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Synopsis from book cover of Beaten, Seared, and Sauced:

Book image from goodreads.com

Millions of people fantasize about leaving their old lives behind, enrolling in cooking school, and training to become a chef. But for those who make the decision, the difference between the dream and reality can be gigantic – especially at the top cooking school in the country. For the first time in the Culinary Institute of America’s history, a book will give readers the firsthand experience of being a full-time student facing all of the challenges of the legendary course in its entirety.

On the eve of his thirty-eighth birthday and after shuffling through a series of unsatisfying jobs, Jonathan Dixon enrolled in the CIA (on a scholarship) to pursue his passion for cooking. In Beaten, Seared, and Sauced he tells hilarious and harrowing stories of life at the CIA as he and his classmates navigate the institution’s many rules and customs under the watchful and critical eyes of their instructors. Each part of the curriculum is covered, from knife skills and stock making to the high-pressure cooking tests and the daunting wine course (the undoing of many a student). Dixon also details his externship in the kitchen of Danny Meyer’s Tabla, giving readers a look into the inner workings of a celebrated New York City restaurant.

With the benefit of his age to give perspective to his experience. Dixon delivers a gripping day-to-day chronicle of his transformation from amateur to professional. From the daily tongue-lashings in class to learning the ropes-fast-at a top NYC kitchen, Beaten, Seared, and Sauced is a fascinating and intimate first-person view of one of America’s most famous culinary institutes and one of the world’s most coveted jobs.

Shockingly (to myself at least), I have already finished the April book for my book club. I had started Beaten, Seared, and Sauced by Jonathan Dixon early because I am not normally a person who can dive right into a memoir or biography and read it quickly. I figured that I would need to get a head start on reading this novel so that I would be finished “on time.”

Happily, I did not need this extra time that I had allotted for myself. I found myself wanting to read more and more of Dixon’s book. I think that I became so involved in his book for a multitude of reasons. The first, and most obvious, reason is that Dixon is a fantastic writer. Dixon had supplemented his income while a student at the CIA with writing assignments and also had jobs before going to chef’s school as a writer. Dixon’s writing style has a great flow to it. Even when he does slight digressions, the information seems to make sense and is relevant to whatever he is talking about at the time.

A second reason that I think I felt a connection to Dixon’s story, is that I had also undergone a career change and went back to school. Granted, I went back to school at a younger age than Dixon, but that sense of knowing that there is a career, a calling out there for you, instead of just a “job.” I know that this is a book that I will be sharing with many people: those who are interested in going into careers in the culinary world, as well as those who are simply contemplating a career change.

I know that this is a story that many people will be able to relate to. There were a few cooking terms that I didn’t understand, or hadn’t encountered before, but to me that did not take away from what Dixon was saying. This book wasn’t simply a chef’s book or a book discussing recipes; it was a book discussing his journey into a new world and his personal transition finding his passion in life. I only wish that Dixon would have added something at the end of the novel just to let us (the readers) know what he has been doing since his graduation from the CIA.

Dixon seems to be extremely talented as both a writer and a chef. As I was doing some reading of articles of interviews that Dixon has done since the book, I came across his blog. It is great to read and explore and having read his book. I hope you will read Beaten, Seared and Sauced: On Becoming a Chef at the Culinary Institute of America as well as his blog, Beaten, Seared, and Sauced: A culinary school graduate’s continuing saga… I’m very glad that I was (gently) pushed outside of my reading comfort zone with this novel; I very much enjoyed it.