|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
From the Cassette edition.
Hometown:New York, New York
Date of Birth:June 25, 1956
Date of Death:June 8, 2018
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Place of Death:Kaysersberg-Vignoble, Haut-Rhin, France
Education:High school diploma, Dwight Englewood School, 1973; A.O.S. degree, The Culinary Institute of America, 1978
When I wrote Kitchen Confidential, I was still working the line. I'd get up at 5 or 6 in the morning, light up a smoke, and start typing. I'd try to get in a couple of hours at the computer, then I'd drag a razor across my face, hail a cab and go straight to work. Usually, I'd work the sauteacute; station for lunch, do my orders in the afternoon, then hang around until nine or ten expediting. The chapter, Day In The Life is a pretty accurate representation of a typical Friday for me at that time.
So I didn't have time to craft artful lies and evasions even if I'd wanted to. I wasn't intending to write an exposeacute;, didn't want to "rip the lid off the restaurant business" and frankly couldn't have cared less about recycled bread or the whole "fish on Monday" thing. I was not -- and am not -- an advocate for change in the restaurant business. I like the business just the way it is. What I set out to do was write a book that my fellow cooks and restaurant lifers would find entertaining and true. I wanted it to sound like me talking, at say..ten P.M. on a Saturday night, after a busy dinner rush, me and a few cooks hanging around the kitchen, knocking back a few beers and talking shit. You will notice that the tone of the book is blustery, that there is rather more than a little testosterone on the page, that I make the occasional sweeping generalization. That was entirely intentional. Chefs, on occasion, are guilty of such things. I had no expectation that anyone -- other than a few burnt-out line cooks, curious chefs and tormented loners would ever read the thing.
Those who did read the book, I was determined, would not be saying, "This is bogus, mann..!" I did not want my colleagues wondering "What cooks talk like this? This is bullshit! Who is this fucking guy?" I wanted to write in Kitchenese, the secret language of cooks, instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever dunked french fries for a summer job, or suffered under the despotic rule of a tyrannical chef or boobish owner. I wanted my little memoir/rant to reflect the somewhat claustrophobic world-view of the professional cook -- that slightly paranoid, fiercely territorial mix of pride and resignation which allows so many of us to get up every morning and do the things we do. I did, to be honest, understand that there would be members of the general public upset by some of the things I talked about. The adversarial way we cooks tend to look at the civilians who fill our dining rooms, if desribed honestly, was bound to cause unhappiness - and a lot of people would rather not talk about some of the corner-cutting and "merchandising" so many of us have seen on our way up and way down the greasy pole. I just didn't care. I even liked the idea -- of goosing the general public a little. I hadn't really written the book for them anyway. This book was for cooks. Professional cooks.
The new celebrity chef culture is a remarkable and admittedly annoying phenomenon. While it's been nothing but good for business -- and for me personally, many of us in the life can't help snickering about it. Of all the professions, after all, few people are less suited to be suddenly be thrown into the public eye than chefs. We're used to doing what we do in private, behind closed doors. We're used to using language that many would find..well...offensive, to say the least. We probably got in the business in the first place because interacting with normal people in a normal workspace was impossible or unattractive to us. Many of us don't know how to behave in public -- and don't care to find out. Fans of our many TV chefs, and the multitudes of people identified as "foodies" have come to believe, it appears, that chefs are adorable, cuddly creatures who wear spotless white uniforms and are all too happy to give them a taste of whatever they're whipping up at the time. The truth, as professionals well know, us somewhat different. What's been lost in all this food-crazy, chef and restaurant-obsessed nonsense is that cooking is hard -- that the daily demands of turning out the same plates the same way over and over and over again require skills other than -- and less telegenic than -- catch-phrases and a talent for schmoozing.
"What has reaction been from your peers?" was the most asked question in the flurry of media attention that followed the publication of this book "Benedict Arnold! Alger Hiss" shrieked some writers. So-called "restaurant insiders" and "foodies" were said to be outraged. The truth? I have never had so many free meals and free drinks come my way in my life. Chefs who only a few months earlier I would not have considered myself worthy of laundering their socks, greeted me warmly, insisted on dragging me in to their kitchens to commiserate with their staffs. On book tour -- all over the US and United Kingdom -- in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Philly, DC, Boston -- in London, Glasgow, rural Bristol, Manchester, and elsewhere -- chefs and cooks would turn out for signings to say hello, share stories, lure me away to buy drinks. After too many meals on planes or out of hotel mini-bars (the book tour diet), I'd slip off to a restaurant in a strange city, sit down at the bar, order a beer and an appetizer - and strange and wonderful things would happen; amuse geules would appear, one course after another, appropriate glasses of wine, little tastes of cheese, desserts. I'd look over towards the kitchen, and some wise-ass cook - a total stranger would be giving me the thumbs-up from behind the kitchen door. Slophouses and temples of haute cuisine alike -- both here and abroad -- I'd see the same expressions on cooks' faces -- that wary, cynical, expect-the-worst-and-you'll-never-be-disappointed look so familiar to so many of us.
Yet, all of them were friendly.
And there were moments of real irony and wonder: One day, in my kitchen at Les Halles, the phone rang and some French guy is talking to me, inviting me up to his restaurant to meet, talk, have a little lunch. "Who is this?" I inquired. " It's Eric Ripert," the voice said. My knees turned to custard. This was like -- like...Joe Di Maggio calling up to say "Let's throw the ball around the back yard together, sport." Things were different, boy...I could see that now -- I got my heroes calling me up. Andre Soltner, funnily enough, after my assertion that he would most definitely not be inviting me on any ski weekends, in fact did invite me skiing. (Babe Ruth on line one!). Bob Kinkead, in spite of my egregiously misspelling his name in the hardback edition, was wonderful to me as soon as I wandered into his restaurant, and plied me with spectacular food. Norman Van Aken came calling, congratulated me and shared some stories of his own early years in the Wilderness. (He also asked me nicely to lay off his pal Emeril -- who, he informed me, is actually a very sweet, soft spoken guy who can actually cook). Gary Danko fed me for free. I don't think he'd read the book, but his cooks, a particularly piratical mob of pierced and scarred hooligans, seemed to like the book -- so he extended me great courtesy. Chefs with whom I'd thought I'd had nothing in common showed me there is indeed a shared mindset, an appreciation of the dark and adrenelin-jacked culture we all share.
I found myself the poster boy for bad behavior in the kitchen.
I'm asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it's this: To be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one's hands -- using all one's senses. It can be, at times, the purest and most unselfish way of giving pleasure (though oral sex has to be a close second).
Things are different now. I've changed. I've had to. I've learned, God help me, to behave -- for somewhat more extended periods of time than I'm used to. I can speak in sound bites when called upon to do so. I know what "back-end" and "points" refer to -- kind of. I have health insurance for the first time in my life. I'm actually current on my rent. And sadly, I work much, much less in my beloved kitchen at Les Halles. If I've betrayed anybody in my profession -- it's my cooks, who I feel I've abandoned as I swan around the world flogging my books on television. For a while, it looked like my tiny kitchen was going to be the most photographed part of America -behind Dealey Plaza. Angel, my garde-manger briefly considered getting a publicist, and Manuel, the fry guy, can now light a room, ("Try the peenk gel chef!") and every cook in my kitchen knows just when to suck in their gut for the camera. I'm the chef I always hated as a cook, always coming from or going to someplace else. My hands -- which I'm so proud of in the final pages of the book--are soft and lovely now--like a little baby girl's.
I comfort myself that I was reaching the end of my usefulness as a line cook anyway. Too old, my knees getting bad from all those knee-bends into the low-boys, my expediting abilities diminished with age and the ravages of alcohol. They were going to be hauling me off to the glue factory anyway one of these days, I like to tell myself. Where the old chefs go. (What happens to old chefs anyway? Where do they go? I always imagined a scenario like in Goodfellas, you know--"Tony, you sit in the front seat there. Good. Let Steven sit in the back." Then BOOM! Two behind the ear. No such luck. Old chefs sell out. Or they die.)
Fortunately, the important people in my life have been completely unimpressed by swinging new Hefneresque vida loca, . " Hey, baby! I'm on CNN tonight! I'm a best-selling motherfuckin' author!" I'll tell my wife, who inevitably responds, " Yeah yeah yeah. What's on CourtTV?" Steven will call from Florida after yet another segment showing me grimacing at the camera and warning the dining public about the dangers of brunch. "You are soooo gay," he'll say. "You suck, dude." Then he'll turn up the volume on some fucking Billy Joel or Elton John song he's got on the radio -- just cause he knows how much I hate that shit.
Easily, the happiest development to come from all of this unexpected notoriety is the cooks I've been able to meet. The recognition that this thing of ours is worldwide -- that the outlaw spirit survives -- even in the kitchens of the best of chefs -- that somewhere, in the darkest part of their hearts, all cooks know how different they are from everybody else, and relish their apartness.
This book was a nice-sized score for me, after a long life living hand-to-mouth, bouncing around from restaurant to restaurant, hustling a living, any hopes of ataining the peaks of Culinary Olympus long abandoned. "Nice to see one of the home team win one," said a cook in Boston. The only people who seem to really hate me for this book are the folks who write articles on mayonnaise and "fun with french fries" for a living -- and of course vegetarians -- but they don't get enough animal protein to get really angry. Chefs and cooks -- even waitrons have been wonderful. I'd forgotten when I wrote this thing, how many people work in the restaurant business -- and as signifigantly, how many have at one time or another worked in the business. And whether they're now sitting behind a desk or piloting their own Lear jet, many of them apparently miss it. It was the last time they could say what they wanted in the workplace. The last time they could behave like savages, go home feeling proud and tired at the same time. The last time they could fuck somebody in the linen closet and have it not mean anything too serious. or stay out all night and wake up on the floor. The last time they found themselves close with people from every corner of the world, of every race, proclivity, religion and background. The restaurant business is perhaps, the last meritocracy -- where what we do is all that matters. I'm not even out of the life and I miss it already. I think I'll swing by Les Halles and do a little expediting. I feel safe there.
This is for the cooks.
November 20, 2000 New York City
Most Helpful Customer Reviews