Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Review: "Four Kitchens" by Lauren Shockey

Summary from At the French Culinary Institute, Lauren Shockey learned to salt food properly, cook fearlessly over high heat, and knock back beers like a pro. But she also discovered that her real culinary education wouldn't begin until she actually worked in a restaurant. After a somewhat disappointing apprenticeship in the French provinces, Shockey hatched a plan for her dream year: to apprentice in four high-end restaurants around the world. She started in her hometown of New York City under the famed chef Wylie Dufresne at the molecular gastronomy hotspot wd-50, then traveled to Vietnam, Israel, and back to France. From the ribald kitchen humor to fiery-tempered workers to tasks ranging from the mundane (mincing cases of shallots) to the extraordinary (cooking seafood on the line), Shockey shows us what really happens behind the scenes in haute cuisine, and includes original recipes integrating the techniques and flavors she learned along the way. With the dramatic backdrop of restaurant life, readers will be delighted by the adventures of a bright and restless young woman looking for her place in the world.

Before reading this book, I didn't know much about what went on in restaurant kitchens. Obviously I knew that people were busy behind the scenes making my food, but I never really sat down to think about the entire process of what went on. I was interested in this book because I did want to learn about life behind the scenes. I found that Lauren Shockey has written an excellent foodie and travel memoir that's both fun, entertaining and yummy.

At first I was appalled at how mean some of the people were to Lauren when she first started in the restaurants in NYC and Paris. I don't understand why people expect everyone to know everything as soon as they start and then they get yelled at even though they were not told exactly what or how to do things. In contrast the restaurants in Hanoi and Tel Aviv were more laid back and willing to explain things without yelling. Is it the locations and atmosphere that make the difference? Is there a sense of snobbery in bigger cities that put people on the edge?

Shockey gives several chapters to each restaurant and goes into detail about the style of the restaurant, the food the serve, and the people and culture of the area. It's interesting to see how each restaurant was different, not only in terms of food, but in how they did things in the kitchen. No matter how much she learned in one place, she had to relearn things all over again at a new restaurant. There are so many different styles of cooking to keep track of and so many inside information to learn. Shockey also makes a good point of how it's hard to be a woman in the field and how the industry is very heavily male dominated.

I was a bit afraid that the book would venture more into Shockey's personal love life but was pleasantly surprised that it was only kept to a few brief comments. I think if it had, it would have limited the audience of who the book would be targeted at so I'm glad that she didn't go there. There are also tons of recipes in the book from each different place. Some of these things I know I would never eat but there's a lot of good ones that look somewhat not complex. I appreciated how Shockey gives background to the dish and doesn't just throw out the recipe with no context.

I really enjoyed reading this book. The writing style is very engaging. Shockey does a very good job at explaining everything to the newbie (unlike some of her colleagues when she was learning!) and making sure they know what's going on in the kitchen. If you have any interest in food, restaurants and travel, I highly recommend picking up this book. You will become informed, cultured and very hungry afterwards. I think that out of the four places, I would like to visit the restaurant in Hanoi the best. 2011 has been a good year for memoirs for me and this is another book that makes my top memoir reads for this year. HIGHLY recommended.

Four Kitchens by Lauren Shockey is published by Grand Central Publishing (2011)

This review copy was provided by a publicist


  1. Deborah this sounds like a wonderful read. I have read several books this year about chefs and food critics... I find it all so interesting!

  2. I love reading foodie memoirs, and this one particularly appeals to me because of the contrasts between the different kitchen cultures.
    Great review :)

  3. This is on my list -- I'm reassured to see that you've given such a positive review. The restaurant business is really rough.

  4. Oh -- BTW: So happy to see you participating in Weekend Cooking.

  5. This sounds really good. There seems to be so much emotion in kitchens!

  6. The book is new to me but now I can't wait to read it. I love restaurants and am fascinated by what happens in the kitchen. This book is right up my alley.

  7. I am not a memoir fan, but I have read some good reviews of this one.

  8. This sounds like a book that I would enjoy reading. Food and travel = envy on my part!

  9. This sounds like a great memoir. Hanoi and Tel Aviv had to make for some interesting reading. Not the usual places you think of when you think cooking. I will keep an eye out for this book.


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