Scars of a Chef, by Rick Tramonto with Lisa Jackson
[Note: Full disclosure: Tyndale House Publishers provided me a copy of this book for free since I am a member of the Tyndale Blog Network. This has not influenced in any way my review of this book.]
This book is a helpful way of defining the line between a memoir and an autobiography. In an autobiography, the author is the subject of the book, which tends to lead to bloated and self-congratulatory volumes where the author/subject makes themselves into a more significant figure than he is in reality, hides embarrassing truths, and generally presents a whitewashed view of himself. In a memoir, however, the author is less important than the experiences and times and situations of the book, allowing him to present himself as he is with less of an ego and with an honest and candid warts-and-all approach. This book is an excellent and page-turning example of a warts-and-all memoir of the experiences of one Rick Tramonto, celebrity chef.
One might think that the author of this book exaggerated in the title by calling it Scars of a Chef. The book, however, lives up to its title in a very nuanced and accurate fashion. In a mostly chronological fashion (aside from starting at “The End” (the name of the book’s prologue), Tramoto (helped by his co-writer Lisa Jackson) provides an account of cyclical crises and success stories, with difficulties of communication, learning disabilities, a deeply troubled childhood, drug addiction, workaholic tendencies, and numerous business failures, along with the failure of a marriage balancing out the rising success of an ambitious man determined to make his name in the cutthroat world of high-class cuisine.
Whether Tromono is speaking about his early experimentation in weed and other drugs, the squabbles of his parents (including his father’s time in jail for embezzling union funds), or talking about the details life as a poissonier at a three-star restaurant, the book is gripping, with a combination of pertinent detail and an economy of words that introduces no superfluous characters or unnecessary diversions from the point of how a troubled young man found God and success as a chef. The chapters of the book as a whole are organized in sections titled: “The Early Years,” “Culinary High School,” “Culinary College,” Culinary Grad School,” and “The Real World,” there is an educational theme (related to a culinary education) present in the narrative. Since each chapter opens with a biblical verse and closes with a recipe that is thematically related to the subject of the chapter, the book is unified organically by food as well as faith.
Overall, the book is a very successful one. It is a candid and honest account of a chaotic life filled with ups and downs and serious problems. Tramonto clearly has struggled with some mighty demons over the course of his life. By showing himself tattoos and scars and all, as well as providing the name of his co-writer (instead of using a silent ghostwriter as is the usual habit with celebrity memoirs), Tramonto establishes credibility with his readers and provides a very excellent and deeply moving account of a worthwhile life. By sharing his own life and its ups and downs, Tramonto gives the reader hope that any failure can be overcome with future success, and any problem can be solved with the help of God and the support of friends. That this book manages to convey very hard truths about the importance of parental examples for better or ill and the sustaining value of friendships and family and faith without doing so in a heavy-handed manner makes this book even more useful to a wide audience that shares the author’s faith and love of food. This audience should not prove difficult to find, or please.