Publisher: Ballantine Books, March 2014
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
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.
In my experience, there are three types of food books. The brilliant, the okay, and the horrible. It comes down to the strength and integrity of the narrative voice: how much do they make us believe/invest in them, their stories, and their lives?
Michael Gibney’s Sous Chef is falls into the second category. The decision to make the entire story in second person is a brave one, and I applaud him trying to bring the reader into the world of the kitchen. It felt too disjointed and odd – I would have been more comfortable with the first person persona, seeing the based-upon-true-events day in the life through his eyes instead of his/my own.
I became really irritated with the narrative about halfway through the book as he’s/I’m organizing the speech for the wait staff’s preservice with the kitchen. Gibney uses the phrase “You need to know” 24 times in two and a half pages (beginning on the bottom of page 67 to the very last sentence of page 69). This repetition drove me insane, draining away from Gibney’s very obvious love of food and the job. It wasn’t engaging; it was tiresome.
The shining light is that love of food. Gibney, your second person narrator, appreciates food in a completely different realm than the majority of us. His narrative as he describes his knifes, their balances, and lull and noise of the kitchen…it’s breathtaking, but overwhelmed by the second person narration.
Sous Chef is okay. It’s a strong book in the love of food, but the narration drops its power quite a bit. But for a quick read, it’ll do.