Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Book Review: Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World's Riskiest Business by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

At first, when this book was compared to Kitchen Confidential, I was wary. I mean, I loved Kitchen, but it also made me feel rather icky about restaurant food, and I was about to go to two trade shows and eat a lot of catered food, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to read it. But boy, am I glad I did! This isn't a hit job on catering--it's a love letter.

The Lee Brothers are a writing and cooking duo from Charleston (I've made their bourbon balls which were delicious and I don't like bourbon, nor am I much of a cook.) But they also partly live in New York, and over the course of writing this book they each get jobs as kitchen assistants (KAs) at a couple of different caterers. And these aren't caterers in the vein of a hotel or conference center--these are offsite caterers who bring in EVERYTHING and often are cooking on folding tables in a back hallway. Or really, they're cooking in hotboxes. Those are these large rolling cases in which you can keep food warm (or cold) and if you put in sternos and use the large baking sheets in a smart way, you can even cook in them.

These chefs work amazingly hard jobs--think celebrity weddings at the beach and charity fundraisers in museums. They're expected to put out 5-star meals under incredibly imperfect conditions, and they never get any praise and no one even knows who they are. They will never win a Michelin star. They will not get cookbook deals or be judges on Food Network TV shows. In the history of catering, there has been exactly one caterer who has become famous, and no one else: Martha Stewart. It is a seriously difficult, seriously unsung job done by consummate professionals at the height of their skills. This book left me impressed. And I was angry every time I had to put the book down. A great read. It will leave you hungry.

This book is published by Henry Holt, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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