In this ardent memoir, celebrity chef Brandon Baltzley divulges his struggle to acquire prodigious cul-inary talents while overcoming his equally powerful personal demons. The scion of a troubled south-ern family, Baltzley discovered a love for cooking in his mother's "bar kitchen" in Jacksonville, Fl. With scant interest in school, Baltzley bounces from restaurant to restaurant, city to city, even serving a stint as the drummer for sludge-metal band, Kylesa. Moves to New York City and Chicago bring him to cutting-edge kitchens across America, but extreme substance abuse, especially of cocaine, un-dermine each step forward. Over the book's first three-quarters, Baltzley presents his struggles with clarity and brio. A memoir from a twenty-seven year-old might seem presumptuous, but Baltzley has packed a lot of living into his years; even in the darkest moments he remains an enchanting narrator. Over time, however, the voice grows more guarded and loses some of the charm. A diagnosis of bipo-lar disorder at Bellevue, for example, is related with minimal introspection. Baltzley's focus wanders as the book comes to a close, rushing his description of the farm-restaurant he plans to start in Michi-gan. Nevertheless, this is an engaging story. When Baltzley writes about food, it feels worth the hun-dreds of dollars it would cost to taste it.
A chef as well known for his turbulent life as his dishes chronicles his quick rise, spectacular fall and reinvention. Success in the competitive world of professional cooking generally comes after years of grueling work, discipline and determination. Not so for 28-year-old Baltzley. By 9, he was working alongside his single mother in her cafe in the back of a gay bar in Jacksonville, Fla. "Most people aren't lucky enough to know before they're nine years old what they want to do with their lives," he writes. "But for me, it was never really a question--my fate was sealed in the back of the Whistlestop Café, chopping corn at my mother's counter." Baltzley left high school to concentrate on improving his cooking skills and playing music with a heavy metal band. In Savannah, he scored a job with Paula Deen at The Lady & Sons. After that, he roamed through restaurants from Maine to Pittsburgh, continuing his experimentation with food, cooking techniques and menus. Meanwhile, his escalating drug use ruined relationships with employers, co-workers and girlfriends (he fathered a child with one of them). His talents continued to land him gigs in prestigious restaurants, but his substance abuse finally culminated in a revolving-door year in and out of four top Chicago restaurants, including Alinea. At the pinnacle of his tumultuous career, named executive chef at Simon Lamb's trendy Tribute, the author entered rehab. "Normalcy was something I never thought I could obtain, but I realized that that's what I wanted, even more than sobriety," he writes. Now married and sober, with his first solo restaurant, TMIP, in the works in rural Indiana, he seems poised for a new life. His unrelentingly candid memoir delivers in-your-face details about his missteps, larded with juicy peeks into the restaurant world, cutting-edge culinary practices and supersized personalities. A wild ride for foodies and those captivated by sagas of recovery.