Normally I would take a picture of the book myself but I bought this as an ebook to read on my phone. Children's books and cookbooks are basically the only two kinds I still buy physical copies of. Alex has a pathological dislike of clutter and my stacks of non-cookbooks and non-food related magazines are often the target of his ire. Ebooks are wonderful because I love being able to read a book in the palm of my hand and to carry a stack of them anywhere I go. As long as I have my phone I am never without something interesting to read and that makes me a happy camper.
I loved No Experience Necesary: The Culinary Odyssey of Chef Norman Van Aken on many levels. Norman Van Aken is a very well respected chef and to me this was a memoir written by a chef rather than a food book. There are recipes and restaurant stories galore but it is about one man's journey and that is what caught my attention. It doesn't cover his entire career, maybe just the first half or even the first third, depending on what he does next. The book charts his formative years, the ones that shape us all into someone who is comfortable in their own skin. It covers those years of experience that teach us who we are so we can spend the next several years, hopefully, making the most of it.
The book opens with a story about him and Emeril and Charlie Trotter, made much more poignant given Chef Trotter's recent and untimely passing. Interestingly that story from the beginning of the book takes place almost at the end. So it might give you a false sense of what comes next. In some ways I think it's a hook, meant to lure in young cooks and dreamers who might not understand that the best parts of this story are about how he came to be a chef. Norman Van Aken was both cursed and charmed in many ways throughout his career and it's so much fun to see the story of play out.
One of my very favorite parts of this book is the way Norman teaches himself to be chef. There are mentors and teachers and other chefs throughout his career but in the end I think that the discipline and ambition come from within. He happily notes the many books and authors that he read and was inspired by. I had countless "me too" moments when he would discuss a particular cookbook and it's impact on his views on food. I remembered that feeling of reading something and wanting to rush into the kitchen and make it my own and my fingers itched to find each book and read it anew. No Experience Necessary is fun to read because the journey is both common and unique. Any cook can relate to Norman's path and still be beguiled by his particular story. It could not have happened to anyone else and he shares it openly and without apology or visible hesitation. If you like memoirs of any kind or foodie books or chef stories or want to become a chef this is a book for you.
January 17, 2005