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Spiced: A Familiar Recipe for a Tasty Read

January 3, 2012

Spiced: A Pastry Chef’s True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen
by Dalia Jurgensen
288 Pages, Library book, read on Kindle.

The heat and frantic activity of the kitchen. Sumptuous descriptions of colorful dishes. The dysfunctional camaraderie of foul-mouthed chefs. I’m pretty sure the chef memoir began as a genre over a decade ago, with Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.

And I will almost always eat it right up. Living the restaurant life vicariously. Late hours, burn scars, fast pace.

Spiced is a chef memoir that touches on a few different kitchen styles: the exacting work of a pastry chef’s confections, the frenzy of a hot and ribald kitchen, hotel restaurants, catering companies. Even Martha Stewart’s cooking show. The burnout and restlessness that spurs Jurgensen to seek the next job, and the next, allows glimpses into many different kitchen worlds.

Interestingly, she began working pastry at Nobu. Which is an unconventional beginning for desserts and flavor profiles. Mochi and green tea and red bean paste. Given her description, I can more or less picture what yuzu tastes like, but I’m not sure I ever tried it. Before I read this, I knew next to nothing about the work of catering, and certainly not about Martha Stewart’s cooking show.

I was more interested in the kitchen atmospheres than her personal life outside of the kitchen. There’s a decorous amount of after-hours gossip, even a brief romance, trying to balance being restaurant partners with romantic partners. And I suppose that’s handled well, but wasn’t nearly as interesting to me as the kitchen escapades and culture.

I still can’t fathom why she left either of those assignments to go back to the punishing schedule and pace of a restaurant kitchen. But that, I suppose, is why I read these books so happily. Making me some kind of armchair chef. Or literary foodie.

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