Documenting 24 hours in the kitchen, Gibney’s Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line captures the true nature of life on the line and the hard work, creativity, and dedication it takes to survive just one day at the stove.
After cooking for so long how did you end up in an M.F.A. program?
I’ve always been interested in writing and figured if I am to be a writer, why not do it the right way. It’s certainly not possible to do both justice at the same time so I wasn’t an actual chef while I was in school and writing this book, but I was still closely tethered to the kitchen.
Did you scribble down notes during service?
No, I was just cooking, which is probably better. I devoted my entire self to the craft. After a couple misfires at writing about something else, I realized the story I am suppose to tell is food. It’s something I know fully, have a personal stake in, and can write about in a manner perhaps people haven’t thought about yet.
Many of your description are very poetic.
I am transfixed by the beauty of words. As a child I read through the dictionary to find cool words. I didn’t have to imagine the story so it allowed me to put together sentences, paragraphs, and description that celebrate the thing itself and the language we have to describe it.
Was it purposeful to skip the sensationalism people associate with cooking these days?
My intent was to authentically show what life is really like for a sous chef. True, cooking is a rock-star profession, but it should also be part of an academic lexicon, right up there with law, medicine, and anthropology. It’s history, science, culture, and art in one and I want to do that justice.
In the book, you really focus on the diner’s experience.
The most important thing about cooking is you are feeding someone. If you start cooking for reviews or your resume, you’re in a bad way. Guests trust you to nourish them and keep them safe, and you can’t betray that. They are taking your artwork and ingesting it. That’s a powerful transaction I wish I could have touched on more.
Are you still cooking?
I am working in a kitchen and am slated to open a restaurant as chef de cuisine in May. I’m also thinking about this second book, trying to figure out where in time the writing will happen. I can’t picture myself being away from a kitchen for too long, but if the book is about food, and I’m going to kitchens and eating food, being around chefs, I suppose that will suffice.
What’s the second book about?
It’s an investigation into the history of what motivates people to cook—historically, currently, in the future—and how that differs from one culture to the next. In hunter-gatherer communities, someone in the tribe took over and said, I am going to prepare the food. Why? Seems like there is a sort of primal urge to do that and I think that exists in chefs today.