Archive | September, 2013

Cooking Up Some Entertainment: Beaten, Seared, and Sauced, Apron Anxiety, & Kitchen Confidential (the series)

4 Sep

With the increasing amount of reality shows focusing on restaurants and cooking competition, chefs have been taken out of the kitchen and into the spotlight.  But being a chef is also a job that requires hard work and many hours on one’s feet in a hot kitchen.  Here are two nonfictions reads and one TV comedy series, those interested in the lives of chefs both in and out of the kitchen will enjoy.  Both books are available in print from the Hoboken Public Library and can be downloaded as ebooks on elibrarynj (http://hoboken.bccls.org/html/ebooks.htm).

Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America   by Jonathan Dixonbeaten

Jonathan Dixon was almost forty when he decided to make a career change and went to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) to learn to be a chef.  This work originated from a blog he began as a student there.  Dixon’s experience is not necessarily the typical one for a CIA student, the majority of whom he notes were just out of high school.  His age gives him an added seriousness about his studying, but also makes it harder for him to submit to the drill sergeant like tactics employed by some of his instructors and the physical demands of the work.  His externship at the now closed NY Indian fusion restaurant Tabla draws attention to some of the more negative aspects of working in a restaurant kitchen including the long hours and their impact on trying to maintain a relationship.  No recipes are included in the work, but as Dixon moves through the different courses, readers will pick up some tips of the trade.

Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen
by Alyssa Shelaskyapron-anxiety-alyssa-shelasky-book-cover

While in Beaten, Seared, and Sauced Dixon mentions the impact of his course work and externing at Tabla from his point of view, Alyssa Shelasky’s Apron Anxiety gives the perspective of what it is like being the partner of a chef.  I overlapped reading the two books and it was interesting to compare their two perspectives.  In this case the chef in question is Spike Mendelsohn, who competed in the fourth season of Top Chef; in the book she refers to him, however, as simply “chef.”  Shelasky did not start out as a foodie, but is drawn in to the world by “chef.”  The book has a chicklit memoir feel and at first I was off put slightly by Shelasky’s overly privileged party girl persona, but her humor and her spunk won me over in the end.  The book chronicles how it is possible to go from melting a plastic coffee pot on the stove while trying to boil water for cocoa and thinking taleggio is a European DJ, to throwing a fabulous dinner party for friends and family.  Although her love affair with “chef” ends, her love affair with food seems to have only just begun.  Recipes that reflect each chapter’s exploits are included.

Kitchen Confidential (the series)kitchenconfidential

For those who enjoy the humorous side of life in the kitchen, Kitchen Confidential is a 2005 television series loosely based on Anthony Bourdain’s book of the same name.  Although some characters and situations will be familiar to fans of the book such as an overly obsessed bread baker, the show diverges from the source material and adds a great deal of absurd humor and exists in a heightened reality only found in dramadies.   The show was produced by Sex and the City creator, Darren Star which it reminded me of, though in this case replacing the female friendship with male workplace bonding and with more “PG-13” content reflecting its broadcast TV origin.  Bradley Cooper, of Hangover fame, stars as Jack Bourdain, who has renounced his former hard partying ways and sees a chance to finally get back to helming an upscale restaurant.  The cast includes Nicholas Brendon (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a pastry chef, John Francis Daley (currently on Bones) as a constantly hazed newbie, Jaime King (currently on Heart of Dixie) as a ditzy waitress, and Owain Yeoman (currently on the Mentalist) as bad boy sous chef.  Unfortunately despite the winning cast, in part due to scheduling issues, the show only lasted four episodes on TV in the US, but all thirteen are available as a DVD set, which can be borrowed from BCCLS libraries.

Gone Girl and Lost Girls: Two Tales of Six Girls

1 Sep

I recently realized that two books I read this summer were from different genres but similar as they were both about missing women: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (fiction) and Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (nonfiction).

***

You may have already heard of Gone Girl. This popular thriller by Gillian Flynn topped many best-of lists last year. I happened upon a copy while shelving and grabbed it since it’s been so popular. Reese Witherspoon’s production company is adapting the story into a movie starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.

gone-girl

The Girl that’s Gone is Amy Elliott Dunne, who mysteriously disappears from her home the morning of her fifth wedding anniversary. This book has two alternating narrators–her husband Nick and Amy, via journal entries, which I think is an interesting device. Which narrator should the reader trust? Who is telling the truth?

After Nick and Amy lost their jobs during the recession, they moved from Brooklyn to Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri. Their relationship becomes strained as Amy, a native New Yorker, is a fish out of water in the Midwest while Nick easily assimilates.

Nick is the main suspect after Amy goes missing, which rocks the small town and immediately becomes a national news. Nick maintains his innocence despite everyone’s suspicions–his only ally is his twin sister Margo–and works to find other suspects in Amy’s disappearance. Will Nick clear his name? What happened to Amy?

***

Lost Girls is an impeccably reported true crime story about the disappearances of five women that worked as escorts. I read an interview with Kolker on Gawker, and was intrigued by this book.

lost-girls

The book begins with Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance from a home in Oak Beach, a secluded community on the south shore of Long Island. The local police force’s reluctant search for her eventually led to the discovery of four other women believed to be victims of a still-at-large serial killer targeting sex workers that advertise online through Craigslist and Backpage.

Lost Girls has two parts. Book 1 devotes two chapters to each woman’s background and her time as an escort up to her disappearance. Book 2 discusses theories about the identity of the women’s killer, and how the victims’ families have banded together, which Kolker first wrote about for New York magazine.

This book’s interior design felt interactive. Maps marking each woman’s home town and when she arrived in the New York City area precede each chapter. A timeline, a list of characters, and additional maps in the back of the book help readers keep up with all the details.

***

There are definitely some suspenseful moments in Gone Girl that grabbed my attention, but ultimately the book came up short for me. Flynn does an excellent job of spinning a twisted tale and describing the bleak, recession-ravaged Missouri town where Nick and Amy live. I don’t recommend Gone Girl but won’t discourage anyone from reading it, so they can draw their own conclusions*.

I don’t recall much about the original cases on which Lost Girls are based, but found the presentation of the stories and details so compelling. Kolker spent a lot of time with the women’s families and friends and wrote thoughtfully about the five women. Most notably, he neither passed judgement on their decisions to work as escorts nor blamed them for their deaths.

To me, Lost Girls is a better book. I’ve recommended it to friends and family since finishing it. By no means is it a happy story (these women had tough lives), but I found it engaging. I empathized with the families and their losses. At parts I was furious about the complacency shown by the police departments investigating the disappearances.

Gone Girl made me angry for different reasons. One was the ending, which I found unsatisfying. Also, I found most of the characters unlikable. Amy and Nick are written as such terrible people and they deserve each other.

If you read (or have read) either Gone Girl or Lost Girls (or both!) let me know what you think in the comments, or at hobkref@bccls.org.

What books have you read this summer that you liked? Did you read anything you didn’t like?

-Kerry Weinstein, Reference Librarian.

*According to Book Riot, I am not the only reader that didn’t enjoy Gone Girl.

%d bloggers like this: