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The Bookshelf: Dorothy Cann Hamilton



October 29, 2009


Love What You DoAt yesterday's Beard on Books, our friend Dorothy Cann Hamilton sat down for a discussion of her new book, Love What You Do: Building a Career in the Culinary Industry. The founder of the French Culinary Institute (which turned 25 this year) and a self-described "educator," Hamilton has boundless advice and wisdom about breaking into the culinary industry, and she's managed to distill that guidance into easy-to-read and encouraging manual. After a Peace Corps stint in Thailand that left her well-fed but unemployable in the United States, Hamilton went to work as a receptionist for her father's technical school. She didn't expect to care for the job, but soon discovered that she had a natural drive for teaching and education. "I loved it. The students there were the most dynamic, vibrant people," she recalled. "We were helping them be somebody." The epiphany also presented a larger lesson: "You have to let life happen to you." Inspired to help more people find their own direction, she eventually moved on to open the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Divided into sections entitled "Deciding," "Training," and "Launching," Love What You Do emphasizes figuring out your skill set to determine which jobs will suit you. "Cooking is broad—you have to edit it down in conjunction with who you are," Hamilton explained. There are also tips on choosing a cooking school, pointers on interviewing for your first food job, and reality checks about salary ranges. And for those dark moments when the journey feels hopeless or daunting, she has a chapter on naysayers and how to wave them off. She also has a reserve of inspiring stories about individuals who have found success, including a 60-year-old empty nester who trained at FCI and now cooks at a resort in Yellowstone National Park. During the question-and-answer session, Hamilton confessed that she doesn't mind Rachael Ray and other food personalities who have grown larger than life, pointing out that their widespread presence has pulled the masses back into their kitchens. She also stressed that they have paid their dues and wield extensive knowledge. "Dan Barber's passion is vegetables—it takes a lot of technique to take a humble turnip and turn it into something delicious."