A 38-year old man who has struggled to find purpose and overcome depression decides to go to the Culinary Institute of America, specifically the Hyde Park mothership, to become a chef. He has written about food and worked in food media, and has tried cooking for loved ones and friends. He enters the CIA without the kinds of restaurant experiences many people much younger than he bring when they launch into the classical training (French, primarily) that is the CIA way. I liked the direct, blunt, clear descriptions of being at the CIA, in classes, learning elite cooking skills step by step. Some of the stories are part of the genre: the struggle to learn knife skills, the eruptive tempers of some instructors, the pressure to be quickerquickerquicker, the performance anxiety at major exam times. I thought, though, that Dixon shone the light of rich, thick description even on scenes that have become familiar. The portions of the book that lace together these descriptions were not as powerfully written, but they did not dominate.

I thank Jonathan Dixon for not making a love story a large part of this memoir, though he did make me nervous a couple of times. Disclosure: I have come to think of the love stories (or relationship stories, at least) in cooking and restaurant memoirs as formulaic and sometimes tedious.

This book is worth reading, especially if you are considering elite culinary training, or if you want to experience some of its high and low points without having to pay tuition or lose all that sleep.

Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America, by Jonathan Dixon, published in 2011 by Clarkson Potter.