Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cooking for the Beautiful People

Mediterranean Summer: A Season on France's Cote d'Azur and Italy's Costa Bella
by David Shalleck

Somehow David Shalleck pulled off the feat of making his book suspenseful. The difficulty of achieving that is explained when you realize that the book is about cooking for some supremely privileged people aboard their yacht.

Shalleck is trying to find himself as a cook. He has failed what he sees as "tests" from culinary authorities Alice Waters and Nathalie Waag. They understand the essence of cooking and being a chef in a way that he does not even begin to comprehend. In an effort to close the gap, he then embarks on a series of apprenticeships in different Italian kitchens, sponsored by Faith Willinger.

Finally, he becomes the personal chef for a couple we know only as La Signora and il Dottore. He has a series of challenges to overcome. First of all, though the yacht, Serenity, has been completely refitted, no one ever had a cook give the specs for the kitchen so the limited facilities seem extremely daunting. Indeed, at time, such as when a floating party of over 100 people are expecting a many-course meal, one wonders that any chef could overcome such limiting conditions.

The greatest challenge, however, is pleasing his employers who do not want any dish to be repeated, want to experience the atmosphere of their various ports of call along the Mediterranean, and do not give very much feedback, which Shalleck intensely desires. The employers are not made out to be bad people. Quite the opposite, Shalleck has respect and a degree of liking for them. As shown in the book, they become their own personalities, albeit strong ones, and we also can respect their desires. I found myself in suspense after each situation to see if La Signora would give approval to a meal.

As well, we see Shalleck's more limited interaction with the crew, his journeys every morning to the markets where he will get inspiration for meals, and get a bird's eye view toward living aboard a ship as an employee.

If this sort of reading is your cup of tea, as it is obviously mine, you will enjoy this book. Highly recommended.

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