The pen is mightier than the carving knife.
In 2010, Park Slope chef Michael Gibney traded in his kitchen whites for a seat in Columbia University’s creative writing program. Now he is whisking his two careers together with his new novel “Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line,” which offers an inside look at the souffle-rising highs and finger-burning lows of working in a professional kitchen.
“I wanted to demonstrate the amount of work that goes into it. It’s easy to not realize how much effort goes into every detail that goes on a plate,” said Gibney, who will release his book at PowerHouse Arena in Dumbo on April 1. “The folks behind the kitchen really care a lot and they are doing it for you, the diner.”
Gibney previously worked as the executive sous chef at Manhattan’s Tavern on the Green — one of several restaurant jobs that served as inspiration for his book. The characters in “Sous Chef” are fictionalized, he said, but they are all based on his real-life experiences.
“Every moment, every sentence, every assertion was to maintain truth and to not betray the trust of the reader,” Gibney said of the book, which has received praise from the likes of Anthony Bourdain and acclaimed Carroll Gardens writer Phillip Lopate. “There is no point where I’m fabricating things.”
Working in restaurant kitchens is not all sugar and spice, as the Brooklyn-born author learned while working as a dishwasher in an Irish pub during his teenage years. Gibney often found himself in “elbow-deep brute work,” he said — including at least one occasion when a child vomited in the pub. These messy chores provided motivation to swap the sink for the stove and climb the culinary ranks.
“I had to move up,” said Gibney.
The transition from preparing food to writing about it was not as difficult as it might sound, Gibney said, given his life-long love of literature and the creativity required for both endeavors. But moving from long shifts on his feet in the kitchen to the cerebral labor of writing proved more challenging.
“You go from being active every day to a much more quiet lifestyle,” he said. “It was kind of jarring.”
Michael Gibney releases “Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line” at PowerHouse Arena [37 Main St. between Front and Water streets, (718) 666–3049, powerhousearena.com]. April 1 at 7 pm. Free.