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The Soul of a Chef

"Keller has put in skylights, an expensive design decision requiring compilcated rerouting of the exhaust systems above the stoves.  He wanted abundant natural light in his kitchen.  'I knew I had to have the kind of place that would attract people who can do this kind of food,' he explained.'"

I just got _The Soul of a Chef_ by Ruhlman, second book in his series, and this quote reminds me of Fogcreek.  It was uttered by the main chef of Napa Valley's French Laundry restaurant, and for a couple paragraphs the book talks about the carpeted mats in the kitchen, and two long windows that run the length of it.  After reading his earlier book, I emailed the author that I thought there were parallels in software dev and the cooking industry; and he seemed to like Joel's article on Big Macs, as well as .

It seems the cooking world has many battles eerily similar to the ones in the software world.  I could write a long review about them, but this would be a long post. ;)

I'm curious if anyone has any good books outside the software dev genre, that you feel applies to the developer's world?

Tayssir John Gabbour
Friday, September 26, 2003

Sleightly cynical here... isn't "a good work environment" a nice to-have no matter what your industry is?

Mark T A W .com
Friday, September 26, 2003

people issues are endemic across all disciplines.  Wake up nerds!

Bob Ng
Friday, September 26, 2003

Maybe I shouldn't have linked this too closely with Joel's recent entry.  My point was there exist books that really bring out parallels between crafts...  The nice workplace thing was just a couple paragraphs out of two books.  And I wouldn't say great places to cook are easy; to the contrary, they're tough and you're expected to find your own motivation to love the work.  Plus, people eventually get sick of doing things another guy's way and desire to work for themselves.  In fact, the French Laundry's owner wishes he could create a restaurant with about five cooks who work independently, with no head chef imposing his will.

But there are other parallels.  In the US, there's the Culinary Institute of America, which has many good qualities but many in the industry are disturbed at its influence and sometimes play political games... they also have a grueling 10-day certification test for ~$2.5k that many question.  These are some obvious parallels.  However, the author is skilled enough to talk about inner motivations of cooks he's met; the uneasy rift between selling yourself and being a "real cook."  (The story of Mel, anyone?)  Other stuff too, I recommend the book.

I guess I don't care about the old debates on whether a nice working environment is good.  There are a lot of restaurants and software shops, only a few are dream places to work, and the people staffing them are a little insane.  Instead, I want to learn about books.  Another good book was one Joel mentioned, _The Secrets of Consulting_ by Weinberg.  I don't consult, but it certainly was... educational...  Giving advice looks like a subtle and risky craft.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Friday, September 26, 2003

I've said for years that Chefs, Musicians, and Programmers are all leaves off the same tree.  Even having done all three I'm still sometimes astounded by the similarities of these professions (especially restaurants and software shops).

I'll have to pick up the book; sounds like a good read.

Friday, September 26, 2003

>I've said for years that Chefs, Musicians, and Programmers are all leaves off the same tree. Even having done all three I'm still sometimes astounded by the similarities of these professions (especially restaurants and software shops).

Do you have any nice cute article that expands on the above? While the “Big Mac Vs chefs article is close, it spends too much time on IT and consulting.

I would love to find a real nice written article that explains the similarities between Chefs, Musicians, and Programmers.

Anyone with a good story / reference?

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada

Albert D. kallal
Saturday, September 27, 2003

No but I could build one for you.

All three involve studying, often by example:

Is that tarragon? Was that a G major followed by a B minor seven? What algorithm does Friendster use?

Building up a set of tools:

Does everything you cook have paprika? Everything you play sounds like Led Zeppelin. I think Joel spent too much time at Microsoft.

Finding creative solutions to problems:

By braising the Mahi-Mahi and bruising the cucumber, I find that each bite remains fresh. Instead of going to the "V" chord in the chorus, I go to the "VII" chord, which adds even more tension. Instead of making API calls, I cache the information in RAM.

Sacrificing your personal ego sometimes for the greater good:

I find this dish works better without Paprika. You're right, a guitar solo isn't quite appropriate here. Okay, maybe I won't write the applicaiton in Lisp.

Some people are talented and lazy, others aren't talented and work hard, and other mixes of the two. I don't think I need to give you any examples.

Throw in a few more similarities, a few differences, and pad it out with some anecdotes and personal experience, and you have yourself an article.

All three have rules, which can be broken, a scientific and artistic side, all three can be done alone or in collaboration, and all three have an audience that needs to be pleased... or not. All three have superstars, personalities, punditts, magazines. All three can be appreciated by anyone, and have obscure or very public examples of work that defies convention. All three are mediums in which everything has been said, and everything is always new.

By the way, go to any audio forum and ask for their favorite recipe for ______ and a dozen people will step foward.

Mark T A W .com
Saturday, September 27, 2003

I'd recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in cooking or dreams of running their own restaurant.

Keeping on-topic, the section on the Certified Master Chef exam is interesting for the way its its discussion of "do we need certification for our industry" mirrors the discussion you see on these boards and elsewhere.

The middle section about running a small highly succesful restaurant is perhaps the most entertaining and vividly illustrates the value of learning, thinking hard about what you do, and team work, and also of the importance of networking in career development.

The final section about a restaurant that has achieved /some/ of its owners personal goals is good source of inspiration to anyone else trying to Get There.

One thing I really think the s/w biz could take away from this book (other than an appetite) is the idea of apprenticeship. I forgett the actual term used, but the idea is to spend a week, a month, a year working in other kitchens to get new ideas, recipes, techniques.

Over all, an excellent read.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

> One thing I really think the s/w biz could take away from this book (other than an appetite) is the idea of apprenticeship. <

This is one thing I think the world could use. For a year in between high school and college everyone should go out and work, get a real feel for what working is like, and then decide on a major. Sort of the reverse of college where you start to intern in your last years. I've known people who stayed at their chosen university, even though the major they eventually decided on wasn't offered.

But... things are the way they are.

Mark T A W .com
Monday, September 29, 2003

"One thing I really think the s/w biz could take away from this book (other than an appetite) is the idea of apprenticeship."

I guess this is what pair programming strives to achieve, but without the cross-organization pollination effect.  Don't know how this could ever work, though, with so many IP issues involved.

Jim Rankin
Monday, September 29, 2003

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