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23 March 2013

The 4-Hour Chef by Tim Ferriss

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muay_timFalling somewhere on the scale between oddity and prodigy, Tim Ferriss is at it again with his third book of “personal experiments on lifestyle design.” First, he explored the realms of time and business in his book The 4-Hour Workweek. Next, he took physique to extreme levels of reader discomfort and follower transformation in The 4-Hour Body. Now, he breaks down cooking (among other skills) in a shoebox-sized reference book entitled, The 4-Hour Chef. Perhaps the most unusual in the series, the subtitle reads, “The Simplest Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life.”

Tim promises to teach others “how to become world-class in any skill in record time.” Just making such a claim promises not only book sales, but also skeptics galore. Using cooking as a vehicle, Tim gets behind the wheel to teach his readership how to speak a foreign language in 3 months, how to sink a three-pointer in 48 hours, and how to memorize a deck of playing cards in 60 seconds. Because each activity requires steps, or a recipe, the book is really just a tool for acquiring any skill. “Yes, I’ll teach you all the most flexible techniques of culinary school using 14 strategically chosen meals, all with 4 or fewer ingredients, and all taking 5-20 minutes to prepare [literally four hours],” says Tim. “But I wrote this book to make you a master student of all things.”

Next, the young author promises that eating, if not life itself, will become high-definition, rather than black and white. For this claim, he remarks on the unrefined palates that most of us have come accustomed to these days. Food is either good or bad. Meals are hot or cold. Tastes are spicy or sweet. To learn flavors, Tim encourages readers to try techniques like smelling food like a dog, deconstructing food, or to try food combinations, among others. Whenever skepticism creeps it’s way over your shoulder, Tim tosses in a few science experiments to ease your mind. If you’re having trouble picturing yourself sniffing like a bloodhound, the writer informs us that flavor is 10 percent taste and 90 percent smell. “Even if you never cook, smelling your food before eating will radically change how you experience flavor.” Personally, I’d still recommend trying this technique at home before taking it out on the road.

Cooking is a “force multiplier” for improving your sex life or rekindling old flames. There are meal plans for first dates, long-term relationships and plain ol’ seduction. On page 234, the “MLBJ” provides a 90-minute meat loaf recipe in colorful display and even suggests the ambiance of “I Would Do Anything For Love” by [the other] Meat Loaf. The “Sexy-Time Steak” on page 186 can be sizzling on a plate in 35 minutes and only requires a probe thermometer, a cast-iron skillet, tongs and Justin Timberlake’s “SexyBack.” For the herbivores out there with a sauce-tooth, there’s the “Crunchy Bloody Mary” on page 390 that combines celery, tomato juice, Worcestershire and vodka into a frozen treat that looks like a watermelon and bites like a kamikaze.

If you’re confused, you should be. This book has a little bit of everything and merely disguises itself as a cookbook. Tim promises a lot and most people avoid drastic lifestyles or even minute changes that effect the norm. It’s OK to avoid the extreme and it’s OK to stick to the basics. But, it’s just OK. For those who want a little more, Tim’s book provides recipes, lessons, the ideology and lesson plan to meta-learning, the 80/20 keys to the culinary kingdom, farm-to-plate appreciation, scientific reasoning, garbage-can-clambakes, bacon-infused bourbon, and lots more. While it looks like a textbook, The 4-Hour Chef is really a choose-your-own-adventure book and the experiences are limitless to those willing to climb aboard, get their hands dirty, and learn with an open mind.

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