So, You Want to Be a Chef?
How to Get Started in the World of Culinary Arts
Be What You Want series
Beyond Words/Aladdin, October 2013
If your child or teen is often caught watching cooking shows, they’re not alone. In 2010, Melissa Kossler Dutton on ParentDish.com wrote, “Every month, 12 million children ages 2 to 17 watch the Food Network.” What would be better than a gift book that answers many of the questions your child may have about working in the food industry?
This book is a page-turner. It’s so full of intriguing information, presented in small bites, easy for even the most reluctant reader to gobble down. There are intriguing facts, historical tidbits, advice about creating menus, terms and definitions, lists of essential tools, quick quizzes, and Seasoned Profiles, interviews with people who are swept up in their lives as chef, caterer, restaurant owner, baker, restaurant reviewer, food scientist, food photographer … sharing with the reader how they got started and what keeps them passionate about what they do. And there are recipes!
We asked the author, J.M. Bedell, to satisfy our curiosity about several aspects of So, You Want to Be a Chef?.
Q: Did you conceive of this book or did a publisher invite you to write it?
A: I was conversing with my editor one day about the e‑book release of my first book Finding Courage: History’s Young Heroes and Their Amazing Deeds. She mentioned the Be What You Want series and I offered to send her some title ideas. Being a chef was on my list, so when the time came for her to find an author for that title, she offered it to me.
Q: Did you have an inspiration for writing about the culinary arts?
A: Nope. It was a voyage of discovery. Once I knew I had the title, I jumped in with both feet and researched the dickens out of the subject. It was amazing how willing people were to help. Each person I talked to added to my knowledge and led me to some of the interesting intersecting careers and culinary tidbits of information.
Q: Do you watch cooking shows on television?
A: No. I’ve never enjoyed reality programs. I’d rather watch stories. Give me a good mystery or a comedy and I’m happy. However, I did LOVE watching old episodes of the British sitcom Chef!
Q: Are you a good cook?
A: Double NO! The standing joke in our family is that if it doesn’t have a hint of carbon in it, mom didn’t make it. No joke. I burn things all the time and one year I actually blew up Christmas dinner. I made chicken enchiladas and after I took them out of the oven, they exploded! Enchiladas everywhere, from ceiling to floor. I’ll never live that one down.
Q: The format for this book is well-done. Bravo! Every time the reader turns three or four pages, there’s another segment of the book. You’ve broken it into chapters by specific jobs, but there are several segments in each chapter. What was your process for deciding on the format?
A: Thanks! The book had to have twelve chapters, ten on the subject and the resources and glossary chapters. Within each chapter, there needed to be two interviews, one from an adult and one from a young person. They also wanted something in each chapter that required reader involvement like quizzes or activities. Besides those three criteria, the rest was up to me.
The chapter topics came easily since there is a clear differentiation in responsibilities in the kitchen. The interesting tidbits came as I did the research. They just popped up. For example, I wondered what was with those crazy chef hats! And, being a history buff, I immediately investigated and discovered their origin.
Q: Did you interview in person the many people included in this book, or was it a phone call or an e‑mail?
A: I used all three methods. If the interviewee didn’t want to write out their answers in an email, I conducted the interview in person or on the phone. Six or seven were done this way. For the rest, email was the preferred method of communication. I will admit that having my questions answered in an email saved me a ton of time. I was glad so many were willing to do that. An in-person or on-the-phone interview, including taking notes and writing up their responses, takes many hours where emailed answers only took simple editing and quick back-and-forth emails for clarification.
Q: How did you find the people to interview?
A: I found most of the kids online. Only Dominick Cura was a lead from a friend. For the adults, I found them online and through suggestions from friends and family. I tried to choose individuals with interesting careers, ones that don’t come up in casual conversation. Who knew you could make a living photographing food?
The most fun was talking to the White House and working on an interview with the White House chef. Unfortunately, the scheduling never worked out because it was late October and he was too busy with all the events leading up to the election.
I guess timing is everything. While working on setting up that interview, I ran across an article about Roland Mesnier. He had worked in the White House for over 25 years. When he agreed to the interview, I thought, “Things happen for a reason. This interview is even better!” I think Roland’s life shows my young readers that if you work hard, you can realize your dreams and build a great career.
Q: What was the one thing you learned while writing this book that stands out in your mind?
A: That no one achieves success in life without a mentor. Every person I interviewed had someone—friend, parent, sibling—who encouraged, prodded, or even outright pushed them to succeed. Not one person got to where they were by sitting back and waiting for someone to magically recognize their talent. It’s a lesson to young people starting out—find a mentor and work hard; and it’s a lesson to those in the profession—be a guide and mentor, it’s rewarding.
Q: How long did it take you to do the research for this book?
A: Oh, my! I was on a really tight deadline. I started in late September and had to have the draft in by mid-November. I think it was eight or nine weeks. I had a wonderful assistant for a couple of weeks and that really helped. We worked hard on getting the skeleton of the book down, lining up interview possibilities and coming up with activities for each chapter. I spent so many hours at my computer that for the last week, I had to sit in my recliner, laptop on my lap, because my bum was so sore. I was promised more time for the next book!
Q: Once you had all of your information together, what tools did you use to organize it?
A: I used huge Post-It Notes® and hung them on the wall. Then I read a lot of culinary arts material (online and in books) and wrote down all the careers I could find. Once I had a list, I divided the careers into ten chapters. After that, I put up ten Post-It Notes® and started writing down ideas for what should be included in each chapter. Since I live in a log house, which doesn’t have a lot of smooth walls, most of the chapter sheets were stuck to the windows and patio doors. Our house looked very strange for a few months.
Throughout the research and interviewing process, I kept paper files filled with the information I included in each chapter and notes about ideas for possible inclusion. Those files were important because I needed to keep track and cite all my sources.
Then I started to write. The placement of information happened organically. I put segments where I thought it made the most sense. I guess I was right since the editors kept my placements.
Q: Are you intrigued enough by another profession to write a second book in this series?
A: I’ve written a number of nonfiction books and would love to work on another title in this series. I enjoy the challenge and the thrill of hunting for ideas. The editors are clever and always come up with interesting titles, so I’m sure one of them will intrigue me. I’ll keep you posted and hopefully you’ll like my next one as much as you liked Chef.
This book is written for teens, but I believe a motivated 9‑year-old would chew through the real-life stories and background dish that author J.M. Bedell writes so skillfully.
I loved this book and I know I’ll go back and re-read parts of it. It’s a Dip Book, you can dip in and out of the tasty parts. This goes on my holiday gift-giving list for children, teens, and adults who imagine that they could have their own cooking show one day!
Learn more about author J.M. Bedell on her website.