Sunday, February 21, 2010

Book Review - Knives at Dawn: America's Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d'Or Competition by Andrew Friedman

Knives at Dawn: America's Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d'Or Competition
Author: Andrew Friedman
Year: 2009
Page: 320
Genre: Non-Fiction: Food

New to me author? Yes
Read this author again? Maybe
Tearjerker? No
Where did it take place? US, Lyon
FTC Disclosure: Borrowed from the library

Summary (from
Every two years, chefs from around the world gather to compete in the Bocuse d'Or, a grueling cooking competition that gives participants just five and a half hours to prepare a full menu of elaborate fish and meat dishes (with their own choice of supporting ingredients). As the 2009 contest drew near, restaurateurs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller were determined the U.S. would send a team that could finally bring back a medal; Friedman follows the quest through the selection of two cooks from Keller's French Laundry and stays with them until the final showdown. It's great fly-on-the-wall reporting that captures both the obsessive, perfectionist mindset of great chefs and their creative spontaneity under pressure—as small a matter as the sudden, intuitive selection of celeriac as an ingredient in a tart becomes a moment of high drama. The pace is relentless, but Friedman's observations of Timothy Hollingworth and his assistant, Adina Guest, as they struggle to rise to the challenge will have foodies riveted all the way through. Even those who don't care about the intricate details of a nine-course meal could learn something about entrepreneurship and project management from this story.

First Sentence:
One of the harsh realities of every chef's life is that, at the end of each day, he will be judged.

Why did I pick this book?
Book about food competition - I haven't read on this topic before and it sounded like fun! I'd just finished watching Top Chef Season 5 (hadn't watched this show before) so I was in the mood for some books on food :)

My thoughts:
  • The beginning was a little slow and confusing with many names (probably didn't help that I started reading this while nursing a cold, so my concentration wasn't as good as usual) but it did get better later once I figured out who-is-who. As much as I like reading about food, I don't know a lot of chef names... I wish there was a list of character in the beginning or something to make it easier to follow who these people were. While I didn't watch Top Chef Season 3 - the winner of that season did appear in Season 5, and made an appearance in the book, so it was fun to see the connection. The book also briefly mentioned Top Chef.

  • Food competition is intense!!! It was amazing all the preparation that went into it - not just the food itself, but all the other organization and preparation

  • I wish there were more photos (especially close up) of the food mentioned! I am not familiar with a lot of food terminology (especially French) so it'd have helped to have a bit more guidance. Better yet, this probably would have been more fun if this book was a documentary - actually they did plan on making one, but decided to scrap the idea, which was a shame.

  • Definitely made you appreciate the food that you eat when you go to the restaurants!

  • Warning! They have some pictures in the middle of the book, don't look at the pictures (especially the last page) or you'll know who won the competition. I looked at the pictures once I found out who the USA rep was, but didn't look at the very last picture (the one at the bottom) as that one showed who got gold/silver/bronze.


As for the food, in competition a combination of textures is essential: the three primary ones being "crisp/crunchy, meaty, and soft." By way of illustration, Henin pointed out that apple pie a la mode, which he described as the most popular dessert in the world, has all three: the crust is crunchy, the apple is meaty, and the ice cream is soft. (48-49)


Have you read this book? 
If you have, I would love to hear what you think!
I'll link your review here if you wish!

100+ Reading


  1. I love watching food competitions, so I bet I'd enjoy this book. Thanks for the review (and the warning about the pics).

    Diary of an Eccentric

  2. I hate when publishers are stupid about things like that spoiler photo! So frustrating. I actually got this book for my boss a few months ago since he's a big foodie. It sounded so good I almost didn't give it to him, and now I'm thinking I might need to borrow it!