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Monday, September 26, 2011

On My Bookshelf: So you want to own a bakery...

Anthony Bourdain calls a lot of food literature "food porn."  It's wish fulfillment, often accompanied by photos of impossibly luscious food.

That may apply to cookbooks, but the food literature I love is about the adventure of food and the food industry.  It's unlikely that I will ever work in a professional kitchen, although I'd bet money that I attend culinary school later in life.  The two books I'm reviewing this time around are about women who weren't sure of their paths in life, although they knew that being around food gave them great satisfaction.

Gesine Bullock-Prado's Confections of a Closet Master Baker starts with her graduating from law school, surveying her options and deciding to run her more famous sister Sandra Bullock's production company.  Hmm.  It's nice to have connections.

After trying for a few years to get good movies made (and failing) and tiring of lunching to see and be seen (but not eating), Bullock-Prado and her husband moved to Burlington, Vermont and opened a small bakery.  The book takes them through the first year in operation and chronicles the trials of owning a small business.  Bullock-Prado peppers her chapters with recipes for cakes and pastries, but the recipes are beside the point.

I'll admit it, I was initially skeptical about this book--famous sister=book deal, right?  In reality, Sandra Bullock is a very minor character in this story, although she sure does sound like the perfect sister. 

This book is a clear-eyed look at the difficulty of opening a small business and trying to stay afloat.  For the first year, the enterprise seems one step away from disaster or going under.  Although the tone of the book is largely humorous, this is a cautionary tale as much as a cute book about Bullock-Prado pursuing her dream.  Although I would particularly recommend this to bakers, the lessons are equally applicable to anyone thinking about opening a restaurant.  By the end of the book, the bakery is succeeding in a small way, but I wonder what will happen to it.

When I logged onto Amazon to post the link to the book, I noticed that Bullock-Prado has written a follow-up.  More on that to come...

Phoebe Damrosch's Service Included:  Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter, sounds salacious, although it's not.  Damrosch graduates from college and starts working in the New York restaurant scene almost by default.  She lucks into a job at Thomas Keller's soon-to-open Per Se, a pretty good gig for someone who admits that they aren't a good server. 

This book is part "what do I want to do when I grow up?" story and one part a chronicle of opening one of the most highly-anticipated restaurants in the last decade.  The second part is far better than the first, unless you want to hear about how Damrosch started dating a sommelier who was involved with someone else who worked in the restaurant.

No, the more interesting story is about how obsessively planned the restaurant was, and how much training and preparation went into its opening.  Damrosch's text is peppered with "tips" for diners, including not asking servers what their "other job" is and letting your waiter know if you plan to get up between courses so the kitchen can plan accordingly. 

Although I didn't love this book, it is a fascinating look into the world of opening a high-dollar restaurant where there is a great deal at stake.  I would recommend it to those interested in a look behind the curtains, as well as devotees of Thomas Keller.

As always, let me know if there is food literature that you're interested in seeing reviewed here!


  1. Sounds like an interesting read. What a hard business! Thanks for your review~

  2. What a fabulous blog you have, so glad to be a new follower! xoxo

  3. Burlington, Vermont is a nice place to be. The book sounds interesting.

  4. I really enjoyed Confessions of a Closet Master Baker, it was a fun read. I'll be interested to see what other food books you've been reading.