Spiced

By Dalia Jurgensen

Book category: Food Writing

The official blurb:

"Life in a restaurant kitchen is strenuous and exciting, while its inhabitants are...unique. In this testosterone-laden atmosphere, Dalia Jurgensen tirelessly pursued her dream of becoming a chef, working her way up though New York's top restaurants.

In her deliciously entertaining memoir, she divulges the dynamics between cooks and waiters, chefs and food critics, and heated affairs between staff members. Written with sincere love for the industry, this is a candid insider's tour from the unique perspective of an acclaimed pastry chef."

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What’s best about it?

Dessert inspiration and insights into life in a big busy restaurant kitchen: I was absolutely fascinated by the details of the desserts Dalia created (I've shared some examples in the review below) and the work involved in producing them to order.


I read this book back in 2011 as part of the “Kitchen Reader” book group so as the blog where I originally posted my review no longer exists I’m including that review here.

30th October 2011, Book Review: Spiced

I have been thinking a lot about baking lately. I used to be known amongst friends for my cakes and desserts but over the past few years, apart from a dessert for the odd dinner party or cakes to take to work on my birthday, I really haven’t done much. I guess it didn’t sit well alongside my nutritional therapy studies and I just got out of the habit. However, having become absorbed in the Great British Bake-Off on TV and been given an application form for next year’s competition by a friend, my thoughts have turned back to the sweeter things in life. So it was a happy coincidence that this month’s Kitchen Reader book group book was Dalia Jurgensen’s book Spiced, “A pastry chef’s true stories of trials by fire, after-hours exploits, and what really goes on in the kitchen”, selected by Libbi of Domestic Wandering.

I loved this book. I didn’t really expect to but I did. If you had been attracted by the promise of salacious details implied by the book’s title and subtitle then you might have been disappointed but for me the fact that the bulk of this book is about the food and the work that goes into preparing it made it a fascinating read.

It is an autobiography of the author’s career in kitchens from the point in her 20s when she left the safety of her office job to take on 7-day weeks shared between the kitchens of Nobu and culinary school in New York. Over the next 15 years or so we travel with Dalia through established 3-star New York restaurants, start-ups with her friend and colleague Joey, and even a stint working in Martha Stewart’s test kitchen developing recipes (that one sounded like my kind of job). What struck me most about this book was how hard the restaurant business is. You have to be truly devoted to spend so much time working long unsocial hours in the hot testosterone-fuelled atmosphere of a kitchen. I’ve always secretly fancied the idea of working in a big full-on kitchen – this book put me off!

However this book did inspire me to work on my baking and dessert skills. I want to make beautiful desserts! Dalia’s descriptions of the desserts she produced and their elegant, considered presentation shone like a little oasis in the hustle and bustle (and cursing and teasing and ‘sexploits’) of the kitchens she more or less lived in. The tales of the banter and in-fighting were entertaining but it was the descriptions of her day-to-day work that had me really engrossed.

I will leave you with some of Dalia’s desserts for inspiration:

  • Maple creme caramel with candied pecans and sour cherry sauce;
  • Pistachio-crusted passion fruit cheesecake with wine-stewed berries;
  • Apple-rhubarb crisp with white pepper ice cream;
  • Coconut panna cotta with saffron cream;
  • Buttermilk creme brulee served with miniature blueberry scones;
  • Chocolate-espresso custard tart with “Creamsicle” sherbet.

I’ll take one of each please!