Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes From the World's Greatest Cooks and Chefs

Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes From the World's Greatest Cooks and Chefs

3.3 14
by Kimberly Witherspoon

View All Available Formats & Editions

Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs

A hilarious and heartening collection of kitchen disasters.

In this raucous new collection, over forty of the world's greatest chefs relate outrageous true tales from their kitchens. From hiring a blind line cook to flooding the room

See more details below


Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs

A hilarious and heartening collection of kitchen disasters.

In this raucous new collection, over forty of the world's greatest chefs relate outrageous true tales from their kitchens. From hiring a blind line cook to flooding the room with meringue to being terrorized by a French owl, these behind-the-scenes accounts are as wildly entertaining as they are revealing. A delicious reminder that even the chefs we most admire aren't always perfect, Don't Try This at Home is a must-have for anyone who loves food or is fascinated by those who masterfully prepare it.

Ferrán Adrià on when lobsters go bad
José Andrés on asking for help
Dan Barber on talking to your fish
Mario Batali on the perfect risotto
Michelle Bernstein on the many uses of chocolate
Heston Blumenthal on the angriest maître d' in England
Daniel Boulud on one thousand bowls of soup
Anthony Bourdain on beating up the customers
Jimmy Bradley on drinking games
Scott Bryan on too many salamanders
David Burke on hiding the laundry
Samuel Clark on cooking for royalty
Tom Colicchio on sneaking through customs
Scott Conant on the persistence of eels
Tamasin Day-Lewis on how not to store a pheasant
Tom Douglas on the strange destiny of snowstorms
Wylie Dufresne on birds of prey
Jonathan Eismann on the healing powers of electricity
Claudia Fleming on runaway meringue
Gabrielle Hamilton on second sight
Fergus Henderson on the far from ordinary
Paul Kahan on caller ID
Hubert Keller on tempting fate
Giorgio Locatelli on the art of the French ambush
Michael Lomonaco on feeding Pavarotti
Pino Luongo on summer school in the Hamptons
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger on getting away with it
Sara Moulton on how to destroy a food processor
Tamara Murphy on the misuses of foie gras
Cindy Pawlcyn on eating at home
Neil Perry on unexpected showers
Michel Richard on how to rescue a wayward cake
Eric Ripert on getting to the kitchen
Alain Sailhac on salty coffee and solitary confinement
Marcus Samuelsson on the languages of gelatin
Bill Telepan on the Fish Guys versus the Meat Guys
Laurent Tourondel on rib-eye rush hour
Tom Valenti on the grounds for revenge
Norman Van Aken on Key West hi-jinks
Geoffrey Zakarian on a license to eat dangerously

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Food is fast becoming entertainment, so it's only natural that it should follow in the footsteps of sports and show business and offer up a collection of bloopers. Literary agent Witherspoon and food writer Friedman corralled 40 gastronomic heavyweights to share their versions of dinners gone wrong. The highlight is, unsurprisingly, the piece by chef and bestselling author Anthony Bourdain. His "New Year's Meltdown" is a case study in what happens when you don't plan (Bourdain admits, "Nobody likes a `learning experience'-translating as it does to `a total ass-fucking'-but I learned"). Mario Batali's "The Last Straw," though not relating a culinary catastrophe per se, is runnerup: Batali was in culinary school when he clashed with a chef; in a spectacular crescendo, the chef hurled a pan of risotto at the young student, but revenge was sweet. But for every fantastic screwup, there's a dud. The translated pieces (such as the one by Spanish titan Ferr n Adri ) fail to captivate, and others, like Jimmy Bradley's tale about how he got drunk on the job to spite his boss, are neither entertaining nor instructive. Still, this collection happily reminds us that even big shots have off days. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
"A fantastic collection of personal stories that depict these great chefs as real people. Readers are certain to learn valuable culinary lessons from chefs' mistakes and their various and creatively solved dilemmas. This book is sure to be enjoyed by culinary fans across the board."
Los Angeles Times
"As in every other profession, chefs love their war stories. Finally someone had the good sense to collect some of the best in "Don't Try This at Home"... If you liked "Kitchen Confidential" for its frank behind-the-scenes glimpses of kitchen life (rather than the profanity and the heroin), you'll love this book."

Russ Parsons
Kirkus Reviews
Short tales from celebrated chefs sharing their worst moments. Take a handful of culinary masters, toss in stories of utter humiliation or heartache, and you wind up with a spicy little essay collection with a flavor not unlike that of America's Funniest Home Videos, in which the most successful vignettes are invariably those in which the subjects suffer the most. And there is plenty of room for misery in a kitchen. The collection begins with the worst day in the professional life of Ferran Adria. Dubbed "the Salvador Dal' of the kitchen" by Gourmet magazine, Adria was preparing to whip up a private dinner for 3,200 guests when he discovered that the lobsters were spoiled. A disaster, but at least he didn't get fired. Jimmy Bradley can't say the same; the NewYork-based chef and restaurant owner shares a story of how he got abysmally drunk on the job early in his career (he was a reluctant participant in a drinking game) and was summarily dismissed the next day. Wylie Dufresne (honored in 2001 as one of the best new chefs in the country by Food & Wine magazine) relates a story of being plagued during an apprenticeship in a French kitchen by an owl who decided to roost under his bed, while Food Network star Sara Moulton remembers the time she was tormented by an uncooperative food processor when she tried to impress her sister with mashed potatoes. And Anthony Bourdain, ever dependable, delivers the goods with a satisfyingly apocalyptic story about a disastrous New Year's Eve. Lots of fun for foodies both ardent and casual.

Read More

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.43(h) x 1.22(d)

Read an Excerpt


Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs


Copyright © 2005 Inkwell Management
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-59691-070-4

Chapter One

Horror in Gerona FERRAN ADRIA

Ferran Adria began his famed culinary career washing dishes at a French restaurant in the town of Castelldefels, Spain. He has since worked at various restaurants, served in the Spanish military at the naval base of Cartagena, and in 1984, at the age of twenty-two, he joined the kitchen staff of El Bulli. Only eighteen months later, he became head chef of the restaurant-which went on to receive its third Michelin star in 1997. Adria's gift for combining unexpected contrasts of flavor, temperature, and texture has won him global acclaim as one of the most creative and inventive culinary geniuses in the world; Gourmet magazine has hailed him as "the Salvador Dali of the kitchen.'"

"The lobsters are off," said the voice on the other end of the telephone.

This was not good news: Off is the word we in the culinary business use to express succinctly that something has spoiled, or gone bad in some way. Usually, when something is off, it's so far gone that you can detect it by smell alone. Indeed, tasting something that's off is often a very bad idea.

That the lobsters were off on this particular day was worse news than it would normally be. Normally, you could remove them from your menu for one night, or secure enough replacement lobsters to remedy the situation before your first customers arrived, and nobody would be the wiser.

But on the day in question, the lobsters were to be the main course of a private function we were catering: an international medical congress in Gerona, a beautiful city in northern Catalonia, near the French border. Dinner was to consist of four courses, what we called our Fall Menu: a chestnut cream and egg white starter, hot pickled monkfish with spring onions and mushrooms, and a dessert of wild berries with vanilla cream. The piece de resistance was a lobster dish garnished with a cepes carpaccio and a salad with Parmigiano and a pine nut vinaigrette.

And there was another detail that made the lobster news particularly alarming.

The dinner was to serve thirty-two hundred people.

When chefs have nightmares, it's moments such as these that play out in our heads. Unfortunately, I was wide awake and the situation was very, very real.

A banquet for thirty-two hundred people was not something I did every day. Never in my twenty-five years as a chef had I catered for anywhere close to such numbers. Our routine at El Bulli is fifty people a night. Admittedly, we serve fifteen hundred dishes at each sitting, but still, going from fifty to thirty-two hundred is like jumping out of a warm, familiar bath into an icy hurricane sea.

Naturally, our kitchen at El Bulli wasn't up to the task. So, to ensure ample space, we commandeered three production centers: two vast kitchens nearby in Gerona and one in Barcelona. In addition, we hired plenty of extra help; more than a hundred people were on the job. But even if we'd had a thousand people on board, that wouldn't have prevented the lobsters from going bad.

I received the lobster call at 8:00 a.m. on November 18, 1995-a date forever imprinted in my memory-and was instantly plunged into a state of fear, uncertainty, and panic the likes of which I have never experienced in my professional life, and hope never to experience again. The call came from the Barcelona kitchen, ironically situated in the city aquarium, right on the waterfront.

It wasn't just some of the lobster that was off; practically our entire stock had fermented overnight: 80 percent of our lobster haul was unusable, inedible, unfit for human consumption-never mind in any state to grace a dish prepared by the chefs of what was then a two-star Michelin restaurant.

How could this have happened?

To maximize efficiency, we had shared out different tasks among the three production centers. The chief task of the aquarium team was to clean, boil, and cut the lobster, before dispatching it to Gerona by road for assembly on the plate alongside the carpaccio and the salad. They had already done the cleaning and boiling and cutting-three pieces of lobster per dish-the night before, and the idea was that we'd simply load it all onto a van the next morning and off we'd go. Consequently, the lobster, all cut up and ready, had been placed inside white polystyrene containers until morning. We'd never done such a thing on such a scale and we supposed this was the right thing to do. The thermal containers insulated the lobster from the outside temperature, which seemed like a perfectly good idea; indeed it was a good idea-at least for the hot road trip north to Gerona. When it came to the refrigerator, however, the night before, it was an absolute calamity. Inside the containers, the lobster pieces were also insulated from the cold of the refrigerator. And so, while we had carefully refrigerated the lobster, none of the cold could actually get through the polystyrene to reach the lobster-which consequently remained at room temperature all night. Room temperature, for that length of time, was the lobsters' ruin.

So, as you can see, it was the end of the world, the end of civilization as we know it. My first reaction-which I imagine is the first reaction of anyone, in any context, on receiving catastrophic news-was, "It's not possible. I cannot believe it. It cannot be true. Tell me, please tell me it's a bad joke." Once I had digested the indigestible and acknowledged that it was, indeed, true, that I was awake and so it was actually a lot worse than a nightmare, I proceeded to descend into despair. As second by mortifying second passed, the implications of what had happened sank in deeper: thirty-two hundred mouths to feed in thirteen hours' time and the chief raw material of our main dish missing! I kept asking myself, "What are we going to do? What the hell are we going to do? How in God's name are we going to manage now?"

But then, with my heart still hammering at a hundred kilometers an hour, I thought, Okay, calm down. This is probably an absolutely hopeless case ... but maybe there is something we can do, maybe we'll get lucky. Maybe there will be a miracle. So I started to think and think, trying to come up with ways to get around this. Though the one thing I knew for sure was that, whatever finally happened, ahead of me lay the most excruciatingly stressful day of my life.

The first and foremost question, of course, was how were we going to find the one thousand lobsters we needed-yes, a thousand-in time to get them cleaned, cooked, delivered to Gerona (more than two hours away), and ready for consumption by nine o'clock that same night. So, amid the utter chaos of it all, I gave the order, "Let's hunt down every last lobster in this city! Let's get them all until not one is left!" We got on the phone and called everyone and anyone who could possibly have a stock of fresh lobster ready to go. "How many have you got? You've got fifteen? Great! Hold them, we'll go and collect them now ... How many have you got? Twenty-five! Fantastic! Can you bring them over? Perfect." After a frantic rush of phone calls, we assembled a team of ten people in the aquarium kitchen-most of them having imagined that their work had been over the day before-to clean, boil, and cut up the lobsters as they arrived.

By late morning, we realized that five hundred lobsters was the maximum that we were going to get. So what to do? Simple. Here was the solution: reduce the contents of each dish by one piece of lobster, from three to two. That allowed us to stretch the utility of the 20 percent that had not gone off overnight and to fill the quota we needed, especially as the happy news filtered down from Gerona around lunchtime-this did help bring the temperature down a bit, at last-that a few hundred participants of the medical congress would be going home early, and the total number of dishes required had fallen below the three thousand mark.

By 11:00 a.m. we had our first batch ready, a hundred or so lobsters' worth. Off went the first vanload to Gerona. There was some slight relief at its departure, but it was mostly overshadowed by the suspense, the worry that the van might break down or crash or God knows what. In those days, we didn't have mobile phones. You couldn't keep track of the van's progress the way you could now. So what happened was that the van driver, under strict orders to reassure us, would phone us at intervals-the team in Barcelona and the two kitchens in Gerona-from a highway cafe or gas station to let us know that he was making progress, that he was edging his way up to his destination. "It's okay. Ali's well. I'm on my way. Relax, guys!" We would all cheer with relief. But between calls, it was hell. After what had happened, we were preconditioned for disaster. If anything could go wrong, we imagined, it would.

And yet, miraculously, it didn't. Five vanloads of chopped lobster successfully made it from the Barcelona aquarium to Gerona-each time inspiring the same drama of anxiety and reassuring phone calls-and finally, at about six in the evening, we looked at the dish, reduced to two pieces of lobster but beefed up with an extra helping of cepes carpaccio, and knew that, barring the habitual worries that always loom for a chef at this time of night, the immediate crisis was over. We had survived.

And, in the end, I learned some lessons from all this. First, never store things that need to be cold inside a fridge in closed polystyrene containers. Second, keep a closer eye on things, especially when you have so much to do in so little time, when your available reaction time, in case things go wrong, is drastically reduced. When you're feeding up to two hundred people there's a certain amount of flexibility built in, some room to maneuver. More than two hundred and you're in a totally new space. The logistical dimension of the exercise becomes so much more unwieldy.

The final and most valuable lesson I learned is that every day you start fresh. I know it sounds trite, maybe even foolish, but it's true. Every day is a new challenge, a new adventure, and you must never be complacent; you must be constantly on your toes, ready to deal with the unexpected, ready to respond-with as cool a head as you can-to whatever surprise comes.

(Translated from the Spanish and co-written with John Carlin)

All by Myself JOSE ANDRES

Jose Andres was born in Asturias, Spain, and attended Escola de Restauracio i Hostalatge de Barcelona, apprenticing at restaurant El Bulli under celebrated master chef and mentor Ferran Adria. In 1990, Andres moved to New York City to work for the Barcelona-based restaurant El Dorado Petit. In 1993, he moved to Washington, D.C., to become a chef and partner of Jaleo Spanish restaurant. He has since opened two more Jaleo locations, and serves as executive chef-partner of Cafe Atlantico and Zaytinya, as well as the much-lauded six-seat minibar within Cafe Atlantico. In 2004, he opened Oyamel, a Mexican small-dishes restaurant. In 2003, the James Beard Foundation named Andres Best Chef/Mid-Atlantic Region. His first cookbook, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, debuts fall 2005.

When I was fifteen years old, I spent the summer working in a small restaurant in Roses, north of Barcelona, called L'Antull, that's no longer there. It was a traditional Spanish fish restaurant, and in the middle of the dining room was a tank in which we kept wild striped bass and live lobsters from the Bay of Roses.

Striped bass need room to swim, and this fish tank certainly gave it to them. It was enormous, and in comparison to the tiny dining room-we had only about forty seats-the tank seemed even bigger than it actually was, totally dominating the space. All day the bass would swim laps in the water, propelling themselves from one end of the tank to the other, gracefully turning, and swimming back, while the lobsters rested on the floor beneath them-an exciting, mesmerizing display.

In addition to the many fish dishes we prepared, we also made traditional Catalan dishes, like canelones, our version of the Italian cannelloni. L'Antull's canelones were so popular that a lot of people who never ate in the restaurant would order them to go, especially for large parties.

To prepare the canelones, we would arrange the boiled pasta shells on a big tray, top them with grated Parmesan and bechamel, and finish them under the salamander, a big, open-sided broiler, to melt the cheese and cook the cream.

One Sunday, a customer came in and placed a take-out order of canelones for twenty-four people. On Sunday mornings, it was just me and the chef, Pere. Because I had been cooking all my life, I was already very capable at all the things we had to do-shop, clean fish, cook paellas and other traditional dishes-so Pere tended to leave me on my own. Unconcerned, he told me to make the large order and pack it up for the customer, and then he went off to finish something else.

We had an incredibly long, thin stainless-steel tray in the kitchen, and I decided to use it to bake the canelones in one shot. I arranged about seventy-five little pasta cylinders on the 1 1/2-meter-long tray, then topped them evenly with cheese and the creamy white bechamel. Beautiful!

The tray was so long that you had to put it under the salamander in three stages-broiling one end, then pushing the tray through so the middle was under the heat, and then finally doing the other side-cooking the canelones in thirds.

For a little kid, this was hard work. I started off on one side of the machine, and had to quickly run around it to hold the tray by the hot end while the final third was cooking.

Once the entire tray had been broiled, my next task was to pack up the canelones for our customer. I lifted the steaming hot tray, balanced it on a kitchen towel atop my open left palm, and steadied it with my right hand, also protected by a towel.

Now, remember, I'm just fifteen years old, so the tray was disproportionately big on me. As I struggled to keep my balance in the kitchen, the tray wobbled dangerously on my shoulder. I looked like a tightrope walker staggering on the line.

Pere noticed this and asked, "Jose, you want me to help you?"

What fifteen-year-old boy would admit defeat?

"No, no. I'm fine," I said.

"You're sure?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine," I insisted, as I continued to wrestle with the tray. Pere shook his head skeptically. You didn't have to be a wise man to know that trouble was on the horizon.

Finally, I got the tray steadied and started to leave the kitchen. I gently kicked the swinging doors open with one foot and stepped hastily through them and out into the dining room, the doors swinging shut safely behind me.

As a waiter passed in front of me, however, I stepped back to avoid a collision, and the doors, still swinging slightly, struck the edge of the tray, propelling it forward.

Things started to happen very quickly: I ran along under the length of the tray to keep up with it. But I got too far ahead of it and it started to tip backward, so I backed up. Then it tipped to the side ...

I couldn't win. No matter which way I turned, I was either moving too far or not far enough. And the tray was lurching ever-forward, toward the center of the dining room, where the aquarium stood right in my path.

Finally, I just couldn't control it anymore. The tray tipped forward and off of my hands and slid right into the fish tank. A cloud of steam hissed up out of the water as hot met cold, and the water turned a milky white as the cheese and bechamel dissolved. Inside, the striped bass began voraciously attacking the sinking canelones, having a real feast.

I began to laugh at the sight of it, until Pere started screaming at me, telling me what an idiot I was for not letting him help. He apologized to the customer and sent him home, telling him that we would deliver the food to his house.

But it ended up being not such a terrible thing. I made another batch, and this time the canelones made it out of the restaurant and to their destination without incident. And I learned one of the great lessons of the kitchen: What you can do by yourself you should do by yourself. But it's just as important to recognize when you need help and to ask for it.


Excerpted from DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME Copyright © 2005 by Inkwell Management. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >