Book Review
Title: "The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything and Living the Good Life"
Author: Tim Ferriss
Publisher: New Harvest, 2012; 672 pages; $21

I’ve never been a big action movie fan. But I’ve had to make an exception for the latest slew of superhero films. And apparently, I’m not the only one: Christian Bale’s "Batman," the "Iron Man" franchise, Marvel Comics’ "The Avengers" — this generation of superheroes is fundamentally different than those of years past, and those differences have captivated the world.

I think it boils down to the fact that these 21st-century superheroes are really just humans, humans with intense equipment (Tony Stark), special training (Batman and Natasha Romanov from "The Avengers"), or seriously great manners, morals and stay-put hair (Captain America), but humans, nonetheless.

These heroes are all very flawed and very emotional — that makes us relate to them much more than the superheroes of yesteryear. And their relatability, in turn, causes us to wonder, as we watch them, deep in the backs of our minds: What if we could push the boundaries of our abilities, the boundaries of our possibilities? What could we do? Who could we save? What could we solve?

How could our own lives be different?

Enter Tim Ferriss, with a pretty compelling spectrum of answers to these questions. This is the same Tim Ferriss who condensed a crushing workload into a four-hour workweek with some smart organization and a few offshore personal assistants, so he could travel the world, break some world records and chronicle his adventures for us in his first book.

Yes, the same Tim Ferriss who implanted a glucose meter in his body, then hacked and tracked nearly everything about his health to bring us the time-efficient weight and wellness management programs of his last book, "The 4-Hour Body."

Ferriss is back, with a new book, "The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life." And this time, Ferriss aims to show us all, yes, how to cook like we’ve been to culinary school with minimal time and resources. More importantly, though, "The 4-Hour Chef" is Ferriss’ 700-page primer on how to learn to do anything you want to do at a world class level, without the time, money or genes you might think it takes to truly excel at something.

"The 4-Hour Chef" is Ferriss’ magnum opus. True to form, he tracks his own culinary evolution, from his lifelong apathy to cooking anything to hobnobbing with the likes of Alice Waters and replicating Michelin-starred entrees in his hotel bathroom, and shares what he gained along the way: values for whole, fresh and beautifully prepared foods and the hacks that make them feasible for us all.

Google "Tim Ferriss" and "peel eggs" to find the YouTube video that just about summed up his pre-enlightenment cooking skills. He also paints a Technicolor picture of the turn his "digitally depressed" life took after he got cooking, promising readers that "the awareness we build in the kitchen and in related adventures will affect everything. Life itself becomes high-definition."

But before he even gets to all the food stuff (pun fully intended), Ferriss devotes an exciting, meaty chunk of "The 4-Hour Chef" to the best recipe in the book, the details of the system he’s honed for learning any skill in record time: the system he calls "meta-learning."

Ferriss surfaces a series of stunning stories of regular, relatable people — himself included — who have quickly skyrocketed from novice to world-class levels of skill at a variety of fields, from shooting three-pointers in a weekend to foreign languages in three months, applying the same speedy meta-learning basics. He tells us about the Japanese YouTube phenom who has achieved near-Phelpsian times despite lacking a swimmer’s build, having a day job and not having learned how to swim until he was almost 40 years old.

Here are the four components of Ferriss’ meta-learning system, which he refers to by the acronym DiSSS:

Deconstruction: "What are the minimal learnable units, the LEGO blocks, I should be starting with?"

Selection: "Which 20 percent of the blocks should I focus on for 80 percent or more of the outcome I want?"

Sequencing: "In what order should I learn the blocks?"

Stakes: "How do I set up stakes to create real consequences and guarantee I follow the program?"

Thus starts the 200-page odyssey into meta-learning that Ferriss presents at the outset of the book. Overall, the book is divided into five parts, thoughtfully organized and modularized so that you can smartly choose your own path through the book. It is also designed — as is the meta-learning DiSSS system — to obliterate the most common "failure points," the things that derail the novice who is trying to become great at learning facts or skills like cooking, fast.

If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to have learning, skill-building and life-transforming superpowers, "The 4-Hour Chef" is your personal superhero handbook — even if you have zero interest in cooking.  

Want more? Tim and I sat down to chat about the book and things like possibility, becoming world-class and "decision fatigue" in more depth. Watch the three-part video interview series on my Facebook page or at

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