Unlike the days when the European apprentice system was the only way to become an established chef, today there is no one route to the kitchen. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in How I Learned to Cook: Culinary Educations of the World's Greatest Chefs, a collection of essays by 40 acclaimed chefs. Edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Peter Meehan, the book is a satisfying follow-up to Don't Try This at Home, their collection of culinary catastrophe stories. While the first book was heavy on entertainment, this one delivers more in the practical wisdom department.
Each essay in How I Learned to Cook opens with a short bio of a chef, hardly necessary in most cases (Anthony Bourdain, Mario Batali, Marcella Hazan), essential in others (Raymond Blanc, Chris Bianco). Each chef takes a slightly different tack, telling about childhood experiences in the kitchen, early inspirations and mentors, twists of fate or epiphanies that came later in life. All the essays are less than 10 pages long and hold a reader's attention with their sheer diversity.
This is not just a book for culinary school students or aspiring professionals the inspiration in these chefs' tales works for the weekend cook as well. Despite the breadth of experiences recounted from cooking under the master French chef Paul Bocuse (Daniel Boulud) to deep-frying at the snack bar of the local swim club (Tom Colicchio) cooks of every ability level will recognize the one constant throughout: passion for good food.
Lisa Waddle is a pastry baker and food writer in Nashville.