. . . .
In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.
 
Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.
 
In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.
Includes a bonus PDF with a glossary and supplemental graphics
 
Praise for Sous Chef
 
“This is excellent writing—excellent!—and it is thrilling to see a debut author who has language and story and craft so well in hand. Though I would never ask my staff to read my own book, I would happily require them to read Michael Gibney’s.”—Gabrielle Hamilton
 
“[Michael] Gibney has the soul of a poet and the stamina of a stevedore. . . . Tender and profane, his book will leave you with a permanent appreciation for all those people who ‘desire to feed, to nourish, to dish out the tasty bits of life.’”The New York Times Book Review
 
“A terrific nuts-and-bolts account of the real business of cooking as told from the trenches. No nonsense. This is what it takes.”—Anthony Bourdain
 
“A wild ride, not unlike a roller coaster, and the reader experiences all the drama, tension, exhilaration, exhaustion and relief that accompany cooking in an upscale Manhattan restaurant.”—USA Today
 
“Vibrantly written.”Entertainment Weekly
 
“Sizzling . . . Such culinary experience paired with linguistic panache is a rarity.”The Daily Beast
 
“Reveals the high-adrenaline dance behind your dinner.”—NPR
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY TIME

The back must slave to feed the belly. . . .
In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.
 
Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.
 
In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.
Includes a bonus PDF with a glossary and supplemental graphics
 
Praise for Sous Chef
 
“This is excellent writing—excellent!—and it is thrilling to see a debut author who has language and story and craft so well in hand. Though I would never ask my staff to read my own book, I would happily require them to read Michael Gibney’s.”—Gabrielle Hamilton
 
“[Michael] Gibney has the soul of a poet and the stamina of a stevedore. . . . Tender and profane, his book will leave you with a permanent appreciation for all those people who ‘desire to feed, to nourish, to dish out the tasty bits of life.’”The New York Times Book Review
 
“A terrific nuts-and-bolts account of the real business of cooking as told from the trenches. No nonsense. This is what it takes.”—Anthony Bourdain
 
“A wild ride, not unlike a roller coaster, and the reader experiences all the drama, tension, exhilaration, exhaustion and relief that accompany cooking in an upscale Manhattan restaurant.”—USA Today
 
“Vibrantly written.”Entertainment Weekly
 
“Sizzling . . . Such culinary experience paired with linguistic panache is a rarity.”The Daily Beast
 
“Reveals the high-adrenaline dance behind your dinner.”—NPR
Available formats-
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Morning

    The kitchen is best in the morning. All the stainless glimmers. Steel pots and pans sit neatly in their places, split evenly between stations. Smallwares are filed away in bains-marie and bus tubs, stacked on Metro racks in families—pepper mills with pepper mills, ring molds with ring molds, and so forth. Columns of buffed white china run the length of the pass on shelves beneath the shiny tabletop. The floors are mopped and dry, the black carpet runners are swept and washed and realigned at right angles. Most of the equipment is turned off, most significantly the intake hoods. Without the clamor of the hoods, quietude swathes the place. The only sounds are the hum of refrigeration, the purr of proofing boxes, the occasional burble of a thermal immersion circulator. The lowboys and fridge-tops are spotless, sterile, rid of the remnants of their tenants. The garbage cans are empty. There is not a crumb anywhere. It smells of nothing.

    The place might even seem abandoned if it weren’t for today’s prep lists dangling from the ticket racks above each station—scrawled agendas on POS strips and dupe-pad chits, which the cooks put together at the end of every dinner service. They are the relics of mayhem, wraiths of the heat. In showing us how much everyone needs to get done today, they give us a sense of what happened in here last night. The lists are long; it was busy. The handwriting is urgent, angry, exhausted.

    But now everything is still.

    On Fridays you get in about 0900. As you make your way through the service entrance, a cool bar of sunlight shines in from the loading dock, lighting your way down the back corridor toward the kitchen. Deliveries have begun to arrive. Basswood crates of produce lie in heaps about the entryway. A film of soil still coats the vegetables. They smell of earth. Fifty-pound bags of granulated sugar and Caputo 00 flour balance precariously on milk crates. Vacuum-packed slabs of meat bulge out of busted cardboard.

    You nose around in search of a certain box. In it you find what you desire: Sicilian pistachios, argan oil, Pedro Ximenez vinegar, Brinata cheese. These are the samples you requested from the dry goods purveyor. You take hold of the box, tiptoe past the rest of the deliveries, and head to the office.

    The office is a place of refuge, a nest. The lights are always dim inside. It is small, seven by ten feet maybe, but it’s never stiflingly hot like the rest of the kitchen. A dusty computer, its companion printer, and a telephone occupy most of the narrow desk space, while office supplies, Post-it notes, and crusty sheaves of invoice paper take up the rest. Below the desk is a compact refrigerator designated for chef use only. It holds safe the chefs’ supply of expensive perishables: rare cheese, white truffles, osetra caviar, bottarga, fine wine, sparkling water, snacks. Sometimes, there’ll be beers in there; in such cases, there’ll also be a cold cache of Gatorade or Pedialyte for re-upping electrolytes. Alongside the refrigerator is the all-purpose drawer, which contains pens and scratch pads, first aid kits, burn spray, ibuprofen, pink bismuth, and deodorant, as well as a generous supply of baby powder and diaper rash ointment, which help keep the chafing at bay and stave off the tinea. At the edge of the desk is the closet, overstuffed with chef whites, black slacks, aprons, clogs, and knife kits. Shelves of cookbooks adorn the walls’ highest reaches, and below them hangs a mosaic of clipboards fitted with inventory sheets, order guides, BEOs, and SOPs. One of the clipboards—the one with your name on it—holds a near infinity of...
About the Author-
  • Michael Gibney began working in restaurants at the age of sixteen and assumed his first sous chef position at twenty-two. He ascended to executive sous chef at Tavern on the Green, where he managed an eighty-person staff. He has worked in the kitchens of Morgans Hotel Group, 10 Downing in Manhattan, and Governor in Brooklyn’s DUMBO, among many others. Over the course of his career, he has had the opportunity to work alongside cooks and chefs from many of the nation’s best restaurants, including Alinea, Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, Bouley, Ducasse, Corton, wd~50, and Momofuku. In addition to his experience in the food service industry, Gibney also holds a BFA in painting from Pratt Institute and an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 3, 2014
    Forgoing the usual route of outrageous stories, name dropping, or straight ahead cookbooks, Gibney writes about what it’s actually like to work in the kitchen of a fine dining restaurant. Told in the second-person, from the point of a sous chef—a kitchen’s second-in-command and a position Gibney first reached at the age of 22—the narrative wonderfully captures a single day’s events, from morning deliveries and prep work through a busy service to the team’s cathartic release at a local bar. An experienced chef with an M.F.A. in nonfiction, Gibney is as skilled with words as he is with his 11-inch Sujihiki knife. In fact, when writing about this trusty knife his prose sounds more like poetry: “her outward lip traces lines in flesh with surgical exactitude, the convex shape of her inward face attenuates surface tension, releasing the meat. Cuts go slack at her touch; fish bows beside her.” This love of language permeates the whole book so that Gibney is able to tie together the off-color Spanglish dialogues of the staff with his drunken philosophizing on whether or not cooking is “just another form enlightened self interest” to create a story that is both cohesive and multifaceted.

  • Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones & Butter "This is excellent writing--excellent!--and it is thrilling to see a debut author who has language and story and craft so well in hand. Though I would never ask my staff to read my own book, I would happily require them to read Michael Gibney's."
  • The New York Times Book Review "Gibney has the soul of a poet and the stamina of a stevedore. . . . Tender and profane, his book will leave you with a permanent appreciation for all those people who 'desire to feed, to nourish, to dish out the tasty bits of life.'"
  • Anthony Bourdain
    "A terrific nuts-and-bolts account of the real business of cooking as told from the trenches. No nonsense. This is what it takes."
  • The Daily Beast "A wild ride, not unlike a roller coaster, and the reader experiences all the drama, tension, exhilaration, exhaustion and relief that accompany cooking in an upscale Manhattan restaurant."--USA Today

    "A vibrantly written guide to terminology and process, with plenty of real-time detail and a dash of kitchen gossip."--Entertainment Weekly

    "Sizzling . . . Such culinary experience paired with linguistic panache is a rarity."
  • NPR
    "Sous Chef reveals the high-adrenaline dance behind your dinner."
  • Bret Easton Ellis "Fascinating and fun . . . Gibney is both a gifted observer and supremely knowledgeable about his craft and the inner workings of a professional kitchen."--The Boston Globe

    "Gibney has a fine ear for language and delivers an extraordinary amount of information about ingredients and techniques."--The Wall Street Journal

    "Experience one exhilarating day in the shoes of a New York chef in this enthralling book."--Parade

    "Michael Gibney's you-are-there Sous Chef is one of the most informative, funny, and transparent books about the restaurant biz ever written."
  • Gary Shteyngart "Sous Chef is a marvelous, superbly written, intelligent, and accomplished book. I know no other book that so vividly renders the experience and complexity of life in a big restaurant kitchen. The sheer amount of knowledge demonstrated here of the particulars of cooking is immense, and the dynamic, seesaw relationship between chef and sous chef is especially well achieved. I was gripped by the author's culinary passion and literary sophistication. Bravo!"--Phillip Lopate

    "A good cook chooses ingredients carefully, just as a writer must select the right words. Michael Gibney is a word cook of the highest order, and this book will leave you licking your fingers."
  • Publishers Weekly (starred review) "Gibney is as skilled with words as he is with his 11-inch Sujihiki knife."
  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Sumptuously entertaining fare . . . [Gibney] breathes life into the mix of outsized personalities inhabiting the confined, hot, noisy space of the kitchen."
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24 Hours on the Line
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