Chefs: Their Lives and Times

By Jessie Scalph, Haymarket Gainesville Library Branch Manager

Have you ever dreamt about an alternative career? Do you prefer to live through others vicariously? In my case, I found that following the lives of various chefs was a fascinating journey. Each book I’ve read often covered the culture, the intense course of study required, the idea of cooking as an art and a science, and the camaraderie or competition amongst chefs. It’s also interesting to read about chefs who have become celebrities: How do they balance their insane, but fulfilling, lifestyle with family life?

 I’ve reviewed a few books about chefs that are available at Prince William Public Libraries. Check them out!

Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi (*641.5092 Onw)

An inspiring tale of an African American who achieved success through grit, perseverance, and old-fashioned hustle. Kwame sold candy bars on the subway to finance a catering business, attended the Culinary Institute of America, opened a fine dining restaurant in Washington D.C. that closed within three months, and ultimately opened five restaurants before he was 30. On many occasions, Kwame was faced with sometimes subtle and often blatant racism in the fine-dining world. A quote from the book illustrates his passion, “…I want to see a kitchen full of white, yellow, brown and black faces—open faces, not faces closed by fear like mine was for so many years…”

Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton (Bio Hamilton)

This book reveals the life of Gabrielle Hamilton and the many challenges she faced. It explores her family, cultural differences with her Italian in-laws, world travels, and opening a restaurant (The Prune) in NYC. She describes a scene of cleaning up a dead, maggot-infested rat at the soon-to-be-opened restaurant, contrasting it with the experience of being treated like a celebrity with town cars and makeup artists for appearances on The Martha Stewart Show. Hamilton shares her struggle to balance family life with her hectic life as a restaurant owner, including scheduling the birth of her second child earlier than planned so she could cover two sudden vacancies in her kitchen crew.

Life, on the Line by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (Bio Achatz)

Grant Achatz became an award-winning chef and owned and ran a restaurant at a young age. He worked very hard and learned from chefs such as Thomas Keller (The French Laundry), Steven Stallard, and Angus Campbell. What drove this young man? A quote from the book provides a small glimpse of his motivation: “I wanted to experiment and take risks, and I would need to risk failure and imperfection to move forward.” He needed that strength and more for his future. Soon after finding a partner and opening a restaurant (The Alinea), he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. While fighting the disease, he lost his sense of taste. He learned to cook with his other senses and taught his chefs to mimic his palate. Five months later, he was declared cancer-free and won the James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding American Chef.

Three Many Cooks by Pam Anderson, Maggy Keet, and Sharon Damelio (*641.50922 And)

This book is a wonderful story about how a mother and her two daughters learned to cook together and how it was a central focus within their work and personal lives. Their story had interesting personal anecdotes from the daughters and the mother, often with differing perspectives. Pam Anderson, the mother, was a professional test cook and a perfectionist. She learned that the real focus of food should be family and friends. 

Other Recommended Books About Chefs:

  • Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (641.5092 Bou)
  • Dirt by Bill Buford (641.5092 Buf)
  • Eat a Peach by David Chang (Bio Chang)
  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (Fic Danler)
  • Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir by Lisa Donovan (Bio Donovan)
  • Driving Hungry by Layne Mosler (641.5092 Mos)
  • Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl (641.5092 Rei)

What are you cooking? Get cookbook and recipe recommendations from the library every Friday on social media with “Kitchen Secrets!” Every week at facebook.com/princewilliampubliclibraries and on Instagram @PWPLS, a staff member whips up a dish inspired by a cookbook available at the library or through AtoZ Food America and AtoZ World Food on our Digital Library, pwcva.gov/digitallibrary

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