Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Four Kitchens - Lauren Shockey

It has been a while since I have revisited one of my favorite genres: chef memoirs.  Back in February, I read Gabrielle Hamilton's masterpiece Blood, Bones, and Butter. I have serious doubts that anyone else could reach the standard Hamilton set, at least by my observation.  In her attempt, Lauren Shockey adds an international element and the young voice of someone eager to learn and still unsure about her path.

Shockey, after completing her undergraduate degree, attended culinary school.  After culinary school, she began work on a Master's degree in Food Studies and planned a journey around the world to work as a stagiaire (a culinary intern or trainee).  Shockey decided that she wanted a true experience in kitchens of all types and therefore set out to secure positions as a stagiaire in not only four restaurants, but four countries.  Her eagerness to learn and open mind is refreshing as she takes readers with her around the globe.

The first stop for Shockey was in her own backyard.  wd~50 is the creation of celebrity chef Wylie Dufrense and a temple for molecular gastronomy.  Her time in NYC was marked by strict technique and eccentric culinary creations.  Stop number two, La Verticale in Hanoi, offered a completely different experience.  Here, Shockey learned to cook by taste and feel, rather than precise measurements.  The flavors of Vietnamese food clearly left an impression on her.  Carmella Bistro in Tel Aviv is where Shockey began to find that her experiences were paying off.  Her adept skill in the kitchen brought her control of the appetizer station.  Finally, Senderens in Paris, her final stop on this culinary journey, confirmed to Shockey that she prefers home cooking over the rigors and pretenses of restaurant work.

Each restaurant and cultural experience is interesting in their own right.  At the beginning, Shockey is, for all intents and purposes, a novice chef and we learn with her about flavors and techniques.  By the end of the journey, it is evident that the line is no longer appealing to her in the same way it was at wd~50. Shockey has realized that her true joy in cooking comes from the creation and community of home cooking.  As an avid home cook, I resonate with her conclusion.  While I dream from time to time about working in a professional kitchen, I know I would find it something different entirely from my cozy stovetop.  Yet, Shockey's journey of education and discovery is something I envy greatly.  She returned with the abilities and knowledge of a professional chef.

Four Kitchens is not a ground-breaking piece of literature.  However, Shockey's journey in and of itself is interesting enough to make the read enjoyable.  Her writing style is simple yet flavorful, much like I imagine her cooking style to be post-culinary journey.  Putting adapted recipes into the end of each chapter sets this memoir apart from others of its type.  For anyone who is interested in food or travel or both, I would recommend they join Shockey on her journey.

Pages: 352
Date Finished: July 1, 2012

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