Category Archives: Nonfiction

Review: A Geek in Japan by Hector Garcia

Review: A Geek in Japan by Hector Garcia

I dug out my Kyon to pose beside the book. He does not approve of this foolishness.

A slightly different version of this review first appeared in the San Francisco Book Review last November 17, 2011. 


Some subtitles can be misleading. For instance, “Discovering the Land of Manga, Anime, Zen and the Tea Ceremony” hardly scratches the surface of the real contents of A Geek in Japan. This colorful book discusses several salient points of Japanese culture. It’s a great resource for someone who has minimal knowledge of this Asian nation.

Presented with numerous photos of Japanese life—both common and rarely seen scenes—the book is engrossing and easy to read. It attempts to explain everything to the novice, from the symbolism in Buddhist temples to the proper way of handing over a business card. It is especially insightful on Japanese verbal and nonverbal language, and how it is to be a foreigner living and working in Japan.

For some geeks obsessed with robots and manga, this book may not be encyclopedic enough. For a volume that’s slim enough to slip into a carry-on bag, however, it has valuable information that can save an executive or a tourist from a major faux pas. While not a traditional guidebook, A Geek in Japan certainly makes a reader want to hop on a plane to experience everything firsthand.

Review: The Professional Chef (9th Edition)

Review: The Professional Chef (9th Edition)

For the sake of my own archives, I will start reposting recent pieces written for the San Francisco Book Review. On occasion I might add some additional material that I may have left out due to space and time constraints.

A slightly different version of this review first appeared last November 3, 2011. 


I took my own advice. The Professional Chef now shares shelf space with my other favorite cookbooks.

Weighing seven pounds and six ounces, is the new edition of The Professional Chef a heavyweight worthy of shelf space? Should a person buy it if he has the revised editions of everything from Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking to Larousse Gastronomique? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. To a casual cook, the sheer volume of material can be daunting. Yet to any reader with dreams of becoming a professional, this book is an excellent start on the path of culinary greatness.

Students and restaurateurs should consider investing in this tome written by the Culinary Institute of America. The beautiful photos serve as a visual reference to almost all available ingredients in North America and as a refresher course on techniques. Indeed, reading through this book reminded this reviewer of her grueling months in culinary school. Methods for fundamental recipes are described both in detail and in “at a glance” sections, making the book easy to use no matter how much time you have.

A casual cook may be surprised by some of the proportions. Like other cookbooks designed for professionals, recipes (like for soups and salad dressings) are meant to supply a banquet. Happily, a lot of the entrées can serve ten to twelve people. While it’s too heavy to bring along on a daily commute or to even read in bed, The Professional Chef is an essential manual for aspiring and experienced cooks. It’s time to make space on the shelf.