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For fans of such culinary classics as Kitchen Confidential and Heat comes this deliciously entertaining new memoir about what really goes into the making of a professional chef, from terrifying teachers to competitive classmates, crazy cooking disasters and culinary triumphs, and the exhilarating—but tough!—reality of learning to become a top chef.

When Katherine Darling left her comfortable office job at a literary agency to enroll as a student at the legendary French Culinary Institute, she imagined she’d soon be learning to properly pipe her choux pastries, absorb the secrets of the perfect Provençal shellfish stew, and even work with the holy grail of foodstuffs, the precious black truffle—all in an aromatic, savory kitchen, surrounded by master chefs and fellow food devotees.

The reality was something slightly less sedate—but just as delicious

In UNDER THE TABLE: Saucy Tales from Culinary School (Atria, $25.00; on-sale: April 14, 2009; ISBN 978-1-4165-6527-7), Darling offers an insider’s view behind the stainless steel doors and inside the kitchens of one of the most famous cooking schools in the world. UNDER THE TABLE is a delectable mix of quirky anecdotes, interesting facts, eccentric characters, and mouth-watering recipes.

Darling’s classmates are a rag-tag bunch, from tattooed former auto worker Tucker to brand-name-bedecked Mimi to Keri, a sweet Mormon girl from Utah. Together, they struggle to move from clueless amateurs to certified Chefs, working until it’s second nature to dice a perfect mise en place or emulsify a flawless beurre blanc sauce. Over the course of six frantic months, the students study how to correctly handle ingredients, cook daily meals for 250, and eventually, create and plate masterpieces for L’Ecole, the school’s restaurant. —over—

But the chefs-in-training soon learn that the kitchen is no place for romantics—or klutzes. The master Chefs who train them are larger-than-life, and always ready to tear apart an ill-made dish or an overconfident student. After all, no one’s ever made a soufflé without breaking a few eggs—or cracking a few heads!

Darling graduated first in her class, and her cooking mastery is on full display in UNDER THE TABLE. Hilarious anecdotes of wrestling with monster fish heads and chicken-trussing mishaps are layered with enlightening food lore and fascinating trivia. Darling also includes dozens of delicious recipes for fabulous home French cooking, complete with easy-to-follow instructions and helpful notes for the less culinary-inclined among readers.

The success of books like Bill Buford’s Heat and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential—not to mention the enormous television viewership of Bravo’s Top Chef and FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen—are proof of America’s continual love affair with the almost mystical world of food and the colorful people who make it. With UNDER THE TABLE, readers will for the first time be able to see how all those top chefs earned their toques.

UNDER THE TABLE is like a perfect tart aux pomme—unfussy but delicious, filling but light; the ideal mix of nutritious information and juicy indulgence. Readers will root for Katherine Darling as she navigates the complex waters of FCI, bonds with her quirky classmates, and ultimately graduates in triumph—and they’ll absolutely devour her fascinating, absorbing memoir.

About the Author: KATHERINE DARLING graduated first in her class at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. After receiving her diploma, she went on to work for Saveur magazine. She currently lives in Manhattan. www.simonandschuster.com

 

 

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