Baking is my favorite hobby but I would never want to be a chef. Being a pastry chef is too intense, too much pressure and requires dealing with too many kinds of personalities. While there’s little more I love than baking a new recipe on a Sunday afternoon, I always want to be able to find enjoyment in that. I want to maintain the kitchen as a space of happiness for me (except when a recipe goes wrong and spatulas hit the wall). That means working in a different environment. Writing and coffee, however, are two things I’m set to ruin by making a job out of them.
That being said, after reading Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen, I would love to experience a professional kitchen, even if just for a day or so. Spiced follows Jurgensen as she changes career from office drone to pastry chef. The book doesn’t focus precisely on the process that led up to the change, but the challenge of changing her identity to match her new job title and fit in with her new world. She doesn’t start out yearning to work with butter, flour and eggs. Yet she slowly develops a skill and a passion for pastry as she rises through the ranks of the high-end restaurant world.
Spiced is, essentially, a coming of age story. It doesn’t follow Jurgensen’s personal discovery or emotional development as other, similar, foodie memoirs do. Instead, Jurgensen describes growing into new skills and a new life while gaining confidence on her oft-surprising path. Taking the classic bildungsroman format may not seem like the most compelling way to narrate a restaurant memoir, the structure bridges her restaurant world with that of the home cook. Thus, Jurgensen doesn’t describe her life in a professional kitchen so much as her personal reaction to the challenges she faces; a much more relatable — and for me, interesting — story. The home cook won’t relate to the challenges she faces on the job, but can see aspects of themselves in Dalia’s struggle to master new techniques and gain courages in the kitchen.
Before writing down my thoughts I accidently looked at what some other people had to say on the book. The main critiques are that Jurgensen attempts to write a book in the vein of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Instead of writing about her life as a pastry chef, other reviewers say she attempts to shock with stories of life behind the burner. While the cover of the book certainly spins the story as being an expose on kitchen life, the narration rarely, if ever, takes that tone. Jurgensen’s attitude is self-reflective, which is a more unique story than what takes place in the kitchen (though I might be a touch worried about going to some restaurants during flu season).
If you like to bake or cook, you’ll find Jurgensen’s book to be a quick, pleasant read. While there aren’t any deep insights, her journey is relatable and as satisfying as reading a magazine article about your favorite chef. If you ever wondered who works as a pastry chef, you’ll find your answer here.
Would you ever want to work in a restaurant? Have you ever worked in one (as a waiter, perhaps)?