Review by Vago Damitio
I hate Tim Ferriss.*** I hate him because he is so god-damn good at what I’d like to be good at. He’s a genius and whether that genius is like that of P.T. Barnum or that of Bill Gates – it doesn’t matter, because the fact is – there’s no denying that Ferriss is a genius.
This book would have been better titled – The Silicon Valley Urban Survival Manual or The Big Boys Book of Bragging and Party Tricks but a part of his genius is the ability to market himself and his exploits. Those books wouldn’t have had the same appeal with his target audience. Rich or at least aspiring rich people who enjoy watching Top Chef and want to be able to impress their friends with their ability to make a foam or chiffon a basil leaf.
First of all. I liked the book and I recommend it. It’s fun and Tim Ferris shares some really great techniques and information about cooking, about memorizing a deck of cards, about how to skin a rabbit, and about how to blow a hard boiled egg out of the shell. It took me about a week to read it and during that time I’ve made about ten of the recipes and they were good. Plus, I learned some great cooking ‘tricks’ which was what I was hoping to get from the book.
The hard part is that the book is as hyperactive as Ferriss himself and so it goes all over the place and if you don’t want to hear about the expensive hotels he’s cooking in or be smothered by his pseudo-sophisticate tea pairings – the book can become downright annoying. This is especially true of the kindle version which doesn’t easily allow flipping back and forth. Ferriss has demonstrated the worst part about the kindle like no one else has yet been able.
Personally, I would have preferred that the book stuck to the cooking tricks. He reveals some truly great cooking ‘hacks’ and a bunch of recipes that will impress your friends. It was all there, but it was surrounded by a bunch of stuff that I simply don’t care about. I don’t care about his world record in tango, or his black belt in whatever, or his fancy billionaire dinner parties, or his inability to survive a cataclysm (which I don’t believe he believes for a second. There is no way that his ego has that sort of humility and I suspect that someone advised him to tone it down, or maybe he realized he had to do it himself.)
Tea pairings? How to build a survival hut? Guns? A bunch of expensive kitchen gear and your hunting knife collection? Honestly, I could care less about that stuff in the context of this book. Still, I’ve got to give him credit.
Back in 2003 when I wrote Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond – this was the sort of book I was shooting for, but I wasn’t writing it for people who are friends with Mark Zuckerberg that live in Silicon valley. That’s why every publisher I went to said “We love it but you’ve written it for people without money and they don’t buy books.” They were right. Later, after Katrina, I revised it to a free version with a bunch of hobo recipes in it and gave the book away as Rough Living: An Urban Survival Manual. In both cases, publishers told me I was writing for the wrong audience: people without money. Ferriss figured out how to do it – he wrote a foodie recipe book with survival skills and some cool tricks and techniques.
I can’t help wondering if he got commissions for product placement of all the expensive kitchen gear. I worked in kitchens for more than a decade and during that time I learned one thing that this book seemed to forget – a chef manages a kitchen and the kitchen staff. This book was more about learning to cook, which is fine – but being the best cook in the world won’t make you a chef and frankly, this book probably won’t make you the best cook in the world. It will help though – especially if you are the clueless guy Tim pretends to be.
I admit it – as you can tell from my review of The$100 Startup – I hate the “I was a clueless person just like you and I did it so you can too” methodology that we’ve seen more and more of since Ferriss published The 4-Hour Work Week. It’s disingenuous, it’s insulting to our collective intelligence, and it’s just not true. A 4-hour Chef? If you can do that, it’s your calling and you will be a fool to ignore it. Everything in life takes practice. There are some incredible motivational speakers out there who might be able to convince you that you can build a rocket and be the next Richard Branson – but in reality- that is almost certainly not true.
As I said at the top – I enjoyed this book. I found it to have some very useful tips in it. I recommend it as I think it’s an exceptional value for the price.
But the bragging and the expensive gear? That stuff kind of ruined the book for me. I’ve bought but haven’t read the 4-Hour Body yet, but if it’s filled with the same rich kid ingredients instead of simple, practical advice – I’m going to be disappointed by it.
The thing is – and to his credit, Ferris touches on this in the conclusion of the book – you don’t need to spend a dime on gear or equipment to be a good cook or have a nice day. My hat is off to Tim for getting this book written and finding an angle to sell it to publishers by aiming it straight at people with money – I just wish he’d focused more on the hobo stove and less on the micro-planer.
Get the book. You’ll enjoy it. Feel free to skip around – it’s better that way. I recommend the hardcover which at $21 is a complete steal. I have no idea how they did that.
The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life by Timothy Ferriss.
***By the way, I don’t really hate Tim Ferriss. I admire the hell out of him and after reading this book, I’m fairly sure that when we meet, we’re probably going to get along famously. I just hate how good he is at making difficult things look so fucking easy.