Friday, May 15, 2009

Review: Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen

Chef's memoirs are incredibly popular and there are quite a few of them on the local bookstore shelves. But I think there are more of them here on my shelves than at the bookstore. Chef's memoirs are the book equivalent of M&M's for me. Why have one when you can have a handful? I have no desire to become a chef (the tales of their grueling hours and the fickle public do not appeal to me in terms of choosing my life's path). I am not a particularly good cook myself although I can follow a recipe with the best of them. I have no ability to think of seemingly disparate ingredients which, once combined, would create a phenomenal taste sensation (you should see how hard I have to work to sub something for mushrooms when a recipe calls for those nasty little fungi). And as the parenthetical comment alludes, I am a notoriously picky eater. I like to think I'm adventurous and will taste anything, but I won't. And so the life of a chef is not for me. But I can still dive into any and every chef memoir published and live vicariously a little.

Spiced: A Pastry Chef's True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Epxploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen by Dalia Jurgensen is one of the newest chef memoirs to hit the market. Standing out first because of the fact that its author is a female chef, it is also different in substance from others I've read. Almost every chapter deals with a different aspect of Jurgensen's unconventional path to the kitchen, from diving in as a pastry assistant at Nobu to taking time off and cooking for a catering company to working for Martha Stewart. Jurgensen's worked in some very impressive restaurants and her tales of what goes on in the kitchen sound a bit like what happens above-stairs in a frat house, which is no surprise given the general sexism and sometimes outright misogyny rampant in restaurant kitchens. She briefly details how recipes come into being, how co-workers fall into relationships, what chefs really think of the wait staff, and much more.

I'm not certain that Jurgensen has necessarily trod new ground with her book (but as I pointed out originally, this is not a drawback for me, cooking literature addict that I am) but her contribution is fast-paced, varied, and interesting. I appreciated her willingness to showcase her own failures as she learned her trade but I admit I would have liked a bit more detail about recipe creation and the food itself. I definitely enjoyed reading this but it helped reinforce for me that I would never want to be a chef. I'm wimpy enough about burning myself when slapping together Hamburger Helper (okay, no, we don't really eat that) so letting Jurgensen take all the burns and let me read along in safety was good enough for me. A book other food and chef obsessed people will enjoy, this was ultimately an enjoyable read.


  1. As soon as this book arrived, my husband grabbed it and read it. He really enjoyed it.

  2. I really like your review.

  3. Almost bought this yesterday but as I already 4 books in the pile, I put it back. Being a former chef myself, and having a shelf jammed with chef memoirs already, I need this like I need a hole in my head (and yes restaurants really are like that!) but I probably will get it in the end...

    By the way -- on your recommendation, got the Beverly Nichols books and devoured in one sitting. Good choices!

  4. I've heard good things about this one, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I love food books, so I hope to read this one at some point. Thanks for the review!

    Diary of an Eccentric


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

Popular Posts