There are some spectacular chef memoirs out there, including a few of my favourite all-time biographies. That puts the bar really (and unfairly high) for Van Aken. Is it the greatest chef memoir ever written? No. But it also feels unfair to hold it against a chef/ author just because his life doesn’t include any astonishing tragedies or melodramas that make fact read like fiction. It’s a solid memoir.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the book was the insight it offered into the growth of New American cuisine and some of the influencers who shaped a style of cooking, a business, and ultimately much of North American culture.
I liked that Van Aken didn’t write as if he knew what he was doing would be noteworthy many years later. He doesn’t recall details or events as if he’d been keeping notes all along, planning his personal brand or whatever kids these days are doing.
Side benefit: interesting insight into the growth of Florida cities/ culture in the 1980s. I didn’t know much about Key West (or “Key” Lime pie for that matter) until I read the book .
More than any other chef book I’d read, Van Aken exposes the business side of the restaurant world. It’s not all about the beautiful produce arriving at the kitchen door. It’s also about managing inventory, controlling spending, sketchy partners, and the lessons you learn when you move from staff to management to owner.