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The Seasoning of a Chef

March 17, 2010

The Seasoning of a Chef: My Journey from Diner to Ducasse and Beyond
By Doug Psaltis
Broadway 1st Edition
Sept 2005 304 pages. Out of print, price varies.

Reading Psaltis’s description of the fast but efficient kitchens he’s worked in, and his loving descriptions of food, I have to admire the man. His drive to learn to be a chef, and to keep learning in every kitchen he worked in, took him to push for challenges. He never went to culinary school, opting instead to learn on his feet. His love of food and cooking began at his grandfather, Poppy’s, side. Working in bagel shops, seafood restaurants and fusion cuisine pushed him to try to make his way in the competitive culinary scene of New York city. When he felt that he couldn’t learn anything more in a kitchen, or that it wasn’t pushing to be the best it could be— he moved on.  Although that sounds almost arrogant, Psaltis’s narrative stays conversational, forthright. It’s more about his dreams and his desire to learn, than his arrogance about what he knows already. He’s humble around other cooks he wants to learn from.

From flipping pancakes and making bacon with Poppy in the diner, to Alain Ducasse’s fancy restaurants, each meal is lovingly described. Don’t read this hungry. If at all possible, make sure you can get yourself some cassoulet, a rich stew with duck leg confit, which is one of the particularly sumptuous tastes Psaltis describes.  Or, failing that, fresh-baked bread or a tasty salmon dish will do.

This book confirms something that comes as no surprise to me. I would never, ever be a good professional chef. While Kitchen Confidential made me laugh, at Anthony Bourdain’s dissipated rock star persona and his profane, earthy descriptions of his kitchen, the earnest honesty of Psaltis’s passion makes me admire him. And also shudder. Working from 6am to midnight is routine. Six days, without a break. And when he does get vacations, he does “stages” at other restaurants- working and observing in other kitchens. For free. That’s dedication. It’s admirably insane. His love of food makes me smile- his passion for preparing good food, and staying loyal to chef cameraderie and traditions. Or the meals he seeks out and describes on his rare days off or nights out. The meals he writes about alone, are worth reading this warm and wonderful book.

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