Weekend Cooking: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney


You are the opening sous chef. You make the rounds. You do the prep. You get ready for the the dinner rush. You organise, dole out the jobs, you cook cook cook.

The ‘you’ is thrown around often enough that you get used to it.

The intention is to immerse the reader in this kitchen life. And it works.

You feel the stress of the job. The passion for cooking. The tension in the kitchen as the orders come in. It is a tough rough 24 hours in the life of a sous chef and that second person narrative constantly drives it into the reader. This is your job. You’re not just reading about it!

And while I’ve always had an inkling that life in the restaurant world is far from a walk in the park, I guess I never quite realised just how far from a stroll it all is. Instead it’s like those one crazy endurance races. The kind that goes on for hours.

Just the specials alone are an enormous task. Reading the list of specials, as a foodie, I could only go mmmm but it never occurred to me how much work would go into it. And a lot of it is about prep and distribution of the work.

Take the garnishes for example.

“They are relatively simple but require a fair amount of work. The ‘carrot’ on the monkfish, for example, refers to a carrot puree. The process is less obvious than making baby food. You have to cook the carrots under a cartouche in bay-and-juniper-scented carrot juice, which means that someone has to juice some carrots and chop up others. The ‘endive’ in that dish refers to a classically braised endive, but someone needs to halve them before they can be cooked. The beluga lentils are cooked, but they need to be inspected for quality. The tarragon needs to be picked for the compound butter,and the mise for the sapori forte needs to be cut. The potatoes need to be peeled and dressed. The potato dressing needs to be made. The boquerones sauce needs to be made. Herbs need to be picked. The line needs to be set. The carrots need to be pureed – but they’re not even cooked yet. They’re not even cut yet. There is so much to do, too much to do.”

And this happens every single day.

Sure the specials may change and so will some of the tasks, but I cannot get over how all this happens every single day that the restaurant is open. And worse – on the weekends, there’s a brunch service! What a high stress job!

It’s a complete learning experience.

From what food glue is, to what each kitchen staffer’s role is, to how a professional kitchen is planned out and run. And what monkfish is (its skin is like mucus apparently and its meat is not flakey but, well, meaty). And how a dish goes from fridge to line cook to sous chef to chef to back waiter to front of house to diner. And that velvet foots are mushrooms. And that a sous chef (at least a good one) needs to know “everything about everything that’s in every dish” because of dietary restrictions, allergens and all that.

Sous Chef was a whirlwind of a read. A great read for any foodie.



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  1. This sounds like a lot of fun and I bet that it is pretty eye opening just what goes into cooking at a restaurant. I’ve only read one book written in second person before…it’s definitely an interesting style choice!


  2. I really liked this one. I long ago put any vague idea of working in a restaurant out of my head — this book explains exactly why! Restaurant work is tough.


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