Kitchen Reader Book Club Review: Soul of a Chef: The Journey Towards Perfection

I’m thrilled to be part of the Kitchen Reader Book Club at long last. Due to family commitments it’s taken about 5 months to join up.  My first review off the starting blocks is on Soul of a Chef by Mark Ruhlman. I was intrigued by the title and looking forward to discovering what it’s actually like to be a chef and will the soul be determined.

It’s a fascinating, well written and thought provoking insight into the world of professional chefs and
the kitchens of a few of the most celebrated (Michael Symon Brian Polycn and Thomas Keller).

All of this overshadowed by the austere Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and it’s elusive exam which some do succeed in achieving. If the Institute’s exam is not worse, it is on a par with the trials and tribulations of climbing Mt Everest. At a guess a person has a better chance of climbing the mountain (no small feat) than achieving the CMC accolade (the pinnacle of the CIA’s exams).

The book is clearly structured. being divided into three parts, the second two go into detail
on the chefs named above and the first is devoted to the CMC exam of the CIA.

From the outset Michael Ruhlman brings you straight into the action, the narrative begins with the chefs and tutors beginning to assemble for the first day of the ten day intensive exam. His uncanny writing skill makes you feel you’re participating alongside him on this adventure. On the exam you feel the passion and desire of all of these chefs. In the proceeding sections on three of the individual chefs there were times I wanted to wipe the sweat from my brow with the hustle and bustle, successes and joys.

Because of the clear structure of this book I felt it raced along. Some of the descriptions in the kitchens I skipped through as most of the recipes were meat based so don’t hold any interest for me. I also skimmed through the detail on the individual people working in the kitchens as I was only fixed on learning more on the three chefs above themselves.  This doesn’t mean they were boring in any way. Let me put it this way for an aspiring chef

  1. these synopses are ideal for building up a little portfolio of technique, tips and recipes
  2.  you learn what it’s like to really part of the work-team in a top notch restaurant
  3. if you are interested in achieving the status of these chefs you get the inside of track of what it takes

As for myself I’m more of a curious observer, wanting to understand the passion that drives them for ultimate for the ultimate perfection.

A must read for upcoming chefs aiming high and  for the rest of us
a sneak look at the inner workings of life at the ‘hob-face’.

This book is easy to read and very descriptive, plus the author writes from his heart, his own passion shines through too for his subject matter.  This succeeds in enabling me to go right to the heart of the action and feel totally involved. I could feel the anguish, frustrations, suspense and joys as if they were of a friend. I got to see the inside track and it was good to see that people working in these high-end kitchens can be treated with respect, can have fun and produce amazing creations. I now understand and have more respect for the higher echelons of cooking.

I want to read more from this author, for his inclusive style, the passion and enthusiasm which he exudes, for the craft, skill and personal struggle and joys of those he writes about.

When I finished reading this book I recapped on it and took pleasure in that I felt I’d been on a journey of discovery, delving into the lives of renowned chefs, their struggles and eventually joys. Discovering what I think is the soul of a chef and how they fared on the journey to perfection. I like all of them but especially Thomas Keller’s story.

I really enjoyed this book for the author’s easy to read style and his ability to not only show himself but bring you into the whole book and come out at the other end more knowledgeable than when you started.

And yes I did get answers to what is the soul of a chef.



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Home cook, Irish food blogger and live a plant-based lifestyle. I also co-own of with my hubs where you'll find online courses, vegan chocolates and lots more to help a transition to a plant-based diet or live with someone who is a carnivore.


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7 Comments on “Kitchen Reader Book Club Review: Soul of a Chef: The Journey Towards Perfection”

  1. February 1, 2012 at 9:34 am #

    I love the idea of a Kitchen Reader’s Book Club 🙂

    • February 1, 2012 at 10:16 am #

      Yep, I’ve something similar planned but am waiting for enough of my bloggie friends to join up. If you interested there is also another foodie one that makes you practice your photography skills, I’ve just joined and will be posting on that later on this month. Let me know if interested and I’ll DM you a link to it to join.

  2. February 2, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    I’m glad you enjoyed the book!

    • February 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      Hi Jen, thanks. Yep really got sucked in alright, but then again I’m one of those people glued to a TV cookery program while eating my dinner (except at weekends, precious). I love when eating out to get a sneak peek into the kitchens. Probably like yourselves there are endless programs testing the skill etc of chefs and I’m fascinated when they get the opportunity to work in Michelin star(s) restaurants. Last night I watched a program on Michelin star and there were so many similarities with the views of both chefs and the awarding body (Michelin). Did you enjoy it? I’ll have a look over next couple of days at your own review. I started yesterday to link up with some of you but had to get back to getting a few things done at this end. Lovely to touch base. Marian

  3. February 2, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    Marian, I know what you mean about feeling close to the action while reading – sometimes too close! I started to get stressed at times. The chef’s life is a hard one with punishing hours; I don’t think I could ever embrace it. I enjoyed the descriptions of the techniques, especially when Ruhlman described how careful the cooks were to do things right.

    • February 3, 2012 at 7:07 am #

      Hi Sarah, totally agree. I’d hate it.I prefer time to create something wonderful rather than that kind of pressure – there’s too many variables. Sometimes the celebrity cookery programs are presenting a certain image. With this book it was great to get behind the scenes and see real people. There surely are some great tips for aspiring chefs, or even home cooks. They need to have a pen and paper ready though.


  1. The Soul of a Chef: January Round-Up | The Kitchen Reader - February 1, 2012

    […] Marian at From Marian’s Kitchen […]

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