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Book Review

Rick Tramonto's "Scars of a Chef"

Jennifer E. Jones

Contributing Writer

Chef. Restaurateur. TV Personality. Cookbook Author. When it comes to all things culinary, Rick Tramonto is king. He can look downright menacing with his broad tattooed arms, but he’s quick with a disarming smile. With appearances on The Food Network, Bravo’s Top Chef series and the Today show, he’s fast becoming a household name as a celebrity chef with an empire to match. It’s been a long road, full of twists, turns, burns and scars and now fans of Tramonto can read about his journey to the top in Scars of a Chef, the autobiography that tells the tales behind the tattoos.

Scars of a Chef goes all the way back to Tramonto’s childhood in Rochester, New York. Raised in an Italian family, he was immersed in the world of Sunday dinners and he jumped into the kitchen as soon as his hands could form a meatball. His youth was violent and troubled, and he was introduced to drugs and alcohol early as a way to cope with an unstable home life. He was a lost and angry teenager headed for a hopeless future until he discovered his love for making food while working at a Wendy’s.
That love took Tramonto far beyond his humble beginnings. He worked like a warrior in the battle zone of high-end New York City kitchens, across the pond in Europe and eventually built the restaurants that he’s known for today, such as Trio and Tru in Chicago. In Scars of a Chef, readers get to see him as an apprentice under the watchful eye of master chefs and then see him develop into a leader in his own kitchens.

The book also chronicles Tramonto’s spiritual life, as he grew from a young man grappling with his faith to his rededication as an adult. Every chapter begins with a corresponding Bible verse, revealing how a man working in one of the harshest industries learns step by step to lean on God for his strength and guidance.

Home cooks can read this book and get more than just a story. Every chapter also comes with a recipe from Tramonto’s arsenal of cooking expertise. The dishes range in complexity from simple meatballs to the difficult, multi-page Roasted Stuffed Veal Loin.

Scars is not for the casual appreciator. Those who will truly enjoy this book likely fall into one or couple of these categories: true foodies, aspiring and professional cooks, avid fans of Tramonto and those who love chef biographies, such as Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. This book gets into the grit of what it is to work in big restaurant kitchens. You see a man relentlessly chase his culinary dreams at the expense of his health, his marriage, and at times his own sanity, which many high-profile chefs would say is par for the course in the food industry. It shows what it takes to reach the top and it’s not always pretty.
Despite its darker moments, what this book has that so many culinary biographies don’t is a distinct faith journey. Tramonto is far from a perfect man, and in that, readers have an identifiable hero. They find a man who struggles and triumphs in his Christian walk just like everybody else. It holds a certain comfort and makes Tramonto likable even when he’s tossing cooks out of his kitchen.

Scars of a Chef is a food lover’s delight and an insider’s look at the sweat and tears that are required to be successful chef. Rick Tramonto has earned every scar and tattoo he bears and he shows them proudly for the world to see. They tell a story of what hard work, determination, and the grace of God can do for a man with a dream.

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