30 April, 2011
Review: Beaten. Seared and Sauced by Jonathan Dixon
It's not like I hated it, but five minutes after I finished it I couldn't remember much about it. In theory, this is the perfect book for me. Obsessive memoir about food and the creation of it? Absolutely. (The only way to make it more appealing would be to add a romance and WW2 with a Tudor era European tie in. But those are my fetishes, not yours.) Right, so it's a good book. It's a solid B. There's nothing glaringly wrong with it. I'm sure a number of people will adore it and disagree strongly with me for giving it a firm rating of 'Meh'.
Here's the thing - I didn't like Jonathan very much so I never cared if he succeeded. I know he likes the Grateful Dead, hates salmon, had a girlfriend who helped support him (heavily) through culinary school and that he considered himself a bit of a slacker. Also, he enters culinary school without intending to work as a line chef. That's about it for him. Dixon introduces you to several of his fellow students without much purpose. One or two get a word at the end or a comment through the book but most can be shelved as interchangeable people he knew and we'll never know more about. There's the girl who shares a look, the guy who takes orders, the one who smokes weed, but none of them ultimately matter because this is a book about Dixon and his feelings.
Generally in a memoir there is a wider arc, a larger tale told through the lens of the experience being recalled. This isn't that book. There's no foreshadowing, no passage filled with meaning later illuminated, this is a straightforward telling of the classes he took, the teachers he had, and how he felt about all of them. If I was considering attending the school I would probably find more value in the book as a 'what to expect' primer, but as a casual reader the experience was ultimately empty. Dixon enters school as a slacker who wants to learn how to cook and he leaves it as a slacker who knows how to cook. Interviews with his classmates or instructors might have given the book more weight, as some alternative perspective is craved toward the second half of the book. It is interesting, however, to watch the development of the fresh food snobbery many chefs understandably adhere to. A discussion of how attainable that standard is for people outside a fairly narrow section of the country might also have added interest. As it is, if you're the sort that can run out to a few local farms to assemble your groceries (or not American), you'll eat better than those that can't. (I think we all knew that.)