Non-Culinary Books That Belong In a Professional Kitchen

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

Since my previous book-related blog was about cookbooks that are just fun to read, I figured I’d keep wading in the literary sea and pull out another- albeit smaller- list for you!

A professional cook and chef has to do more than just cook. They need to manage people, time, and materials. They need to lead, teach, and learn from themselves and others, and know how to use EVERYTHING at their disposal.

Here are a few books that maybe weren’t intended for the kitchen, but can help with exactly that.

Animated GIF from Mary + Max

I don’t know if this book exists, but it might be useful for some cooks I know too.

1. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (trans. by Stephen Mitchell)

The cover of Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

Ironically, sometimes the best way to get everything done, is to stop TRYING to get everything done and just let yourself do it.
In the Tao Te Ching, a fundamental text of Taoism, Lao Tzu teaches that things go wrong when we force them (or ourselves) to be something they are not. When you stop forcing things, or letting your ego, anxieties, and preconceptions get in the way, you achieve wei wu wei, “doing not-doing”, or “effortless action.” In the kitchen, we might call it soigne– but it’s the point where there is no difference between the cook and the act of cooking.

“When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. Next best is a leader who is loved. Next, one who is feared. The worst is one who is despised. If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.
The Master doesn’t talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!”


2. Tenzo Kyokun (Instructions to the Cook) by Eihei Dogen zenji

Eihei Dogen

Painting of Eihei Dogen, from Wikipedia

If you are reading this post, it is likely that you have chosen/ are considering choosing cooking to be your career. It’s definitely not a glamorous life. We’ve chosen to work and to serve- very hard, and often in obscurity. It’s easy to get down on yourself about that fact.

In the 13th Century, however, Dogen- a Japanese Zen master- wrote “Tenzo Kyokun”, instructions for those who would be the head cook at a Zen monastery. Far from being work for menial servants, Dogen extols the position as requiring a capable and accomplished monk. He elucidates the virtues of cooking. How the responsibility, attention, and mindset necessary to cook can lead one to enlightenment and incredible karmic merit through service. He reminds the cook to take responsibility- oversee everything personally, and treat everything in his care- tools, ingredients, people- with care and devotion.
Some people sit on a cushion or a sun-lit porch to meditate. You can certainly do so while cooking risotto and chopping onions.

“If you only have wild grasses, from which to make a broth, do not disdain them. If you have ingredients for a creamy soup, do not be delighted. Where there is no attachment, there can be no aversion. Do not be careless with poor ingredients, and do not depend upon fine ingredients to do your work for you, but work with everything with the same sincerity. If you do not do so, then it is like changing your behavior according to the status of the person you meet: this is not how a Student of the Way is.”


3. The Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo (trans. by William Scott Wilson)

Cover of Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Speaking of service, that was the calling of the samurai, and of bushido- the Way of the Warrior. in The Hagakure (“The Book of Hidden Leaves”), former samurai retainer-turned-Zen monk Yamamoto Tsunetomo reflects upon the life, conduct, philosophy, and death of a samurai. To do one’s work, to live with absolute sincerity (another name for the book) and to act always with decisiveness, bravery, and compassion- it’s hard to think of anyone that couldn’t stand to learn how to live ones life, or manage the fast-paced labor of a professional kitchen, with intention and devotion.

It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you  will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon.”

4. The Boy Scout Handbook originally by Lord Baden-Powell

Norman Rockwell painting of a Scout and the Scout Oath

No, I’m not kidding, and anyone who has ever been or worked with a Scout knows exactly why.
This isn’t just about philosophy or inspiration- though it absolutely can and should be. The BSA Handbook is about PRACTICALITY.
In “Down and Out in Paris and London” by George Orwell, we learn the word debroulliard- what everyone in a kitchen worth their salt wants to be. The guy who can pull an answer out his back pocket and make it work. The resourceful one that makes it happen.
Between minor medical emergencies, fixing a broken sauce-dropper with fishing line, weaving a net over a shelf to keep bowls from falling off, and more, my time as a Scout has helped me out more in the kitchen than I can begin to describe. Beyond skills, the resourcefulness, work ethic, discipline, and code of conduct I received from the Scouts counts for plenty on it’s own.
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.”

This is just a few of the books I could think of right now, but I’m certain there are more. What about you all? Any you think I should mention?

Stay Classy,

The BHB’s Top 10 Cookbooks That Are Just Plain Good Reads

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors!

Did you know that a cookbook can be more than a collection of recipes? It can actually be… A BOOK.

Yes, yes, how shocking.

 

If you think about it for longer than a second, cookbooks don’t need to as dry and dull as your college textbooks. Food is an extremely personal and social thing, and so people who choose to write a book of recipes have the opportunity to fill in the gap, so to speak.

A cookbook can absolutely instruct- “This is how you make my favorite jambalaya.” Much more interesting and enjoyable, however, is “I make this jambalaya especially for rainy, crappy days, because it reminds me of when I worked in this great restaurant in New Orleans. Let me tell you, the chef there was so particular….”

See that? The recipe became a story. It had a background, and a special meaning for the writer, which they just offered to you. Maybe you’ll never make that jambalaya except once or twice? Maybe it’ll become your favorite, and you’ll want to go to NOLA yourself one day, find the authors old restaurant, and taste the real deal.

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Special Post: Excerpts from the coming BHB Book!

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

This week has been more than a little crazymaking and exhausting, and as such, I don’t have a really solid blog post ready for today.

Animated GIF of a baby asleep on a toy train

Footage of me biking home today…
I’m sure I’ll have something a bit better next week.
In the meantime though, as a way of recompense, here are a couple excerpts from my upcoming book!

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On Doubt and Feline Doughnuts

​Good evening, friends and neighbors!
There’s been a lot of thinking, rethinking, and nefarious plotting going on at my end recently- what I want “On The Bench” to be next, what it used to be versus what it has become, and how I want to go about tackling that “next big thing” we ALL worry about- the big project, the big presentation, the opening day, the whatever.
In the midst of all of it, two fortuitous memories resurfaced amid the frothy madness that the waters of life work themselves up into.

The first one is the video below, which remains one of the single best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten for attempting ANY project EVER- personal, professional, or academic.

The second one is a bit more of a story. This blog will therefore be a little different than the others- part story, and part actual news update about what this blog will turn into, and what I want to do next.

Watch the video, and I’ll see you after the jump. Thank you Extra Credits for handing down some sage advice that makes so much sense, I wished I’d learned it earlier in life.

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The Eye For Detail

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

There are reasons I call myself a “baker,” and not a “pastry chef.”

Beyond the respect and station that I think comes with the “chef” title that I personally don’t think I’ve earned just yet, or the argument that “a chef is a cook who leads other cooks” and I haven’t had any cooks under my command for longer than a couple hours, there’s the fact that… well… I don’t think I’m quite crazy enough yet.

Let me explain- when I say “not crazy enough,” I mean that I still stand in rapt awe, wonder, and a little fear, of people who possess the meticulous attention to detail necessary to do certain things. Not just do them once or twice, but REPETITIVELY, and CONSISTENTLY. No cutting corners, no shrugging things off as “rustic” or “it’s meant to be like that”- if whatever these people do isn’t looking pristine, it’s unacceptable.
While I’m not exactly envious of the perfectionism these individuals have (my grandfather’s saying “Don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good’” comes to mind- and he was a brain surgeon) I am constantly in wonder of the level of PERCEPTION involved in noticing minuscule details.

Like many things in this world, an ideal case study for it comes from a certain mouse.

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Tapping The Breaks- Dealing With Burnout

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

This week’s entry is going to be a little light, and next week’s is gonna be… well, non-existent, because I’m finally getting to go on vacation. Emily and I will be heading down to Florida for a few days to see her folks. It’ll be our first chance to ACTUALLY get away in nearly two and a half years, and frankly, it couldn’t have come sooner.

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