One of the first ever interviews I did in my new food writing life, about ten years ago, was with Scott Haas who was then a producer at NPR. How time flies! I heard from Scott recently that he as a new book out, Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant, and the description really caught my eye:
Food writer and clinical psychologist Scott Haas wanted to know what went on inside the mind of a top chef—and what kind of emotional dynamics drove the fast-paced, intense interactions inside a great restaurant. To capture all the heat and hunger, he spent eighteen months immersed in the kitchen of James Beard Award-winner Tony Maws’ restaurant, Craigie on Main, in Boston. He became part of the family, experiencing the drama first-hand. Here, Haas exposes the inner life of a chef, what it takes to make food people crave, and how to achieve greatness in a world that demands more than passion and a sharp set of knives.
A lens into what motivates and inspires all chefs—including Thomas Keller, Andrew Carmellini, whose stories are also shared here—Back of the House will change the way you think about food—and about the complicated people who cook it and serve it.
Years ago, for a now defunct magazine, I spent a year in a kitchen with a chef. My focus was different from Scott’s. My focus was to find out what it took for a chef to take a restaurant from a three star place to a four star one. They did not get the fourth star and my story never ran… Perhaps, someday, I will post it here.
Scott’s book is wonderful and a great look at what really happens in restaurant kitchens. I am reading it now and savoring it.
Scott shares a few words about his book:
On February 9th, in Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Company, that nation’s version of NPR and BBC, ran a remarkable interview with me about my new book on the psychology of being a chef:
“Every minute, somewhere on the planet, there’s something going on in an enclosed space.
This space is full of noise, smells, flame and steam. There is yelling, urgency, cursing and movement and out of this space, if you’re lucky, emerges a meal that will linger on the tongue and brain for all the right reasons.
And who are the people willing to work under these conditions to bring you their vision of food?
Clinical psychologist and food writer Scott Haas spent 18 months finding out – he literally embeds himself in the psyche of one of America’s great chefs, Tony Maws, and the kitchen he commands.
The resulting book Back of the House reads like a blow by blow novel rather than a dry academic treatise.”
Chefs are part of the culture in the United States. Never before has a profession, once associated with working class occupation, been the subject of so much fascination. Kitchen Confidential showed us what goes on in restaurant kitchens. Back of the House shows us why.
Who in their right mind chooses to work eighteen days, six days a week, feeding strangers, often not knowing who will walk through the door and ask to be fed?
What psychological pressures do chefs start with in their upbringing? What about the repetition of restaurant work feeds into the issues that also, repeatedly, shape who they are, how they love, and what they do to motivate their crews?
Back of the House provides original insights and answers the questions behind the beautiful meals served to the fortunate few.