I read this book back in December 2014. I had enjoyed Bourdain’s TV shows and somewhere I read Neil Peart pay compliments to Bourdain as a writer. Having never worked in food service, and not much of a “foodie”, I was completely oblivious to the ubiquitous, if slightly underground, culture of restaurant kitchens. I had never heard of a “sous-chef” before. This book was not only educational, but very well-written. Like every great writer, Bourdain could take his specific stories and extract out universal lessons.
The world isn’t quite as cool without Bourdain.
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Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me . . . and others. This was valuable information.
Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman — not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen — though not designed by them. Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying.
Good food and good eating are about risk. Every once in a while an oyster, for instance, will make you sick to your stomach. Does this mean you should stop eating oysters? No way. The more exotic the food, the more adventurous the serious eater, the higher the likelihood of later discomfort.
there are some definite dos and don’ts I’ve chosen to live by. I never order fish on Monday,
I know how old most seafood is on Monday — about four to five days old!
I don’t eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef personally, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service.
Brunch menus are an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights or for the scraps generated in the normal course of business.
For ‘en vinaigrette’ on the menu, read ‘preserved’ or ‘disguised’.
One other point about brunch. Cooks hate brunch. A wise chef will deploy his best line cooks on Friday and Saturday nights; he’ll be reluctant to schedule those same cooks early Sunday morning,
I won’t eat in a restaurant with filthy bathrooms. This isn’t a hard call.
buy up what’s left at rock-bottom prices. The next folks to arrive will be the cat-food people. Think about that when you see the ‘Discount Sushi’ sign.
Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.
And chicken is boring. Chefs see it as a menu item for people who don’t know what they want to eat.
Look at your waiter’s face. He knows. It’s another reason to be polite to your waiter: he could save your life with a raised eyebrow or a sigh. If he likes you, maybe he’ll stop you from ordering a piece of fish he knows is going to hurt you.
He wants you to be happy on Tuesday night. On Saturday, he’s thinking more about turning over tables and getting through the rush.
Like I said before, your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.
We are, after all, citizens of the world — a world filled with bacteria, some friendly, some not so friendly. Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s?
Please believe me, here’s all you will ever need in the knife department: ONE good chef’s knife, as large as is comfortable for your hand.
retiring their Wusthofs and replacing them with the lightweight, easy-to-sharpen and relatively inexpensive vanadium steel Global knives, a very good Japanese product which has — in addition to its many other fine qualities — the added attraction of looking really cool.
Shallots. You almost never see this item in a home kitchen, but out in the world they’re an essential ingredient.
Butter. I don’t care what they tell you they’re putting or not putting in your food at your favorite restaurant, chances are, you’re eating a ton of butter.
Margarine? That’s not food. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter? I can. If you’re planning on using margarine in anything, you can stop reading now, because I won’t be able to help you.
Roasted garlic. Garlic is divine.
That dried sawdust they sell in the cute little cans at the super market? You can throw that, along with the spice rack, right in the garbage. It all tastes like a stable floor. Use fresh! Good food is very often, even most often, simple food. Some of the best cuisine in the world — whole roasted fish, Tuscan-style, for instance — is a matter of three or four ingredients. Just make sure they’re good ingredients, fresh ingredients, and then garnish them. How hard is that?
Bigfoot understood — as I came to understand — that character is far more important than skills or employment history.
Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance, as they say in the army — and I always, always want to be ready. Just like Bigfoot.
a sad lesson that has served me well in decades since: I learned to recognize failure. I saw, for the first time, how two beloved, funny and popular guys can end up less beloved, not so funny and much less popular after trying to do nothing more than what their friends told them they were good at.
‘You know, Anthony,’ he said, ‘I have many, many enemies. It’s good, sometimes, to have enemies — even if you don’t know who they are. It means you are… important. You must be important… important enough to have an enemy.’
Having a sous-chef with excellent cooking skills and a criminal mind is one of God’s great gifts.
I appreciate people who show up every day and do the best they can, in spite of borderline personalities, substance abuse problems and anti-social tendencies; and I am often inclined to give them every opportunity to change their trajectories, to help them to arrive at a different outcome than the predictable one when they begin visibly to unravel.
Be fully committed. Don’t be a fence-sitter or a waffler. If you’re going to be a chef some day, be sure about it, single-minded in your determination to achieve victory at all costs.
Learn Spanish! I can’t stress this enough.
Don’t steal. In fact, don’t do anything that you couldn’t take a polygraph test over. If you’re a chef who drinks too many freebies at the bar, takes home the occasional steak for the wife, or smokes Hawaiian bud in the off hours, be fully prepared to admit this unapologetically to any and all.
Always be on time.
Never make excuses or blame others.
Never call in sick. Except in cases of dismemberment, arterial bleeding, sucking chest wounds or the death of an immediate family member. Granny died? Bury her on your day off.
Lazy, sloppy and slow are bad. Enterprising, crafty and hyperactive are good.
Be prepared to witness every variety of human folly and injustice. Without it screwing up your head or poisoning your attitude. You will simply have to endure the contradictions and inequities of this life.
Assume the worst. About everybody. But don’t let this poisoned outlook affect your job performance. Let it all roll off your back. Ignore it. Be amused by what you see and suspect. Just because someone you work with is a miserable, treacherous, self-serving, capricious and corrupt asshole shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying their company, working with them or finding them entertaining.
Try not to lie.
Forgot to place the produce order? Don’t lie about it. You made a mistake. Admit it and move on. Just don’t do it again. Ever.
Avoid restaurants where the owner’s name is over the door. Avoid restaurants that smell bad. Avoid restaurants with names that will look funny or pathetic on your resume.
Think about that resume! How will it look to the chef weeding through a stack of faxes if you’ve never worked in one place longer than six months?
Read! Read cookbooks, trade magazines — I recommend Food Arts, Saveur, Restaurant Business magazines.
Some awareness of the history of your business is useful, too.
- Have a sense of humor about things. You’ll need it.