Reader’s Den, Food for Thought
Finishing Up: "Kitchen Confidential"
The third course chapter of Kitchen Confidential recounts Tony's series of jobs after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America. From the fading glory with a view of the Rainbow Room to the Apocalypse Now atmosphere of Works Progress, then later to the slow failures of Tom's and Rick's Cafe, etc. Along with an increasingly fat paycheck, his stories of the various kitchens he worked in include lots of objectionable language and an atmosphere not unlike prison with macho posturing and threats. He jumped from one restaurant to the next, building up colleagues and industry secrets. During what he calls the "wilderness years," he goes on interview after interview and struggles with depression and drugs until he finally decides to climb out after being given the opportunity to work at Coco Pazzo Teatro for a man named Pino Luongo, a man whose enthusiasm for food rivaled Bourdain's own. His time at that restaurant seemed to rekindle Tony's desire for a real life in the industry.
The chapter called Dessert, chronicles a day in the life at Les Halles, where Bourdain was executive chef at the time. He details the business down to the nitty gritty, how things run smoothly, his reliance on good staff, and what everyone does on daily basis. From taking stock in the morning to deliveries in the afternoon and the dinner rush when its "Fred and Ginger time," and the chefs do a rapid dance in the kitchen to get the plates out on time. Each position is respected and its importance in the kitchen is also explained from the runners to the sous chef, who, "in an ideal situation, is closer to me than my wife."
Finally, in the last chapter, Coffee and a Cigarette, Tony pays homage to some of the more respected celebrity chefs and shall we say, more conventional management techniques. Bourdain admits that although he's written a book on what does and doesn't work in a restaurant kitchen, he says that his own brand of macho chaos (blasting Sex Pistols on cassette, cramped, crowded kitchens and encouraging locker room behavior) works for him, other successful kitchens run very differently. He says, "I've left a lot of destruction in my wake and closed a hell of a lot of restaurants." He may be akin to Hunter S. Thompson in the kitchen, but he's an entertaining and clever writer. By the end of the book, I felt like I knew him, his voice is clear and distinct.
I enjoyed the book, how about you? Did it change your willingness to eat out at a restaurant? Have you ever worked in the food industry? How do Bourdain's experiences compare with yours? Please share any comments you have below. Thanks for participating.