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It’s been such a gloomy and unproductive start to this year, for reasons I don’t want to go into and despite the very warm and wonderful support form other bloggers and readers when this blog was down, that in the selfish interests of cheering myself up, I’ve decided to note two kind bits of attention my work has received.  NYTimes restaurant critic Frank Bruni noted Elements of Cooking was among the books that caught his attention this year, which he calls “incredibly handy and exhaustive to boot.”  He also makes note of, among others, US of Arugula and Amateur Gourmet’s first book, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend.  I would add Judith Jones’s The Tenth Muse to Bruni’s list and John Thorne’s Mouth Wide Open is next in my pile of books.  I was also sent The Oxford Companion to Italian Food, by Gillian Riley, an outstanding reference I’m delighted to have. With the very first use I was thoroughly gratified—I was looking to find the basic components of a traditional bagna cauda, and there it was (no acid I was surprised to see), and then mostarda—both were defined concisely, completely and elegantly in this handsome edition.

And serious eats gave me a Serious Eater award (I edged out Michael Pollan and Mario!)—I don’t know who votes on these things or what it means or why I was chosen, but I’m a fan of serious eats and Ed Levine and so feel duly honored, especially given the somber mood in here.

Then, while I was writing this self-indulgent post, an email dropped from the elegant Clotilde, author of Chocolate and Zucchini, the book and the blog, who has posted more kind words about Elements with the additional and fun proposition to readers of listing the kitchen tools they would chose if they could only have five. I love this game.

I’ve been enjoying writing the Elements of Cooking blog more than I’d anticipated.  Each week I post an “element” and while I’d originally done it more or less to promote the book and show people the kind of information that was in it, the discussions it’s brought about, have been fascinating and instructive to me, especially with with chefs Mike Pardus and Bob del Grosso, and occasionally the opinionated Shuna, weighing in.  If you’re a cook, please check it out and comment on the fundamentals you care about.

Indeed, I have much to be grateful for.

And so I will conclude with an "element" from Elements  that isn’t food or technique, but rather the professionals who make it happen in restaurants (photo by Donna from the Lola kitchen here in Cleveland):

Lola_line_2_2_2

Line cook: A line cook is a professional cook, or journeyman cook, who works a station on the hot or cold line during service.  Line cook is generally one of the most stressful and physically demanding (and least well-paid) positions in a restaurant, so much so that it’s got its own distinct ethos and subculture.  Line cooks are the rockers and the backbone of the American restaurant kitchen, and the best are a special breed, in a league of their own.

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45 Wonderful responses to “Books and Line Cooks”

  • The Foodist

    “Line cooks are the rockers and the backbone of the American restaurant kitchen, and the best are a special breed, in a league of their own.”

    Amen to that! Glad to hear Elements getting some great attention, and time to add some books to the “To Be Read..soon” list.

  • Maya

    As a non-cook (a really, really non-cook) I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the educational nature of your blog. Just last night my boyfriend and I had a great dinner out and had fun debating what “braising” is, we both had forgotten the definition.

    Of course learning and applying are two very different things. I suppose if I ever found time to take a cooking class I’d just start reading from the beginning again!

    Also I have to say, I get a bit down when reading about pasta. I used to love it before I became allergic to wheat. Glutino makes amazing products (also for gluten allergies) but the only food product that has not been adequately replaced is pasta. Anyone who can make a good non-semolina pasta that does not taste completely freaky with pasta sauce may hit the jackpot.

  • Jaxie Waxie Woo

    Maya is not the only one here for an education.

    As someone brought up a home where “follow the recipe” meant nothing more than remembering to add pepper to the chicken before baking, I never understood (much less appreciated) the art of food until well into my adult years. My parents are amazing people, but adventurous in the kitchen they are not.

    Thanks for the proverbial peek behind the curtain (or should that be the oven door?).

    If nothing else, you’ve got me reaching for the pork instead of the chicken when making my ceasar salads. Hey, it’s a start…

  • Mahala

    I absolutely love when you include Donna’s photos in your blog. They are beautiful and elegant. And as a visual junkie, I find their presence a wonderful complement to your words.

  • jsmeeker

    Michael,

    How a bout a nice definition of “line” in restaurant kitchen terms. What parts are part of the line? which are not?

    Jeff

  • Sues is not Martha

    I have nothing but praise for the Elements of Cooking! I bought a copy for my dad who has been cooking for his entire life and he LOVES it. And I bought a copy for myself, a 25-year-old who is still learning the basics and falling in love with cooking. And I LOVE it too.

    We’ll be writing a review on our site soon :)

  • bob

    So…You got you’re grill guy, your saute guy, your pasta guy, your salad(garde manger)guy, wait, what else, you’re immersion circulator guy, excuse me, persons. These persons are your line chefs. then your pasta guy calls out, so your lead dish washer becomes your pasta guy. They are built for speed and excellence under pressure, and they are the reason your Chef shines.

  • EY

    I got Elements for Christmas and even though I’m only in the “g” section, I’ve already added several more of your books to my wish list. I read bits of it aloud to my husband, but I’m about to stop, no matter how interesting he finds them: I don’t want him to steal the book before I’m finished!

    Our sure fire way to kill the blues: soak some beans overnight, put them in a crockpot with some delicious pork of your choice (jowls, hocks, bits of ham), water and cook on high all day. Make cornbread when you get home in a nice cast iron skillet. Keeps you warm body and soul.

  • Techie

    What did you think of the kitchen organization in the film “Ratatouille”?

  • shuna fish lydon

    Michael!

    Yes, it’s true, I’m Opinionated. thanks for the shout out. I do like the blog for the book– but is there a way to click on past posts? Right now we can only read what’s current or what’s posted right this minute.

    For JSMeeker– the line is where you’re food is cooked and plated in a restaurant. Although some may say that the “cold station” is not “on the line,” I disagree. Also, in my world, pastry is also part of the line.

    Which brings me to:

    bob–

    sometimes line cooks/ chefs are female, btw.

  • Judith in Umbria

    I bought my foodie friend the Oxford Companion to Italian and I bought my daughter “Delizie” because I figured it was the next best thing to having me cook for them.

    I only wish more non-foodies would pay attention to the basic elements of cooking and nutrition. Somewhere we dropped the ball. Hope we find it and get it into play before we rear a generation of sick people ignorant of both.

  • carri

    Shuna, there is an archives drop down list on the right hand side under the list of links…well worth perusing, especially on the Elements blog! Thanks to both You and Ruhlman for both giving great insights but also giving those of us who cook for a living a place that we can connect with our ‘people’!

  • JoP in Omaha

    Ruhlman, I’m sorry to hear your year is starting out in a gloomy way, hope things get on a good track for you soon. Good for you for putting the the positive in foreground, that being the success of Elements.

    I turned my cousin, who loves to cook, on to your books by getting her Making… and Soul… for Christmas. I’m rereading them with her, providing us with hours of discusion. I’ve had a lot of fun trying to explain things to her….like what a raft is (as in consomme). I stumbled over that myself until I finally found a photo.

    Your Elements blog is a gem, made even more brilliant by the contributions from Pardus and del Grosso. It’s a virtual cooking school, and I’m loving the lessons you’re providing. Priceless.

  • S. Woody

    Between this list of books and the “Sources” essay in Elements, I’m glad to say I already have U.S. of Arugula (which I have loaned on occasion to co-workers), Escoffier’s Guide Culinaire, Pepin’s Complete Techniques, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the French Laundry Cookbook. Older versions of the Food Lover’s Guide, Joy of Cooking, and McGee’s On Food and Cooking are also on hand.

    Everything else is going on my wish list. It’s getting to be a sizable wish list.

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  • bob

    Shuna,
    Yours is the 1 of the 3 top visited blogs, on my daily travels. I admire, respect and often learn from you. Please understand that I am not a great writer, but I did add persons to edit myself. My apologies if in anyway, anyone who travels thru was offended. I now have to get back to work, doing some recipe updates for my company chef, Krista.
    bob bcgee

  • kevin

    Michael,
    As you’re well aware, no one celebrates the line cook like Bourdain, in Kitchen Confidential, of course, but also in The Bobby Gold Stories. And though I’ve never worked a line, I’ve spent enough time in commercial kitchens to understand their lot.

  • Owen

    Bob –

    You forgot sometimes there will also be a meat and/or fish guy too.

    Or be like me and be “Pantry” where I do Garde Manger and also plate desserts.

  • Deborah Dowd

    My son started as a busboy, and then prep and then line chef, and it is a very demanding (and can be denegrating) job. And the pay? My son, while extremely gifted, is now training to be a hair stylist (too much month and too little money!)

  • Raspil

    Being a line cook is only degrading if the executive chef is a total jerk who has no respect for his crew because he’s forgotten what it’s like to be in their clogs. Otherwise, it’s a great job. I love it and can’t see myself doing anything else.

  • Matt

    I find that the terms in Elements aren’t particularly new, but I love it because it gives perspective to many of these terms relative to each other.

    Take Pate a Choux for example. I always knew it was a dough, but I never knew how diverse it was. I also like seeing the sentence “…is a fundamental part of the cook’s repertoire,” which is a kind of heads up that maybe I need to pay more attention to this building block.

    And the ‘opinionated’ nature of the book (opinions used more for emphasis than definition, in my view) is helpful to me. Celebrity chefs or chefs in the limelight for one reason or another are fun to watch, but I can’t relate to them because I’ve never cooked professionally. I live vicariously through Ruhlman, though. He helps bridge that gap for me. I respect Ruhlman’s opinions. Elements is an appreciated addition to my growing library of food books. I’m a better cook because of it.

  • ruhlman

    Thanks, Matt. I couldn’t have wished for a better comment. That’s exactly what I was hoping to do with the book. I wanted to translate the language of the professional kitchen for the home cook. But I also wanted not to speak below the level of a culinary student or any professional cook for that matter. The opinionated nature of the book was also part of its intent. In the kitchen, I could be described in the way I heard surgeons described: often right, never uncertain.

  • Frances Davey

    About the kitchen in Ratatouille, I saw Thomas Keller’s name in the credits, so it looks like they consulted with the best. However, the kitchen in the story may not have been meant to be the best kitchen. I mean…it was a cartoon and all.

  • bonnibella

    And the ‘opinionated’ nature of the book (opinions used more for emphasis than definition, in my view) is helpful to me. Celebrity chefs or chefs in the limelight for one reason or another are fun to watch, but I can’t relate to them because I’ve never cooked professionally. I live vicariously through Ruhlman, though. He helps bridge that gap for me. I respect Ruhlman’s opinions. Elements is an appreciated addition to my growing library of food books. I’m a better cook because of it.

    Posted by: Matt

    Matt, thank you for expressing this point of view so wonderfully well. This is what I love about Ruhlman too. I am not a professional cook (much less chef) either, and Ruhlman always inspires me to new heights in my own culinary adventures. I also enjoy the additional interactions of del Grosso and Pardu on the blog. I would never get to meet any of these guys in real life, so I consider being able to “get to know them” and pick their brains via cyberspace a real blessing.

  • rockandroller

    This reminds me of a question I keep meaning to ask you. Do you have any FOH experience?/serving experience?

  • ruhlman

    only what i’ve written about in making of a chef and a night bussing tables at the french laundry. I found it fascinating though.

  • Claudia

    Frances:

    Bourdain’s also in the credits of Ratatouille – so that might have factored in how the line of Ratatouille’s kitchen took shape (!) I still think Colette might be The Grillbitch (Beth Aretsky), in animated form . . .

    Michael, I’m sorry your New Year hasn’t been what you hoped, but I hope you realize know what serious traction you’ve got with Elements and your star tun on TNIC – and we have your book on sous vide to look forward to in the fall, yes? There were some serious withdrawal/anxiety/separation issues going on while your blog was down, by the way – more so than I think were expressed to you. It continues to be a daily source of learning, interest and pleasure, and you should take that happy thought into the new year with you, too.

    You might be learning from Pardus, Bops and Shuna, but we are all learning from you and each other. Rock on, Ruhlman.

  • mike pardus

    Claudia…….it never before crossed my mind that Colette was Beth – I think the accent threw me off. But otherwise they’re so close, I’m sure you’re right…that explains how I can have a crush on a cartoon character.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Line cooks may be the backbone and rockers of the American restaurant kitchen but no kitchen can function well or for very long without human dishwashers aka plongeurs.

    I don’t work in line driven kitchen anymore. But when I did I’d be ticked when one of my line cooks failed to show, but nearly apoplectic when I lost a dishwasher.

  • rockandroller

    It’s interesting. I would think that being trained on the ins and outs of serving would be part of the “making” of a chef, whether in an officially-sanctioned class at the CIA or something that the chef simply takes upon him or herself to learn, preferably “by doing” in some manner. It’s such an integral and important part of what goes on at a restaurant, you know?

  • mike pardus

    CIA students spend a total of seven weeks in FOH training and have a 6 week course in Wine Studies. Seven days in baquet service, 3 weeks in a one of our restauants and three weeks in another. They are not meant to come out maitre d’s – but neither are they expected to graduate as a “Chef”. It’s interesting to see that a significant percentage come for the culinary arts and leave wanting to pursue FOH. The last time I was at Trotter’s I was pleased to see a former student working as Sommeolier.

    A Chef needs to know what his/her counterparts are doing out front – you’re right.

  • Chris

    Hi Michael,

    For what it’s worth, I’d like to thank you for having the instructions on making stock, not only in Elements, but also here on your blog. I used to do things the old-fashioned way, i.e., toss the carcass into a pot of water and boil the snot out of it for a few hours. And naturally, the results were less than desired. So a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I roasted a chicken and some vegetables, and I laid claim to the carcass when we were done, and I followed your instructions implicitly. Once I was done with the stock, I turned it into a chicken noodle soup that just rocked our world … the only variation I added was that I used shallots in addition to the standard mirepoix veggies, and it really gave the soup some wonderful flavor. My once-skeptical wife was completely amazed, as was a friend of ours who stopped by for dinner. I can’t wait until the next time we roast a chicken or a turkey so I can do this again!

    All props to you … reading your books has really opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities, and I’m finding that I now cook a lot more out of enjoyment then out of just cooking for daily survival.

  • Angie

    Before reading your blogs and Elements, my cooking wasn’t very good. Edible – yes – but certainly far from delicious. I thought I just didn’t have the “touch” required to make tasty dishes. Turned out that I just didn’t have the knowledge. Now my cooking taste much better and I actually enjoy the process! Thank you so much!

  • rockandroller

    Thanks so much Mr. Pardus. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the full program at CIA so I appreciate the enlightenment. I should have known they’d cover FOH. Maybe Michael should return and do that stint :)

    I think people who work in restaurants both have a similar desire to please people and give them a good dining experience. Extroverts are naturals for FOH IMO. Not that there aren’t BOH people who are extroverts, but there’s a difference between being affable and able to talk to a lot of people with ease (someone like Tony Bourdain) and being a true extrovert whose “love” of the people side can outweigh the cooking (Rocco DiSpirito comes to mind).

  • Matt

    Ruhlman did take the class. It’s why I look at my server at Chili’s with contempt because she didn’t crumb my table and bring me new siverware between my appetizer and main course.

  • bob

    Bob Del Grosso
    What a great subject for the next Michael book. Seriously, I hope that the world understands the importance of the person on the dishpit.
    It’s hard to imagine the restaurant kitchen in America that could function more than an hour without the dishwasher.
    I find myself escaping there sometimes when I’m shorthanded or just need to find center again.

  • FoodPuta

    Ok, this has kind of hit on a part of a professional kitchen that intrigues me. I don’t know if this is and appropriate place to ask this question, but what the hay.

    Take and upscale restaurant that can handle 75 guests:

    How much staffing BOH?
    How much staff FOH?
    Is there a specific ratio of how many pots and pans for the BOH load per night?
    Is there a specific ratio of plates and utensils for the FOH load per night?

    I know these are kind of weird questions, and I don’t know why I always think about it when I am sitting in a restaurant. I just always wonder.

  • Frances Davey

    Claudia, how could I have missed Bourdain in the credits? Well, I am a slow reader. But that might explain Colette’s knife skills.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Bob

    I agree that a book about dishwashers would be terrific. I think it should begin with an introductory essay by Ruhlman and followed by a series of bios of dishwashers -illustrated with photos by Donna Ruhlman.

    Too much has been made of chefs and cooks. It’s time to put the spotlight on the rest of the crew.

    WARNING: Now I’m going to stop being serious…

    Ah, but are we ready for what will happen if such a book becomes a best seller and causes a blow up of new programming at the Food Fetish Network?

    Is the world really ready for IRON DISHWASHER ,
    or shows featuring hot Italian heiresses who breathlessly confess that they learned their love of cleaning grease traps while on family vacation on Corfu?

    And what will the current Food Fetish Network cooking stars do when confronted with prospect of being squeezed off the air by dishwashers?

    It’s not hard to imagine someone like Bobby Flay getting down into the pot sink, but I’m sorry, I just don’t see Giada scraping burnt milk out of the bottom of a sauce pot with a spackle knife. Maybe Paula Deen could make the transition. I dunno. I am sure, however, that there would be a lot of opportunity for female dishwashing stars, what with all the opportunity for shots of jiggling décolletage and what not.

  • rockandroller

    I’d watch Iron Dishwasher!

    To FoodPuta’s question, I think your question is really too vague to be properly answered. The questions of WHERE the restaurant is (population issue), what type it is (special occasion? diner?) and what night of the week it is would have to be part of the question before it could be answered. And even then, the answer will differ from place to place depending on how the person or people who run the place wish to staff it, or can afford to staff it.

    If you want a more standard answer, your best bet would be to consider a chain where it’s pretty much the same everywhere.

  • ntsc

    I ran a dish machine in college, a useful skill that paid 150% minimum wage but in cash. The extra was because I could run it by myself, usually it was a two person job.

    It also kept me off the back sink in KP in the Army, where the standard rate for ‘buying’ KP was $20 and we only made $125/month at the most.

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