Knives at Dawn written by Andrew Friedman tells the story of well known chefs, Daniel Boulud and the French Laundry's Thomas Keller, working to improve the United States chances of winning the Bocuse d'Or, considered to be the most prestigious cooking competition in the world, and one that heavily favors European chefs. It's about creative technique, taste, presentation, and timing. When you see that description in print it doesn't seem like such a big deal. But it is and it takes months if not years to prepare.
What I found most interesting was the background of the chefs themselves. Especially the ones I was more familiar with such as Boulud and Keller. They in turn bow to the great French chef, Paul Bocuse, now 85 years old.
For as long as I can remember chefs have been treated like rock stars so I was surprised to read it was not always the case. Friedman writes the following about Bocuse, "he is widely recognized as the first of his comrades to march proudly into the dining room to commingle with the clientele, an act of emancipation that helped his professional brethren migrate from the heat of the kitchen to the glare of the spotlights."
Quoting Alain Sailhac, another living French culinary legend, "We chefs and celebrity chefs owe so much to Bocuse; we were domestiques, now we are nobility," said Alain Sailhac. "Sailhac remembers that when he was a young cook in France, before the Bocuse reformation, he would conceal his profession from young women he was courting; if forced to confess that he worked in a restaurant, he would claim that he was a chef de rang, or dining room captain, which had more cachet."
While this book is about the competition itself, it also covers the culture of some of the top kitchens and training of its staff. There is also little tidbits such as this one, "in competition a combination of textures is essential: the three primary ones being 'crisp/cruchy, meaty, and soft.' By way of illustration, ....apple pie a la mode,..the most popular dessert in the world, has all three: the crust is crunchy, the apple is meaty, and the ice cream is soft." Doesn't apple pie sound good right now?
If you are interested in the culinary world this book is worth reading.