The 4-Hour Chef: In Depth Book Review

4 Dec

You’ve likely already heard some of the buzz surrounding Tim Ferriss’s new book, The 4-Hour Chef. And while it unfortunately hasn’t hit number one on the New York Times bestseller lists yet like his last two have, after reading it I can say it definitely deserves to. This may be the first non-fiction book that I have anxiously awaited, bought on release day, and then devoured in its 700 page entirety in less than two weeks, and it was definitely worth it.

Ferriss has been one of my favorite authors for a long time now. I first read The 4-Hour Workweek over a year ago, and it was one of the biggest inspirations for me to get into the business world, especially online business. I then read The 4-Hour Body, which has completely changed the way I look at diet and exercise. Both books are in my top five non-fiction list of all time for sure. So when I heard that Tim was writing a book on cooking, which is something I’ve been really into ever since I moved on to college, I was ecstatic to say the least. And when I heard it wasn’t just about cooking, but the skill of learning skills, I nearly had a heart attack.

This book is described as a choose your own adventure guide to rapidly learning skills, using cooking as the learning vessel. It is split up into five sections, each of which I am going to talk about in turn. The book as a whole was an excellent read, and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially the aspiring Life Rich who want to sharpen their ability to learn skills and cook better at the same time.

Section One: Meta Learning

The first section of this book has nothing to do with cooking, and yet I think it was the best part of the book. It is all about meta learning, and becoming world class at anything within six months or less. It it,Tim breaks down his extremely successful methods for learning skills. He uses several acronyms to explain his basic steps, and while I won’t go into too many details right now, I will say they seem to work really well. He shows examples of various things, including learning foreign languages, shooting a basketball, building fires, and memorizing a deck of cards in under a minute.

He teaches his process well, including each step he takes when learning a skill. These range from compressing everything you need to know about something onto a single page, to using monetary incentives to make you do something, to how to properly order the various parts of the skill you need to learn. He of course details how to use the 80/20 principle in Meta Learning, which you’ll already know a lot about if you’ve read his other books.

This section is incredible and rather mind blowing. It really doesn’t have too much information about cooking in it, which may seem odd for a book with that title to not have cooking at all for the first hundred or so pages. But the learning techniques here will help you learn to become a master chef just as fast as Tim did, and learn anything else faster as well.

Section Two: Domestic

The second section of this book is a slow intro to the world of cooking. Tim advises you cook the items in this section in order, twice a week. After a couple months, you’ll have two dinner parties and lot’s of fantastic dishes under your belt if you follow his instructions. There is all kinds of information and tips in this section that will be a review for any of you who have lots of experience cooking, but there will likely be some new stuff as well. And if you don’t have much cooking experience, this section is perfect for you!

I haven’t cooked as many things yet from this book as I’ve wanted to (I guess it’s only been out for a couple weeks, so I’ll give myself a break), but there are some recipes in here I’m really excited about. The ones that I’m looking forward to the most are the Osso Buko, Union Square Zucchini, Sous Vide Chicken Breast, and the eggocado. Of course that’s only a few, there are a couple dozen recipes in this section alone that are all easy and look amazing. I was also introduced to a few new cooking techniques, like sous vide (cooking in a vacuum).

Section Three: The Wild

This was the section of the book that I was most looking forward to. As an avid hunter who grew up in small town Idaho, surrounded by mountains and forests, this section felt like home to me. And out of everything in this book, it may be the most useful. Ferriss starts off by talking about survival skills and gear, which is an important thing for everyone to at least have a basic understanding of. He shared a story about how when his power went out, he was completely crippled, just because he didn’t have electricity for 12 hours. He lost all of his food and water supply. This was a very inspirational event for him, and he decided to learn how to survive if there ever was a real emergency.

He then talks about his experiences learning how to hunt. I very much encourage everyone to try hunting at some point in their lives. I seriously think that I would be a radically different person today if it wasn’t for hunting. I would never have taken any interest in food or cooking, wouldn’t have had an appreciation for the wild or sustainability, and would be much more of a clueless consumer of all things.

As far as cooking goes in this section, there are a few gems I’d like to quickly mention. The Vietnamese venison burgers for starters, that recipe alone is worth buying this book in my opinion. You’ll also learn how to make homemade sauerkraut, ceviche, and beef heart. You’ll take a look at making cricket power bars (yes you read that right), catching street pigeons, and butchering a whole chicken. Some of the things I just mentioned may sound odd, but trust me, this section is pure gold.

Section Four: The Scientist

The scientist is all about understanding and utilizing the sciences involved in cooking food. It is quite the entertaining read. This section contains mostly insane recipes that you’ll likely have a hard time trying yourself. Tim talks about a number of cooking chemicals and compounds that you have to buy online. And while that may be inconvenient, they may be worth it. For instance, he talks about olive oil gummy bears, the perfect slow carb treat. He also teaches you how to make nutella powder, which sounds pretty amazing. To top off the craziness, he makes ice cream in 30 seconds with liquid nitrogen.

Thankfully, not everything in this section requires special order chemicals or utensils. For instance, he has a recipe for “The Best Jerky in the World” which I have yet to try, but sounds pretty fantastic. Another thing he uses is a pressure cooker, which you may already have. He uses it to make caramelized carrot soup (I had no idea carrots could caramelize). Lastly in this section are three enormous food stories for cheat days. If you’ve seen Epic Meal Time, then you can probably imagine the kind of things he talks about here.

Section Five: The Professional

The final section of The 4-Hour Chef is all about taking your skills as a cook to the next level. This is where you become “world-class”, as Ferriss would put it, meaning in the top 5% in the world at a skill.

It starts off with some classic dishes that any chef worth his salt should be able to whip up, no questions asked. Roast chicken, french omelets, and pea soup to name a few. His roast chicken recipe is fairly similar to what I’ve done in the past, just with a couple lemons in the middle instead of onions. He shows a picture of his first omelette, which turned out incredible. He writes that having a first omelet that actually looks like an omelet was quite the accomplishment, and was more luck than anything.

After the classics, Ferriss talks about one of the worlds most famous chefs, Grant Achatz, and how he creates his culinary masterpieces. He gives recipes that use ten of Grant’s most signature techniques and principles. These are all fairly advanced recipes, and I have yet to try my hand at any of them (although that is going to change soon hopefully). Some of the best recipes in here look to be bacon roses (perfect for a date, she get’s roses and he get’s bacon, win win), edible dirt that actually looks pretty amazing, crisp baked sesame coconut chicken, and Peking duck wraps. There are also some incredible cooking techniques in this final section, like infusing cocktails with cigar smoke and using a DIY anti griddle (very cold surface instead of hot) to make instant frozen treats. If you are looking to become a master chef, there may be no higher calling than these recipes. Well, except for….

Cap A L’ancienne

If it’s name sounds intimidating, just wait until you peek at the ingredients list. Ferriss included this recipe to show readers not only how difficult it is to cook elegant dishes, but also how much they don’t yet know, and never can fully know, about cooking. It’s a seafood dish, feeds 8 to 10, and takes 10 to 20 hours to create. Yep, that’s two entire days in the kitchen preparing a single meal. But it is an epic meal, and if I ever see someone pull it off, I will be quite impressed to say the least. It is quite fascinating simply to read the instructions, and is the perfect ending to the recipes and principles taught in this book.

The book wraps up in a way that really spoke to me. The ending included many of the philosophies I talk about here, especially about the Life Rich. I won’t spoil it for you though, don’t worry.

If you want to learn about the modern world of business, read The 4-Hour Workweek. If you want to get in great physical shape, read The 4-Hour Body. But if you are a living person who either eats food or has the desire to learn (i.e. everybody), you should read The 4-Hour Chef. The way the book explores rapid skill learning through cooking is incredible, and has inspired me in dozens of ways. I plan on reading the book several times (albeit slower next time, 672 pages in two weeks was too much to absorb everything), and cooking as many of the recipes within it as I can. If you are going to read one book and only one book in this coming year, make it The 4-Hour Chef.

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