Cooks' Books

Super Chef: The Making of the Great Modern Restaurant Empires By Juliette Rossant (Free Press, $25 hardcover) An interesting premise that fails in the execution, Super Chef profiles five powers: Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Palmer, Todd English, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, and Tom Colicchio. The author focuses much too breathlessly on their celebrity and glosses over their failures, which comes from being too friendly with her subjects. Clearly, Rossant will do no harm to "Wolf" or "The Girls," and her work suffers for it. The book does offer some gabby fun facts: English is the rock-and-roll chef on MTV, and Milliken and Feniger started with only women as business partners. And oh, how the critics rave over Colicchio's innovative kitchen, which makes the diner a partner with the chef! And just look at the fortune spent to decorate Wolf's new place! Having whetted our appetite, Rossant skimps on the really savory facts; she introduces the chefs after they've already attained Super-dom. One wonders: What set these chefs apart originally? How does the business of restaurants work (aside from getting customers to invest, and hitting the golf course with the money people)? To read Super Chef is to discover that Puck's ObaChine failed in Seattle primarily because it was boycotted over the print hanging above the reception desk (a Chinese man with exaggerated features in servant's clothing). Not to worry; Rossant knows Puck won't be scarred. "The true mark of a Super Chef," she writes, "is to risk mistakes, learn from them, and move forward." JOANNE GARRETT

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