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How I Learned To Cook: Culinary Educations from the World's Greatest Chefs

How I Learned To Cook: Culinary Educations from the World's Greatest Chefs

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How I Learned To Cook: Culinary Educations from the World's Greatest Chefs

3/5 (24 valutazioni)
339 pagine
4 ore
Dec 9, 2008


Before he was a top chef, Tom Colicchio learned to love cooking when he was still slinging burgers at a poolside snack bar. Barbara Lynch tells the story of lying her way into her first chef's job and then needing to cook her way out of trouble in the galley kitchen of a ship at sea. Stories of mentorship abound: Rick Bayless tells the story of finally working with Julia Child, his childhood hero; Gary Danko of earning the trust of the legendary Madeleine Kamman. How I Learned to Cook is an irresistible treat, a must-have for anyone who loves food and wants a look into the lives of the men and women who masterfully prepare it.
Dec 9, 2008

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Kimberly Witherspoon is a literary agent at Inkwell Management.

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How I Learned To Cook - Kimberly Witherspoon

"Foodie/chef groupies . . . who are more star-struck by the likes of Jacques Pepin than George Clooney, could easily devour this book in a single marathon reading session. But How I Learned to Cook is best savored in small bites—an essay here, a couple of essays there—to allow the page-by-page feast to linger a little longer."

—San Diego Union-Tribune

"How I Learned to Cook reassures us that the path to culinary fame is sometimes paved with kitchen fires, exploding fava beans, and unecstatic cherries jubilee."


A collection of savvy, savory essays by 40 of the world's best chefs and food writers . . . who share their early triumphs, travails, and innovations as up-and-comers before they ascended to culinary stardom.


Entertaining and inspiring. The chapter by Chicago's own Rick Bayless alone is worth the book's price.

—Chicago Sun-Times

"A satisfying follow-up to Don't Try This at Home . . . This is not just a book for culinary school students or aspiring professionals—the inspiration in these chefs' tales works for the weekend cook as well . . . From cooking under the master French chef Paul Bocuse (Daniel Boulud) to deep-frying at the snack bar of the local swim club (Tom Colicchio)—cooks of every ability level will recognize the one constant throughout: passion for good food."

—Book Page

Forty chefs representing notable restaurants all over the world offer a bit of humorous history on how they cut their teeth in the kitchen . . . the stories are entertaining and well chosen.

—Publishers Weekly




Culinary Educations from

the World's Greatest Chefs

Edited by Kimberly Witherspoon

and Peter Meehan


As always, to Summer and Paul


To Hannah




FERRÁN ADRIÀ The Big Red Book, or El Práctico

JOSÉ ANDRÉS Boiling Point

MARIO BATALI Country Living

RICK BAYLESS Sweet Child O3 Mine


CHRIS BIANCO Digging in the Dirt

MARK BITTMAN That's Entertainment


HESTON BLUMENTHAL Found in Translation


ANTHONY BOURDAIN Ready for My Close-Up


ANDREW CARMELLINI And the Winner Is . . .

DAVID CHANG The Noodle Whisperer


GARY DANKO Teacher's Pet

TAMASIN DAY-LEWIS Cooking the Books


SUSAN FENIGER Everything I Need to Know About Cooking I Learned in an Ashram

SUZANNE GOIN French Lessons

GABRIELLE HAMILTON "It's All Fun and Games Until

MARCELLA HAZAN Lunch with Victor

FERGUS HENDERSON A Brief History of Fate



MARA MARTIN A Flower in Venice



SARA MOULTON Blame It on the Del Rio


CHARLES PHAN Backseat Chefs and Other a Restaurant


ERIC RIPERT Walking on Eggshells

MICHEL ROUX Christmas in Paris


BRUCE SHERMAN Six Little Words


JACQUES TORRES Clothes Make the Man

MING TSAI Under My Thumb



A Note on the Editors


IF THE TITLE of this book has captured your attention, we'd wager the chances are good that you have your own story, if not several, about how you learned to cook.

We'd also wager that you will hear your story echoed by at least one of the forty essays presented in this volume. Not because all cooks come to the kitchen by the same route—far from it. No, any similarity to your own experience is a consequence of just the opposite virtue: diversity. The world-renowned chefs who generously took the time to reflect on the question, how did you learn to cook? recount here a delightful array of inspirations. From childhood creations to memories of tastes that brought enlightenment, from grueling apprenticeships in legendary kitchens to comic catastrophes brought on by ill-conceived experimentation, these professionals have come across it all. And in witnessing the great breadth and depth of these culinary experiences, the home cook cannot help but share, on occasion, a reassuring sense of familiarity and recognition.

What all of these very different chefs ultimately have in common is best expressed in the aphorism Cooking, like love, is best entered into with abandon, or not at all. Regardless of their styles and histories, it is this passion that distinguishes them—and that frequently leads them in over their heads. And it is the climb back to safety from the precipice of disaster that often makes for such a satisfying journey.

There are also gentler revelations to be shared, like youthful discoveries of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, mentors unearthed in a treasured book. There are stories that anyone reading this collection will find hard to resist, magical instances when eyes were opened to possibilities that await anyone in the kitchen: an elaborate twenty-four-hour recipe at last turns out right; a nervous newlywed succeeds in delighting her food-obsessed husband.

Other lessons are less enchanting but demonstrate that electrocution, near-asphyxiation, and scalding airborne oil can be very instructive and that death threats, packs of dogs, and crack pipes can all play unexpected roles in a chef's rise to the top.

Throughout the book these chefs also share practical wisdom gained from their experiences, and for that we are grateful because, as one chef has learned from his relationship with the inimitable Madeleine Kamman, learning to cook is not a process—or a story—that is ever truly finished.



The Big Red Book, or El Práctico


Ferrán Adria began his celebrated culinary career washing dishes at a restaurant in the town of Castelldefels, Spain. He went on to work at various restaurants before serving in the Spanish military at the naval base of Cartagena. In 1984, at the age of twenty-two, he joined the kitchen staff of El Bulli. Only eighteen months later, he became head chef of the restaurant—­which went on to receive its third Michelin star in 1997. Adria's gift for combining unexpected contrasts of flavor, temperature, and texture has won him global acclaim as one of the most creative and inventive culinary geniuses in the world; Gourmet magazine has hailed him as the Salvador Dali of the kitchen.

ICAME TO COOKING purely by chance; it was not, by any means, a vocation. It unfolded gradually, and rather surprisingly, over several years. It was never a search, a mission, a holy grail.

To begin with, I was not one of those children who, at age six or seven, discovers an enthusiasm for baking cookies. I did not watch, ablaze with curiosity, as my grandmother stirred the family broth. The kitchen in the home where I grew up in Barcelona was a place that delivered regular, honest, solid, uncomplicated meat-and-potato meals. Growing up, as a child and as an adolescent, the goings-on over the kitchen stove were as uninteresting to me as they were incomprehensible.

What did interest me, and keenly, as I ventured deeper into adolescence, was soccer. And parties. And, above all, girls. High school, on the other hand, held no charm for me at all. I was not a bad student. I actually got good grades, especially in economics, the subject it was supposed that I would study in college. But it was in my final year of high school that I realized economics held no appeal for me either. In fact, I was fed up with studying altogether. I didn't see much future in it—not for me. At the age of seventeen what I most wanted to do in the world was to spend the summer in Ibiza. This was 1980. Ibiza, a small Mediterranean island half an hour's flight south and east of Barcelona, was then the party capital of the world. It's still a mecca for party animals. But it was even more so then. It was the fiesta spot, par excellence.

So I quit school and set myself the heroic quest of spending a summer vacation in Ibiza. My dad, who was a plasterer by trade and had high hopes for me, was not too impressed with my decision. On the other hand, neither did he try to dissuade me. He said, Fine. No problem. Go ahead. But don't expect one penny from me. You do this, by all means. But you're on your own.

Well, I wasn't entirely on my own. My father did lend a helping hand. I needed a job to raise the money to get to Ibiza, and he put me in touch with a friend of his, a cook named Miguel Moy. Miguel gave me a job at his kitchen in a hotel in Castelldefels, a beach resort twenty minutes south of Barcelona. Now don't imagine for one moment that this was a prospect that excited me. It was purely a means to an end. I might just as well have got a job in a factory or as a gardener or an assistant garage mechanic. As it turned out, I was a junior assistant cook. Translated, that meant dishwasher.

This was no dive, though. Miguel's kitchen cooked classic cuisine. Tournedo Rossini, paella—that sort of thing. And Miguel was a taskmaster. After a while he got me to help out with the cooking basics, but he was always mightily demanding—of himself as well as everybody else. I've never come across a chef who shouted so much or who was angrier more often. The slightest deviation from what he considered the accepted way of doing things provided a loud and fearsome bark. He demanded absolute punctuality. You were five minutes late and you knew about it! It's from Miguel that I learned the value of punctuality, of doing things on time. It is a lesson I have never forgotten and for which I am deeply grateful to him.

In retrospect, that is. Just as I am grateful to him for having given me a big fat book five hundred pages long to read and learn. A book of classic recipes, sixty-five hundred of them, a mix of traditional Spanish cooking and dishes heavily influenced by French cuisine. Miguel said I had to learn all the dishes by heart. So I began copying them down on pieces of paper, each and every one of them. I would do it in my spare time, usually before work in the morning. I still have the book. It has a red hardback cover. It is called El Práctico. The pages are frayed. The spine is cracked. But I have it in a prominent place, always at hand, in my laboratory workshop in Barcelona.

The first dish I learned to make was a potato stew. Miguel did not trust me at this stage to cook for the clientele. This was the food for the staff of the hotel, which was where I lived for the nine months I worked there. I still preserved my dream of going to Ibiza but, as it turned out, Castelldefels served very nicely in the meantime. My one regret was that I wasn't able to play soccer on Saturdays and Sundays, because of my work commitments. But otherwise it was a lot of fun. Nonstop parties and lots of girls. It was very unusual for me to go to bed before dawn. I remember Miguel came out with us one night. He was a guy at who partied hard, too! He drank all of us under the table. One Cuba libre after another.

Little by little I learned to cook. I never loved it. Not at that stage. It was not what turned me on. It was just a job, like any other. I learned how to make the regular, popular dishes people asked for at the restaurant. Rice dishes and also, for example, fideuá—a Catalan favorite, like paella but with noodles. It was a good period of my life. I was having a lot of fun. I was being taught a useful trade and being paid for it. And, above all, I was free. For a boy aged seventeen or eighteen to be living on his own, away from his parents, was very unusual in Spain in those days. And I was reveling in it.

But the notion that I might dedicate the rest of my life to this business—impossible! It was entirely out of the question. Besides, deep down somewhere I was ambitious, and cooking was not something that you did in Spain in those days if you dreamed of being a success in life. The notion that a Spanish chef might operate at a world-class level was absolutely implausible, nonsensical. Gastronomy: that was what the French did. We just cooked. The mom and pop stuff our parents had grown up with, and their parents before them.

I finally left Castelldefels in April 1981. And, yes, I achieved my dream. I made it to Ibiza. With the added advantage that I was now employable and could stay there, practically, for as long as I liked. I got a job at a place called Club Cala Lena. It was a condominium vacation club with its own restaurant. What I most remember from that phase was, naturally, the parties again. It was like Castelldefels, only multiplied by three. Every night. It was relentless!

But my cooking improved, too. I had brought El Práctico, my big red recipe book, along with me, and I continued to study it. This was the alpha and the omega of cuisine in Spain. You learned that and you'd learned it all. I was in a smaller kitchen now, just four or five of us, and that was great for developing my basic skills. Being so few, each person had much more responsibility, had to cook more things. There was less specialization. I broadened my repertoire. I made gazpacho, sole meuniére those sorts of things. It was another wonderful experience. I worked hard and played hard.

Four months later the vacation club went bankrupt and we were all out on the street. But I had saved some money, so I stayed a month longer—now the only thing I did was party—and then headed back home to Barcelona. Here I flitted from one job to another, two months here, two months there. But always, without quite realizing it (this was why I say my career has been the product of pure chance, never a search) I was working my way up. I worked at a tapas bar in the center of the city; I worked at a place called el Suquet—where I really learned how to make suquet, a soupy fish stew very popular in Catalonia. I also worked at a restaurant where the kitchen staff were not a happy bunch, because they wouldn't pay us, so we took our revenge by quitting en masse on December 31.

Wherever I went, it was still basically the same food. It was all out of El Práctico. Always. Until one day early in 1982 I got a job at a place called Finisterre. I remember my surprise upon entering the kitchen. It wasn't so much because of the food, which did have an air of nouvelle cuisine about it and was decidedly different from what I had been used to; it was more because of the vastness and the organized operation of the kitchen. For the first time I learned what it was to work in brigades. I was still very much an assistant cook, but, there was no doubt about it, it was a step up. Until then the best I had known was a Mercedes Benz. This was a Ferrari.

I was certainly learning now. And yet it still wasn't a vocation. In fact during those days I often thought of chucking it all. Not because I didn't like cooking, but because it didn't grab me. I was eager to try something else.

As it turned out, the next step I took had nothing to do with my own free will. I was called up for military service, as all young men were in those days in Spain, and assigned to the navy, in the port of Cartagena. But never once did I board a ship! Instead I was made to work in the kitchens. It was far from the glamour of Finisterre, believe me. I was part of a vast team of anonymous cooks charged with feeding three thousand troops. The challenge had nothing to do with the food itself: fried eggs, soups, potato omelettes—what the sailors wanted. It was a challenge in terms of cooking for such a large number of people. The organization required to feed all those mouths at the same time was of an order different from anything I had experienced.

And then I caught another break, without realizing at the time just how valuable an apprenticeship I was serving. I got a job working in the kitchen of the Captain General, the main man in the navy detachment of Cartagena, the admiral. I cooked in the kitchen of the mansion where he lived. There were just four or five of us, and whereas the emphasis at the base had been on quantity, quality was now the paramount objective. We would often have to cook for visiting dignitaries, ministers, even for the king! Soon I became head of the kitchen and the buck suddenly, for the first time in my life, stopped with me! I not only learned to lead and to organize, I also learned another very valuable skill: how to go shopping—to buy the food on my own, every single day.

I also began to expand my repertoire. Never before had I branched out in my reading beyond my trusty El Práctico. But now I read Robert Lafont, author of what was then the bible of nouvelle cuisine. And, as I had done with El Práctico, I copied down the recipes, intrigued because somewhere I think I was beginning to understand that this was revolutionary stuff, changing the course of gastronomy. But it was still a trade, not a passion. I still hadn't caught the bug.

It was then, however, that I had my first truly serious encounter with nouvelle cuisine, thanks to Fermi Puig, who today runs the excellent restaurant Drolma, at the Majestic Hotel in Barcelona. He came to work in the captain general's kitchen for a while, after I had been in charge for three or four months, but he was already an employee at El Bulli. There was no established professional route to success in cooking then, the way there is now. It was all a question of getting the breaks, of who you chanced to meet. Meeting Fermi was a huge, random, fateful moment, in my life, though again I had no idea that was the case at the time.

He proposed that I come and work at El Bulli for a month in August that year, 1983. I did, and they seemed to like what they saw because they offered me a job for when I finished my military service that December. I accepted, acknowledging a deep debt of gratitude to the Spanish navy. It was very rare for anyone, in any line of business, to derive much long-term benefit from their military service. In my case I was the exception to the rule—in, of all things, cookery!

I was about to take a big step. El Bulli was already a two-star Michelin restaurant. There were no three-star restaurants in Spain, and only one other two-star—Arzak in San Sebastian. I began at El Bulli in earnest, and in March 1984 I was put in charge of the fish section, with three or four assistants under me. In October that same year I made the grade. At the age of twenty-two I was offered the job of head chef by the owner, and today my partner, Juli Soler. I would be joint head chef, he stressed, with Christian Lutaud. That was just fine with me. The truth is I wouldn't have said yes if it had been me on my own. I wouldn't have dared take on so much responsibility.

It was at this point that I finally began to understand that maybe, just maybe, this was the road I was destined to take in life. It hadn't quite sunk in. Nearly, but not yet. And this was perhaps because the truth remained that, technically proficient as I might have become by now, I was not truly producing my own dishes. I was still copying the work of other chefs. I was still getting my inspiration from books and magazines. After all, it was what all of us Spanish chefs were doing, so why should I have been any different?

The decisive step came in 1985 when I went to spend a month at the magnificent Pic Restaurant in Valence, France. I sat at the feet of the head chef, Georges Blanc, who was absolutely one of the top chefs in the world. That month was a time of continual amazement and awe. The kitchen was vast, with thirty chefs, but the quality was stupendous. This was no longer a Ferrari. This was a Formula One. And it was here that I learned to really cook at the highest level. It was here that I picked up the critical know-how.

In October of 1986 Christian Lutaud left and I was now completely in charge of El Bulli. That same month Juli and I went to attend a course in Cannes under another truly great chef, Jacques Maximin. There was one thing he said to us that has always stayed with me. Someone asked him, What is creativity? And he replied, Creativity is not copying. So simple and so obvious, I suppose, yet that was a key moment for me, the final turning point. Until then I had always copied—but from that moment on everything changed. I understood something I had never understood before. I evolved, at last, and went from technician to creator.

From 1987 on I knew that this was my life. Like most people, I had always worked to live. Now I lived to work. At El Bulli we went on to redefine, to reinvent Spanish cuisine. I have a stack of books, totaling six thousand pages of pictures and text, that trace the evolution of our cooking from then to this day.

The thing to emphasize, though, is how gradual, how circumstantial a process I underwent in the business of learning how to cook. It was not, I repeat, a magical moment of revelation with my grandmother when I was six years old. I was like any young boy in my attitude to food. I found it, at best, a necessary evil. But I am glad that was how I felt. For I believe that had I learned from my family, I would have been far less creative in my adult life. The creativity would, I believe, have been smothered from the start, smothered under the weight of tradition. It was fortunate, from my point of view, to have started with a clean slate. That way I had the imaginative breadth to allow me to do the truly important thing in cooking, which is not to make one dish, but to invent a technique that allows you to produce a thousand dishes.

That is why it's not true when people say that their mother's or their grandmother's cooking is the best in the world. It's not true! Okay, in a sentimental sense, maybe. But technically, categorically it is not! In fact, the difference today between home cooking and restaurant cooking is wider than it ever has been. In the old days, even as recently as when I began to cook, the amateur was nearly at the level of the professional. That's all changed massively. Now the difference in difficulty between cooking done at home and haute cuisine is on a scale of one to hundred. And what that means—and this is the beauty of it all—is that in truth you never stop learning to cook. I myself never stop learning. There is a surprise, a new lesson, every single day.

(translated from the Spanish and

co-written with John Carlin)

Boiling Point


Jose Andres was born in Nieres, Spain, and attended Escola de Restauracio i Hostalatge of Barcelona, apprenticing at restaurant El Bulli under celebrated master chef and mentor Eerrdn Adria. In 1990 Andres moved to New York City to work for the Barcelona-based restaurant El Dorado Petit. In 1993 he moved to Washington, D.C., to become head chef and partner at Jaleo, a Spanish restaurant there. He has since opened two more Jaleo locations and serves as executive chef-partner at Cafe Atlantico, Oyamel, Zaytinya, and the six-seat minibar within Cafe Atlantico, one of the premiere destinations for avant-garde cooking in the United States. In 2003 the James Beard Foundation named Andres Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic Region, and in 2004 Bon Appetit named him Chef of the Year. He published his first cookbook, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, in 2005. Jose is also the host of the wildy popular Vamos a cocinar, a daily food program on Television Espanola (TVE), Spanish national television.

I LEARNED A LOT of what I know about cooking, especially traditional Catalan cooking, from my mother. She was a working mom, but she cooked for us every night. My father, on the other hand, confined his cooking to the weekends, as do many men in northern Spain and, as I've learned, here in America.

My father's Sunday cookouts were kind of like American weekend barbecues, when the men are out in the backyard with their friends, beers in their hands, gathered around the grill poking at hamburgers, except that his were grander in scale than the run-of-the-mill barbecue.

His specialty, the dish that he used to make every other Sunday for the entire time I was growing up, was paella. Paella is a Spanish classic, a rice dish prepared in a broad, shallow, two-handled pan called a paella. He cooked tremendous paellas, paellas that could feed a hundred people. He used a gorgeous copper paella pan that was giant—a meter and a half across—big and beautiful. It seemed impossibly huge to me when I was a child, the size of the moon.

One of the first paellas I remember my

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    How I Learned to Cook is a collection of 40 essays by well-known chefs and food writers, describing early pivotal incidents in their culinary careers. The title might be a bit misleading; the stories aren’t generally about learning how to cook, but rather “the biggest screw-up I ever had in the kitchen” and “how I learned to love food” and “how I realized — perhaps against my will — that cooking would become my profession.”Of course, with so many contributors, the writing is uneven and there are some duds among the selections. But for the most part, the essays showcase the larger-than-life personalities of chefs and the weird culture of the world of professional cooking. Particular favorites included Rick Bayless’ story about spending his family’s weekly food budget on one rack of lamb as a teenager — and his father didn’t even like lamb; Anthony Bourdain decimating television cooking; and David Chang’s story of an apprenticeship to a perfectionist soba noodle maker in Japan.

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