February 12th, 2003


Review of Wife of the Chef

Today at lunch I finished Wife of the Chef by Courtney Febbroriello. Lately I’ve been really interested in reading books about the behind the scenes life of a restaurant. Actually, much like books about figure skating, I’m just interested in books about people cooking. Give me a movie or a book that has a figure skater or cook as one of the main characters and I’m happy, even if it sucks.

This book I wasn’t really thrilled about. I liked the stories of the restaurant, but I disliked the attitude of the author. Yes I understand that because she is the wife of the chef she is under appreciated for the many things she does. Yes, I understand that without her there would be no restaurant because there would be no bills paid, no menus typed, no loans taken and no administrative things done. I acknowledge (without knowing either person in the relationship or even having heard of the couple before the book) that she probably does the lion’s share of the grunt work in the family. However my general response is “guess what, life isn’t fair”. If you wanted all the applause your husband gets for cooking then you picked the wrong life. EVERYONE has a talent but some are flashier than others. Frankly, part of the reason people don’t acknowledge the grunt work is they are capable of doing it and in their lives they probably are the ones doing the grunt work too. I read a review by a woman who also married a chef who put it well: I know he can do all the things I do, but I couldn’t make an egg roll to save my life.

Also the author doesn’t seem to have a great respect for her audience. She refers disdainfully to people who wish they could cook professionally or think that the job is “cool”. Yes not all of us understand what hard work it is to work in the food industry but she needs to think of her audience in this book. It really is off putting to hear her scornful views of the public. It was so disturbing that when I was reading a section of it to Tirzah while we were cooking FL’s cake she ended up asking me to stop. There were interesting things, which caught her attention at first, which is why I was reading it to her at all, but the attitude that Febbroriello has for people who she says has “chef envy” ruined the book for her.

I will quote my favorite part of the book though. This is the section I was reading to Tirzah that she enjoyed and it really is a great story:

Most aquariums are filled with thousands of children milling about while frantic partents attempt to keep track of them in the darkened room. There are two types of children. The first group (“Seen one fish, you’ve seen ‘em all”) runs from one viewing glass to the next. They push their way up to the front, peer for a second or two, then move to the next. The second group of children are completely captivated by watching one fish for hours. They wipe their grubby, dool-covered hands (who says I shouldn’t have children?) on the glass in an effort to get the fish’s attention. They smile, point, and laugh as the fish completes endless doughnuts in the tank.Chris [her husband] falls somewhere between the two. He’ll run to the glass of the tank, push the children to the side, quickly identify the fish as a wild striped bass, and explain how it should be prepared. Just when the parents are about to turn their heads in disbelief, he runs to the next tank.

“Gross. Sea urchins. I had them once in a sorbet, and it was so disgusting. I don’t think that I’ll ever eat them again. Look over there. Skate wing! They’re excellent sautéed with leeks.”

He’s easily turned off by the species that can’t be eaten, so we finish with our seafood lesion in one third the amount of time that the average family takes. I used to enjoy the peaceful, meditative quality of aquariums. I could stare for hours without banging on the glass or drooling at the dreamlike creatures floating in the clear water. Now I just wonders which plants and animals in the tank can be eaten and at what price. The worst is endangered sea life. This is where Chris becomes like the drooling child. He caresses the tank window and sighs, “Swordfish, so sweet. You can’t buy them anymore; they were overfished. Maybe in a few more years.”

Now Tirzah and I want to do this. Sometime this summer maybe. On a Saturday at the Baltimore Aquarium. Who says we don't like to freak the mundanes?

BTW, on a completely unrelated note, I am in the process of updating the cakeporn site with my write-up of FL’s cake. Stay tuned for the next week or so as it gets updated whenever I get a chance.