Announcing: a new edition of The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America.  With, bien sur, a new introduction from yours truly, about changes in the world of culinary schools and the kitchen.  It's genuinely gratifying that this book, which changed my life, continues to motivate others. I can walk through downtown Cleveland and no one knows who I am (or cares, in fact), but I set foot on a culinary school campus and I'm treated like a poet-laureate, an experience for which I am profoundly grateful, every time.  This book was published in 1997, and I am certain, from the email I get, that it remains a compelling record of a culinary education every bit as pertinent today as when it was published, and that it continues to inspire those who hope to put their lives not only into the work of preparing, but more importantly, into the work of serving, food.

MR & MP blog_3

The following is an excerpt from the book (a story that would have been completely different had I not been put into the K-8 with Chef Pardus, at my left here, out of code I might add), and it is with something of a chill that I relive this single encounter with a wily chef named Uwe (pronounced oo-vay) Hestnar.  We sat in his office, talking about cooking and learning to cook.  The idea of stock came up and we discussed two different ways it was being taught at the CIA.  Little did I know what a powerful seed this single event was to be.  I'll show you the tree on Monday.

From The Making of a Chef in the chapter "You Understand What I Am Saying?"

"Is one way better than the other?" I asked.  "Which do you prefer and why?"

    He was quiet a moment and then answered, "It's very interesting."

    He smiled.  And it was here that it occurred to me that Chef Hestnar had a vaguely reptilian look.  There was something hard and wily and mischievous, the way his eyes would narrow to slits and his mouth likewise would spread thinly across his broad square face.  His accent also enhanced his elusiveness. I grew accustomed to his style and waited.  Eventually he said, "Let's see what Escoffier says, the bible." He scanned the index and flipped to the pages for white stock, dragged his finger down the page as I followed along.  "It says bones and water. It doesn't say begin with cold water or boiling water," Hestnar said.  "Zo."

    He paused again, then checked Hering's Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery.  This recommended blanching the bones.  Hestnar's copy of La Repetoire de la Cuisine called for bones, mirepoix, and salt.  Last he pulled from his tightly packed shelves a book held together by a rubber band.  It was a German book by Ernst Pauli, the title of which Hestnar translated for me as "Book of Learning of the Kitchen."  Removing the rubber band, Chef Hestnar said, "My schoolbook."  Pauli suggested one begin with cold water.

    Hestnar closed this last book, sat back in his chair and shrugged.

    All right, there are many ways of making a stock, I thought.  But he was still avoiding my question.  "What about adding tomato?" I asked.

    He said, "Tomato, bay leaf—that's art."

    "But using tomato to denature the protein in order to create a cleaner stock in less time?"—as we'd been experimenting with in class.

    He smiled and said, "That's applied theory."

    Yes.  Excellent! I thought.  He didn't miss a beat.

    Such was the nature of our conversation.  It rambled; he sprinted, strolled, cut left, cut right. I wondered aloud why we were taught the dated cauliflower polonaise, a bread-crumb-and-egg mixture sprinkled on cauliflower and baked. He responded that he supposed they could do cauliflower with cheese sauce instead. I told him my question remained, why teach something so old fashioned as that, so infrequently used, polonaise or cheese sauce?

He agreed that cauliflower was not often used anymore. "People don't want to pay five dollars for two ingredients."  And yet a more complex dish, one with twenty ingredients, he said, was in fact simpler because it was much easier to cover a mistake; with two ingredents a cook had no room for error. Therefore, cauliflower with bread crumbs or with cheese sauce was a true test of a cook.

This led him to the proliferation of cookbooks, a situation he scorns.  "The shelves are bulging with cookbooks," he said dismissively.

"You don't like that?"

He said that everything any cook could possibly need to know was contained in five books: Escoffier, Larousse Gastronomique, Hering's Dictionary, La Repertoire.  I told him that was only four.  "And Careme," he said.  Then he said, "No one wants."

Another long pause before he tacked again: "What makes the culinary arts tick?"

I didn't know if he was actually directing this to me or offering it rhetorically. He had more or less lofted it into the air.  He lifted his index finger, then spun in his chair to a file behind him, as if quickly reaching for a bat to knock his question into the bleachers.  He riffled manila folders and turned to me with two sheets of paper.  He handed them to me.  They contained a chart or grid covering a page and a half.  This, he said, was all one truly needed.  Here were the fundamentals of culinary arts—all of Escoffier, Larousse, Careme, as well as Julia Child, James Beard, The Joy of Cooking and the TV Food Network—in their entirety, distilled to a page and a half.  "I would like to sell this for fifty dollars," he said, "but no one would buy."  Then he chuckled heartily.

I examined the sheets—a list of twenty-six items and their ratios. Along the top ran the numbers one, two, four, six, eight, and sixteen; these columns were divided by base products, such as aspic, pate a choux, sabayon, court bouillon ordinaire.  Here, on this sheet was his answer to an earlier question: one quart water, two pounds bones, four ounces mirepoix, equaled stock.  "For a quart of stock, you must use two pounds of bones," he said.  "Will it be stock if you use three pounds of bones?" He shrugged: You see what I am trying to say? Do you understand?

I found the sheets mysteriously thrilling.  For hollandaise sauce, the sheet listed six egg yolks and one pound of butter.  Nothing more.  We had learned to make hollandaise sauce by reducing cider vinegar with cracked pepper and adding this, strained and with lemon juice, to yolks whipped with clarified butter.  But on Chef Hestnar's grid of ratios, he had reduced everything to its essence. Take away the vinegar, pepper, and lemon and you still had a hollandaise.  Take away yolks or butter and it was no longer hollandaise.  I found the ratio sheet beautiful.  Like a poet chipping away at his words, polishing until his idea was diamond, Hestnar had removed every extraneous element of cooking.

I asked Chef Hestnar if I could hang on to the ratios and thanked him for his time.


32 Wonderful responses to “The Making of a Chef: New Edition”

  • Beanie

    I’m buying this book, and Ratios for my teenaged foster daughter, who wants to be a chef. I’m not sure if I want to encourage her or scare her. Probably both.

  • Rhonda

    Beautiful writing, Michael.

    It’s all about what you take away…

  • dadekian

    Very interesting to me that you excerpted that section because it was so fascinating to me at the time. I’ll be honest, I essentially learned to cook from reading books, not cookbooks, but cooking books, and watching three people on TV, first Julia Child (random series and times), then Emeril Lagasse and then Alton Brown. Once I got to Brown it was more for entertainment and TV enjoyment, and then I saw the ratios everywhere. Perhaps it’s just me and my learning experience, but for me if you base a dish on an Alton Brown recipe, you can embellish all you want and it’ll work. I can’t say that about a lot of published recipes I’ve tried. I don’t have my original copy of your book in front of me, though I don’t remember you printing Chef Hestnar’s chart. Is that what you’re posting come Monday? Are you charging $50.00 for it? Thanks!

  • Jerry


    I’ve just finished reading the original edition for the third time and still enjoy it. If I was *any* younger (just turned 62) I’d be in culinary school in a second.

  • John Jezl

    I bought this last year for my daughter who is now in culinary school. I just stole it back from her and started reading it. Great book.

  • Victoria

    It is a fabulous book.

    And I got my copy of Ratio this week from Amazon! Looks like another MR winner.

    Thank you.

  • sharon

    we would pay 50$ for those ratios. 1 egg, 1 yolk, 1 cup of creamy milk = custard. Comes in right handy.

  • Vivian

    MR will you have signed copies of this and Ratio available on your site? I’m sure some of us would gladly purchase them from you.

  • Natalie Sztern

    this is the first book i ever read of yours, so how great to re-print it with up-to-date information on the industry. (typed with a 4 month old pup on my lap 🙂

  • brandon_w

    This is also the first book that I read by Ruhlman, and I was hooked. A great book, I might have to go sit in the book store and read the part that’s not in my copy.

  • KenT

    Not wishing to lessen sales of your book but, is there enough new info in this edition to make it worthwhile to purchase if you have the original? Tough question!

  • ruhlman

    no new info in this edition except the intro (and frankly you could read it standing in a bookstore). so if you already own a copy, don’t buy another. and of course i have have signed copies available!

  • Leslie

    Michael, I read your book when it was first published. It grabbed hold of me and was never forgotten, nor cast off to Goodwill or a garage sale. 2+ years ago, when the company I spent 12 years toiling for was bought out, the buyers shut the corporate headquarters and we all lost our jobs. I contemplated going to culinary school (in my late 40s!) and perhaps changing careers. Another job, this time in the non-profit world, materialized immediately, and I took it, but I wondered if I had made the right choice. I gifted myself a pastry boot camp at the CIA as almost a consolation prize, largely because I was dying to be in that place after reading your book a decade earlier. I reread the book in preparation for boot camp, and I must say it elevated the experience to another level. I got so much more out of boot camp because of your insights. I came away knowing that I had made the right choice, that I still have so much I want to learn, but I don’t want it to be my career. I enjoy the deeply personal gift of making something with love and giving it to people I care about. And your book was the springboard to that realization. Thank you.

  • Russ

    Michael: At the risk of showing my ignorance I think the link you have to Escoffier leads to the wrong book. I have The Escoffier Cookbook and used it to refer to the recipes you list in the CMC testing in Soul of a Chef. Those recipe numbers do not coincide with the numbers in Le Guide Culinaire which DO coincide with the recipes in Soul. And the reipe details vary in some cases as well. Just an observation.

  • luis

    Shit, I missed the release of “Ratios”. Been waiting for it. Have read “The making of a Chef” and I think of Rhulman the same way I thought of George Plimptom but Waaaaaaaaay more focused on one thing. This is by far the better way to lead your life I think.
    If ratios is out Michael were is the link? HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!.

  • Vivian

    Relax Luis you haven’t missed a thing. I think the official release isn’t until next week but for some reason Amazon has them already and is sending them out. Most other sites have them available for pre-order. I’m just waiting for ruhlman to make it available here or to see if he is going on tour and scheduled to be somewhere within driving distance for a book signing.

  • Sarah

    This book, Soul of a Chef (which I think I bought the day after i finished this one), and my near-simultaneous introduction to Iron Chef and Good Eats (which taught me I could cook more complex dishes than chicken breasts and various ‘meals’ involving the word ‘helper’), turned me into a foodie back in my early post-college days. I had devoutly wished that you’d reproduced that page-and-a half grid in the book at the time, but now that I’m getting a whole tome out of it, I’m not complaining. 🙂

    I’m a little different from many other posters here, in that this book and that one semi-memorable memoir by that ex-cranky ex-chain smoker sellout whatshisname actually convinced me i had NO business making a career of my fun little hobby of cooking, but we are saving up money to take a “vacation” at CIA boot camp in the near future. Those guys at least give you a 10% cut of their profits of us “fantasy chefs” you helped to create.

  • brandon_w

    Sarah – This book also convinced me that I was not cut out for a culinary career. I am going to enjoy being a lifelong hobbyist.

  • chad

    That’s so interesting as one could easily fill another 2 pages with all of the ratios and percentages necessary for manipulating textures these days… numbers which did not exist a few years ago.

  • ntsc

    I picked up Making in hard cover about the time it came out. The title was stolen from an excellent series on Presidential Elections from 60 through the next several, so that got me to open it. I brought it home. It is now autographed and I have all but one of the Ruhlman published books.

    My feet would not have been able to take this work 20 years ago but I might have tried it then.

    I’ve taken a half dozen one day courses at CIA and a boot camp, my wife has done about the same but two longer boot camps. I’ve enjoyed all of them, although the Chef teaching knife skills gave me a hard time about my knife grip, but shut up when I explained why.

  • Scott

    I want that ratio sheet. Badly. What a nice and useful thing to have on a kitchen cork board.

  • JoP in Omaha

    Ah, the ratio book, finally! It’s been a long wait. As for “The Making…”–the new cover is lovely. I continue to love that book, and it continues to excite me, making me go to the kitchen to try new things. What an impact it had and continues to have…thanks, Michael.

  • Erin

    I’m still loaning out my old edition to anyone who will read it. But the new one has such a sexy-looking cover that I may have to buy that one, too.

  • Laura

    I really enjoyed The Making of a Chef…as did I The Reach of a Chef…now I see where you got your inspiration for your latest book!

  • rainey

    Read the first edition many years ago. It’s wonderful and much deserves its longevity and popularity.

    I used to live in Hyde Park but left within a few years of the CIA moving into St. Andrews. I also briefly lived in Staatsburg and enjoyed your story of thinking you’d roll over and sleep in when snowed in.

    Mazel tov!

  • luis

    That’s it, went to Amazon, found Ratios and bougth it. It will get here when it gets here… but Ruhlman on Techniques and insights to real cooking… is a treat.
    (Although he gets cranky if you…try and fill in the BLANKS…).
    Hopefully, there are NO blanks in this book…not many anyway.
    Been playing round with my new carbon steel De Buyers pan… Best, most versatile ever. And built like brickhouse.
    Now all I need is the inspiration to make great food in it.

  • luis

    Carbon steel debuyers from France… big hunking piece of steel baby. Non-stickiness… from day one. Eggs.. Sweet plaintains.. you name your gooiest… this thing performs.
    All clad .. Emerilware….1810 stainless… CAST IRON… no contest. Lighter and non stick indestructible pan. I can set the induction top and walk AWAY!… I brown and crisp whatever…Sooo happy? because..this shit is not in the cookbooks…Nooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!! trial and error babe!.

  • Jorge Arribasplata

    Michael, what’s up with the black and white pictures of food?.Just curious.
    Personally,I like color pics, so I can appreciate the (color and the texture) of the different techniques.
    P.S What do you think of Peruvian food? Have you ever had it?. I am asking you because I am from Perú.

    Gracias, Jorge