The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine

Someone sent me a book to read, with the purpose of me blogging about it. I have to admit to being a bit skeptical about doing this, but when the book showed up on my doorstep, I had to rethink about my resevations.

The Book I recieved is called “The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine“, a book I had already heard about and was on my ‘must purchase’ list. I dug in.

Some of you are probably already familiar with the events that initiated this book: the 2003 suicide of Bernard Loiseau, holder of three Michelin Stars at his restaurant La Côte d’Or. It is the career path of Loiseau that is the foundation of the book, from kitchen apprentice to award winning chef. It also details the pressures surrounding maintaining those ever important Michelin stars and Loiseau’s quest for the perfect way to cook cauliflower. It was these stresses combined with his bi-polar disorder that led to his suicide.

The curse of perfection may be hard for some people to fathom. After all, what’s life when compared against a proper way to prepare cauliflower? I recall reading about Donnie Moore, a baseball player who also committed suicide over a moment in time when he was less than perfect when he felt he needed to be. Perfection may be a quest for the untainable, and at first people admire the quest and may even reward the effort. But when the quest fails and the people turn away from these perfectionists, it’s often interpretted as a personal slight, a rejection of the person’s reason for living. We may think to ourselves that “It’s only food” or “It’s only a baseball game”, but for some, it’s a dismissal of the perfectionist themselves, rather than quest they went upon.

I’m not going to critique the writing style of the author Rudolph Chelminski, as I’m no literary perfectionist. He was writing about a topic I am passionate about, and it provided a great snapshot of a specific period of time. I will say I enjoyed the book. It works on many, many levels I think. A history of 20th century French Cuisine? Check. Passion and obsession? Check. The ongoing battles between critics and artists? Check. The book is full of different subtexts and themes, all of which try to explain why a man so adored by the French culinary world would take his own life.


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