If you ever had grand ideas about working in a kitchen or becoming a chef you should probably abandon them. Though many books have exposed the arduous process of becoming a chef, rarely have we seen the sheer weight of the obligations, routine and pressure to perform laid so bare before us.

Such is the accomplishment of Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line, the first book by Michael Gibney. Gibney is the former executive chef at Tavern on the Green. He’s worked for a who’s who of prestigeous restaurants including: Per Se, Le Bernardin, Bouley, Ducasse, wd~50, and Momofuku.

That accumulated wealth of top level culinary experience lends itself to the exacting tone and beat of his walk through a day in the life of a sous chef. Events others might simply omit or gloss over are meticulously retold, and at times you almost assume that he had videotaped his time in the kitchen with his near perfect recall. This book will probably leave you  to conclude – as I did – the following: the job of being a chef is impossible. It can’t be done and to harbor any dreams or delusions about becoming a rockstar chef is a fool’s errand. And yet, people do it.

It is that exacting detail that is the true brilliance of this book. The intricate, painstaking, sensual anecdotes that Gibney gives us to place us firmly in the “you” role of the sous chef. The book is written in 2nd person, forcing the reader to inhabit the character of a sous chef working the line on a 300 hundred cover (300 guest) night at a 90 seat Manhattan restaurant.

The book begins with a map displaying the layout of the restaurant kitchen. Though Gibney later explains that each restaurant kitchen is unique in terms of size, shape, and overall design; that many factors and stations are universal. From studying the map we learn about “the pass” – the area all food travels through between cooking and plating for service, the various food stations and prep areas, as well as walk ins, loading docks, offices and locker rooms.

The crucial factor is that we learn more than just that these places exist. We learn both their importance and their physical location, how one relates to the other to create the unique eco-system that allows a kitchen staff to thrive. Gibney isn’t satisfied to simply give us an annotated map. The book begins with “you”, the sous chef, arriving at an empty restaurant and walking his way through the entire kitchen, preparing for the day: checking the inventory, cleanliness, and state of his world; while pondering the physical and mental strain that is to come. This kind of exposition might seem…odd…boring even, but Gibney’s lively prose and description makes the journey through a deserted restaurant absolutely sing. Read the rest of this entry »

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17
Mar

Arena Review: Dragon’s Hoard

   Posted by: Tom   in Gaming, Kickstarter, Reviews

Everyone is always trying to slay the dragon. I don’t really mean that figuratively, though it certainly works. I mean literally. Look through the fantasy genre and see how many characters define their very existence by the struggle to hunt down and kill one (or more) of those winged beasts (of varying colors). Games are no different. So, what if a game turned that idea on its head and let you play as the dragon. Would you be interested? Of course.

Suggested Ages: 8+
Suggested Players: 2 to 4 players
Playing time: 20 to 40 minutes
Contents: 95 playing cards, rulebook, Kickstarter exclusive: Unicorn promo action cards.
Retail price: $20, available on Amazon.

Enter Dragon’s Hoard, the Kickstarter funded card game that places you firmly in the role of a fire breathing, gold hording, winged beast out to claim all the lavish treasures and sheep (dragons gotta eat) in the land. Read the rest of this entry »

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28
Feb

Remembering Author Aaron Allston

   Posted by: Tom   in Nerd Writing

Wraith Squadron lost their commander today. He’s gone over the horizon beyond where we can follow.

Author Aaron Allston passed away on February 27th. Allston, 53, was a prolific author, game designer, and speaker; frequently a guest and high point of any con related to science fiction, gaming, or Star Wars. And though it seems rude to merely harp on a single piece of his career; the galaxy far far away is where I met and knew him.

I never had the pleasure of actually meeting Allston, however, in my time working as an intern in the Star Wars books offices, and in meeting other authors, I heard enough to know the greatness of the man. And that whatever skill and aptitude he had as an author, it was far outweighed by who he was as a person. The tributes that have flooded the Internet since his passing only further confirm and enhance those anecdotes.

But, as an author, Allston was known to millions of people, and Star Wars fans in particular, through the books that he wrote. He authored thirteen books in the Star Wars universe, though judging by the comments of his fellow Expanded Universe (EU) authors, his reach and influence on Star Wars went well beyond simply the words that he penned. Read the rest of this entry »

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It’s the holiday season, the time of year when families come together, for better or worse, to celebrate the bounties that we as a people are generally afforded, promote the well appointed perception about our love for food and commercialism and to begrudgingly give thanks for one another. I say begrudgingly because for every heartfelt Reddit post about a miracle connection or the hidden kindness of a sympathetic TSA agent there’s a BuzzFeed list on just surviving the holiday. For example:

Holiday Survival 

Liz Lemon’s Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving

While sitting next to your strange aunt or uppity cousin who not so subtlety reminds you how much better he’s doing in life is excruciating so too is having to consume tired casseroles or soggy overcooked vegetables between courses of decadent desserts and awesome slow cooked meats. Would you believe then, that holiday salvation can be found in the form of the most maligned vegetable in the garden.

Yes Virginia, I’m talking about the Brussels sprout. The unassuming and oft neglected little cabbage can teach us everything we need to know about rounding out a holiday meal and dealing with those odd house guests we call relatives. Read the rest of this entry »

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9
Dec

Library Review: Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat

   Posted by: Tom   in Reviews

I like quirky cookbooks. Sure, having a copy of the Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking is nice, but otherwise I need the book to be a hyper-specific cuisine study or a unique approach to cooking for me to really care about recipes I could probably otherwise Google. So finding a cookbook that eschews text in favor of nearly entirely relying on pictures as a way to teach people to cook certainly grabbed my attention.

Picture Cook: See. Make. Eat is a minimalist cookbook from author Katie Shelley, who approaches cooking as a free form expression of individuality. In fact, she includes a brief forward to that effect informing readers that what follows are not “precise culinary blueprints” but are meant to inspire “experimentation, improvisation and play in the kitchen.” Read the rest of this entry »

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I’m a big fan of  games that take the dungeon delving pleasures of D&D and distill it down into a simple form that lets me get that RPG fix when I only have a few free minutes. All the better when I’m on the go.

There are plenty of mobile games that scratch that itch, but not many tabletop games, as most of them have long setup, game times or require many players. So when Dungeon Roll popped up on Kickstarter, with promises of fast dungeon delving game play, a solitaire component, and a fantastic price point; I couldn’t resist becoming a backer.

Suggested ages: 8 and up
Number of players: 1 – 4 players
Playing time: 10 – 30 minutes
Contents: Core Game 7 white party dice, 7 black dungeon dice, 1 10-sided level die, 36 treasure tokens, 24 experience tokens, 8 hero cards, 4 player aid cards, 1 rulebook and 1 book of heroes. Kickstarter Bonuses included: Dragon’s Lair card, Graveyard card, Expansion pack 1 – with 8 additional heroes, kickstarter exclusive character – Guild Leader, 1 additional white party die (for Guild Leader), 2 additional black dungeon dice, and a mimic box variant container.
Retail price: $19.95 – available on Amazon. Read the rest of this entry »

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8
Nov

Portals of the Week

   Posted by: Colin   in Links

1
Nov

Portals of the Week

   Posted by: Tom   in Links

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23
Oct

Kickstarter Roundup: October 22 – 26

   Posted by: Colin   in Kickstarter

Kickstarter is quickly becoming a favorite place for us here at Castles and Cooks to mine for our next great game or piece of cooking equipment. While the risks are well established, the chance to discover something truly unique is one of the things that keeps us coming back for more. From time to time we’ll aggregate our favorite Kickstarters here and tell you why they are worth supporting.

Methodology: We do not actually back every project listed in this round-up (though we do specifically indicate those projects we have helped fund). The projects that we choose are based on several factors, but we tend to gravitate toward projects that have low risk, great value, and where there is excellent communication about the economics. It also helps for the product to just be awesome, something that we would want to play or use. Read the rest of this entry »

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Cookies are great. Comics, also pretty fantastic. After encountering Einhorn’s Epic Cookies, a new New York based cookie company that includes a comic with every package, I wonder why no one else thought to combine them before. Luckily, Einhorn’s Epic Cookies has rectified that oversight and we no longer live in a world where cookies and comics must be purchased separately.  As Heather Einhorn explained to us, the origin story for this epic pairing can be found in the snacks and treats of yesteryear, while the cookies themselves are decidedly a family affair.

Each pack of cookies comes with a comic about  the Royal Einhorn Force. A group of unicorns made up of Houston, Broxburn, Cadiz and Romsey. Each unicorn corresponds to a different cookie:

  • Chocolate, raisin and oatmeal for Broxburn
  • Marshmallow, crisped rice and rainbow sprinkles for Cadiz
  • Chocolate chips and potato chips for Houston
  • Peanut butter, maple syrup and bacon for Romsey. (Yes, BACON!)

While the story for each pack of cookies is the same, the ending differs slightly and is customized for each horse as they battle the evil Lord Farragut. The story continues on the Einhorn Epic Cookies website, and the company promises weekly updates.

As the company was in the process of completely selling out at Comic Con, Heather sat down to explain the origins of the cookies, plans for expansion, which cookie tastes the best raw, the perfect flavor for an arch villain, and why the company decided to make a bacon cookie, with fake bacon (Don’t worry, it still tastes delicious). Read the rest of this entry »

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