Anthony Bourdain

{EN} Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain

1. “Of course, there’s every possibility this book could finish me in the business. There will be horror stories. Heavy drinking, drugs, screwing in the dry-goods area, unappetizing revelations about bad food-handling and unsavory industry-wide practices. Talking about why you probably shouldn’t order fish on a Monday, why those who favor well-done get the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel, and why seafood frittata is not a wise brunch selection won’t make me any more popular with potential future employers. My naked contempt for vegetarians, sauce-on-siders, the ‘lactose-intolerant’ and the cooking of the Ewok-like Emeril Lagasse is not going to get me my own show on the Food Network.”

2. “And I’ve long believed that good food, good eating is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates’, food, for me, has always been an adventure.”

3.”Scrubbing pots and pans, scraping plates and peeling mountains of potatoes, tearing the little beards off mussels, picking scallops and cleaning shrimp did not sound or look attractive to me. But it was from these humble beginnings that I began my strange climb to chefdom. Taking that one job, as dishwasher at the Dreadnaught, essentially pushed me down the path I still walk to this day.”

4.”While her new groom and family chawed happily on their flounder fillets and deep-fried scallops just a few yards away in the Dreadnaught dining room, here was the blushing bride, getting an impromptu send-off from a total stranger. And I knew then, dear reader, for the first time: I wanted to be a chef.”

5. “My torment, my disgrace was complete. After a few days of sulking and self-pity, I slowly, and with growing determination, began to formulate a plan, a way to get back at my tormentors. I would go to school, at the Culinary Institute of America-they were the best in the country and certainly none of these P-town guys had been there. I would apprentice in France. I would endure anything: evil drunk chefs, crackpot owners, low pay, terrible working conditions; I would let sadistic, bucket-headed French sous-chefs work me like a Sherpa . . . but I would be back. I would do whatever was necessary to become as good as, or better than, this Mario crew. I would have hands like Tyrone’s and I would break loudmouth punks like myself over the wheel like they’d broken me. I’d show them.”

6.”‘You are a shit chef!’ he would bellow. ‘I make two cook like you in the toilette each morning! You are deezgusting! A shoe-maker! You have destroyed my life! . . . You will never be a chef! You are a disgrace! Look! Look at this merde . . . merde . . . merde!’ At this point, Bernard would stick his fingers into the offending object and fling bits of it on the floor. ‘You dare call this cuisine! This . . . this is grotesque! An abomination! You . . . you should kill yourself from shame!’

7.”What most people don’t get about professional-level cooking is that it is not at all about the best recipe, the most innovative presentation, the most creative marriage of ingredients, flavors and textures; that, presumably, was all arranged long before you sat down to dinner. Line cooking-the real business of preparing the food you eat-is more about consistency, about mindless, unvarying repetition, the same series of tasks performed over and over and over again in exactly the same way. The last thing a chef wants in a line cook is an innovator, somebody with ideas of his own who is going to mess around with the chef’s recipes and presentations.”

8.”The ability to ‘work well with others’ is a must. If you’re a sauté man, your grill man is your dance partner, and chances are, you’re spending the majority of your time working in a hot, uncomfortably confined, submarine-like space with him. You’re both working around open flame, boiling liquids with plenty of blunt objects at close hand-and you both carry knives, lots of knives. So you had better get along. It will not do to have two heavily armed cooks duking it out behind the line over some perceived insult when there are vats of boiling grease and razor-sharp cutlery all around.”

9.”I can break down line cooks into three subgroups. You’ve got your Artists: the annoying, high-maintenance minority. This group includes specialists like pâtissiers (the neurologists of cooking), sous-chefs, butchers, garde-manger psychos, the occasional saucier whose sauces are so ethereal and perfect that delusions of grandeur are tolerated. Then there are the Exiles: people who just can’t make it any other business, could never survive a nine-to-five job, wear a tie or blend in with civilized society-and their comrades, the Refugees, usually emigres and immigrants for whom cooking is preferable to death squads, poverty or working in a sneaker factory for 2 dollars a week. Finally, there are the Mercenaries: people who do it for cash and do it well. Cooks who, though they have little love or natural proclivity for cuisine, do it at a high level because they are paid well to do it-and because they are professionals. 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. And I’ll generally take a stand-up mercenary who takes pride in his professionalism over an artist any day.”

10.”I never order fish on Monday, unless I’m eating at Le Bernardin-a four-star restaurant where I know they are buying their fish directly from the source. I know how old most seafood is on Monday-about four to five days old!”

11.”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. I love mussels. But in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them. More often than not, mussels are allowed to wallow in their own foul-smelling piss in the bottom of a reach-in. Some restaurants, I’m sure, have special containers, with convenient slotted bins, which allow the mussels to drain while being held-and maybe, just maybe, the cooks at these places pick carefully through every order, mussel by mussel, making sure that every one is healthy and alive before throwing them into a pot. I haven’t worked in too many places like that. Mussels are too easy. Line cooks consider mussels a gift; they take two minutes to cook, a few seconds to dump in a bowl, and ba-da-bing, one more customer taken care of-now they can concentrate on slicing the damn duck breast. I have had, at a very good Paris brasserie, the misfortune to eat a single bad mussel, one treacherous little guy hidden among an otherwise impeccable group. It slammed me shut like a book, sent me crawling to the bathroom shitting like a mink, clutching my stomach and projectile vomiting. I prayed that night. For many hours. And, as you might assume, I’m the worst kind of atheist.”

12.”You see a fish that would be much better served by quick grilling with a slice of lemon, suddenly all dressed up with vinaigrette? For ‘en vinaigrette’ on the menu, read ‘preserved’ or ‘disguised’.”

13.”While we’re on brunch, how about hollandaise sauce? Not for me. Bacteria love hollandaise. And hollandaise, that delicate emulsion of egg yolks and clarified butter, must be held at a temperature not too hot nor too cold, lest it break when spooned over your poached eggs. Unfortunately, this lukewarm holding temperature is also the favorite environment for bacteria to copulate and reproduce in. Nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order. Most likely, the stuff on your eggs was made hours ago and held on station. Equally disturbing is the likelihood that the butter used in the hollandaise is melted table butter, heated, clarified, and strained to get out all the breadcrumbs and cigarette butts. Butter is expensive, you know. Hollandaise is a veritable petri-dish of biohazards.

14.”I will eat bread in restaurants. Even if I know it’s probably been recycled off someone else’s table. The reuse of bread is an industry-wide practice. […] Okay, maybe once in a while some tubercular hillbilly has been coughing and spraying in the general direction of that bread basket, or some tourist who’s just returned from a walking tour of the wetlands of West Africa sneezes-you might find that prospect upsetting. But you might just as well avoid air travel, or subways, equally dodgy environments for airborne transmission of disease. Eat the bread.”

15.”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. The body, these waterheads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold. Oh, I’ll accommodate them, I’ll rummage around for something to feed them, for a ‘vegetarian plate’, if called on to do so. Fourteen dollars for a few slices of grilled eggplant and zucchini suits my food cost fine.”

16.”Commercially available chickens, for the most part (we’re not talking about kosher and expensive free-range birds), are loaded with salmonella. Chickens are dirty. They eat their own feces, are kept packed close together like in a rush-hour subway, and when handled in a restaurant situation are most likely to infect other foods, or cross-contaminate them. And chicken is boring. Chefs see it as a menu item for people who don’t know what they want to eat.”

17.”Shrimp? All right, if it looks fresh, smells fresh, and the restaurant is busy, guaranteeing turnover of product on a regular basis. But shrimp toast? I’ll pass. I walk into a restaurant with a mostly empty dining room, and an unhappy-looking owner staring out the window? I’m not ordering shrimp.”

18.”The key is rotation. If the restaurant is busy, and you see bouillabaisse flying out the kitchen doors every few minutes, then it’s probably a good bet. But a big and varied menu in a slow, half-empty place?”

19.”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.”

20.”Watchwords for fine dining? Tuesday through Saturday. Busy. Turnover. Rotation. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best nights to order fish in New York. The food that comes in Tuesday is fresh, the station prep is new, and the chef is well rested after a Sunday or a Monday off. It’s the real start of the new week, when you’ve got the goodwill of the kitchen on your side. Fridays and Saturdays, the food is fresh, but it’s busy, so the chef and cooks can’t pay as much attention to your food as they-and you-might like.”

21.”I will continue to do my seafood eating on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, because I know better, because I can wait. But if I have one chance at a full-blown dinner of blowfish gizzard-even if I have not been properly introduced to the chef-and I’m in a strange, Far Eastern city and my plane leaves tomorrow? I’m going for it. You only go around once.”

22.”Global makes a lot of knives in different sizes, so what do you need? One chef’s knife. This should cut just about anything you might work with, from a shallot to a watermelon, an onion to a sirloin strip. Like a pro, you should use the tip of the knife for the small stuff, and the area nearer the heel for the larger. This isn’t difficult; buy a few rutabagas or onions-they’re cheap-and practice on them. Nothing will set you apart from the herd quicker than the ability to handle a chef’s knife properly. If you need instruction on how to handle a knife without lopping off a finger, I recommend Jacques Pepin’s La Technique.”

23.”A proper sauté pan, for instance, should cause serious head injury if brought down hard against someone’s skull. If you have any doubts about which will dent-the victim’s head or your pan-then throw that pan right in the trash.”

24.”Shallots. You almost never see this item in a home kitchen, but out in the world they’re an essential ingredient. Shallots are one of the things-a basic prep item in every mise-en-place-which make restaurant food taste different from your food. In my kitchen we use nearly 20 pounds a day. You should always have some around for sauces, dressings and sauté items.”

25.”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. In a professional kitchen, it’s almost always the first and last thing in the pan. We sauté in a mixture of butter and oil for that nice brown, caramelized color, and we finish nearly every sauce with it (we call this monter au beurre); that’s why my sauce tastes richer and creamier and mellower than yours, why it’s got that nice, thick, opaque consistency.

26.”Roasted garlic. Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly. Misuse of garlic is a crime. Old garlic, burnt garlic, garlic cut too long ago, garlic that has been tragically smashed through one of those abominations, the garlic press, are all disgusting. Please, treat your garlic with respect. Sliver it for pasta, like you saw in Goodfellas, don’t burn it. Smash it, with the flat of your knife blade if you like, but don’t put it through a press. I don’t know what that junk is that squeezes out the end of those things, but it ain’t garlic. And try roasting garlic. It gets mellow and sweeter if you roast it whole, still on the clove, to be squeezed out later when it’s soft and brown.”

27.”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?”

28.”I have met and worked for the one perfect animal in the restaurant jungle, a creature perfectly evolved for the requirements of surviving this cruel and unforgiving business, a guy who lives, breathes and actually enjoys solving little problems like the ones above. He is a man who loves the restrictions, the technical minutiae, the puzzling mysteries of the life as things to be conquered, outwitted, subjugated. He rarely invests his own money, but he always makes money for his partners. He never goes anywhere and never does anything except what he’s good at, which is running restaurants. He’s good. He’s so good that to this day, more than ten years after I stopped working for the man, I still wake up every morning at five minutes of six, always before the alarm, and I’m never late to work. Why? Because to disappoint the man-not to live up to his shining example of total involvement would be, even now, treason to my trade. I became a real chef-meaning a person capable of organizing, operating and, most important, leading a kitchen-because of the man. He taught me everything really important I know about the business. He, more than anyone else I encountered in my professional life, transformed me from a bright but druggie fuck-up into a serious, capable and responsible chef. He made me a leader, the combination of good-guy bad-guy the job requires. He’s the reason I am never off sick, go to sleep every night running tomorrow’s prep lists and menus through my mind. He’s also the reason I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and know everything there is to know about everyone I work with, why my purveyors cringe when they get my call, and why my wife has to remind me when I get home from work that she’s my wife and not an employee. Let’s call him Bigfoot.”

29.”It was, as I’ve said, hot. Ten minutes into the shift, the cheap polyester whites we all wore would be soaked through with sweat, clinging to chest and back. All the cooks’ necks and wrists were pink and inflamed with awful heat rashes; the end-of-shift clothing change in the Room’s fetid, septic locker-rooms was a gruesome panorama of dermatological curiosities. One saw boils, pimples, ingrown hair, rashes, buboes, lesions, and skin rot of a severity and variety you’d expect to see in some jungle backwater. And the smell of thirty not very fastidious cooks-their sodden work boots and sneakers, armpits, cologne, fungal feet, rotten breath-and the ambient odor of moldering three-day-old uniforms, long-forgotten pilfered food stashes hidden in lockers to which the combination was unknown, all combined to form a noxious, penetrating cloud that followed you home, and made you smell as if you’d been rolling around in sheep guts.”

30.”at every opportunity, he’d take a running swat between my cheeks, driving his fingers as far up my ass as my checked pants would allow. I endured this in the spirit of good fun for a while-until I’d had enough. There was a lot of ass-grabbing and ball-fondling going on, after all, and I did want desperately to be one of the guys. But Luis had generally knocked off a half a fifth of cooking brandy by ten each morning, and as his drunken advances threatened to become actual penetration, I was moved to take drastic action.”

31.”I had to prepare a cold buffet and two hot entrees, which I’d then serve and maintain from noon to three. This was no easy feat, as the buffet was comprised solely of leftovers from the previous night’s service. I’d begin each morning at seven-thirty pushing a little cart with wobbly casters down the line, where the cooks would hurl hunks of roast pork, end cuts, crocks of cooked beans, overcooked pasta, blanched vegetables and remnants of sauces at me. My job was to find a way to make all this look edible. I have to say, I did pretty well, using every dirty trick I’d learned at CIA. I turned leftover steaks into say, Salade de Boeuf en Vinaigrette, transformed dead pasta and veggies into festive pasta salads, made elaborately aspic’d and decorated trays out of sliced leftover roast. I made mousses, pâtés, galantines, and every other thing I could think of to turn the scrapings into something our aged but wealthy clientele would gum down without complaint. And then, of course, I’d don a clean jacket and apron, cram one of those silly coffee filter-like chef’s hats on my head, and stand by a voiture, slicing and serving the hot entrees.”

32.”We experimented constantly, finding to our delight that not only did the sweet dough look like flesh when shaped and colored correctly, but it drew flies like the real thing! Left overnight at room temperature, Dimitri’s fake digits could develop into a truly horrifying spectacle.”

33.”The entire staff outside of the kitchen was gay, a situation I was entirely comfortable with after Vassar, Provincetown, the West Village and SoHo. The gossipy, self-effacing, overtly queer atmosphere was not only fun but, in many ways, completely in line with the gossipy, self-effacing, overtly depraved world of chefs and cooks. The waiters and bartenders could always be counted on for funny personal anecdotes of sexual misadventures-particularly as this was the early ’80s-and they were always willing to share, in hilarious and clinical detail, their excesses of the previous night.”

34.”I was condemned to become Mr Travelling Fixit, always arriving after a first chef had screwed things up horribly, the wolves already at the door. I was more of an undertaker than a doctor; I don’t think I ever saved a single patient. They were terminal when I arrived; I might, at best, have only prolonged their death throes.”

35.”One day I simply turned to the GM and said, ‘I quit,’ and it was over. I slept for three weeks. When I woke up, I was determined never again to be a chef. I’d cook. I had to make money. But I would never again be a leader of men. I would never again carry a clipboard, betray an old comrade, fire another living soul.”

36.”I watch the local news and weather with my wife, noting, for professional reasons, any major sporting events, commuter traffic and, most important, the weekend weather forecast. Nice crisp weather and no big games? That means we’re going to get slammed tonight.”

37.”Dinner-tasting for the floor staff is at five-thirty, when the heavy-hitting veteran waiters have arrived. They fall on the family gruel and the tasting plates like rabid jackals. It’s never pretty watching waiters eat; you’d think they had no money the way they dive into any available trough.”

38.”Why do I, a fairly educated sort of a swine, take such unseemly pleasure in the guttural utterances of my largely uneducated, foul-mouthed crews? Why, over the years, have my own language skills become so crude and offensive that at family Christmas I have to struggle to not say, ‘Pass the fuckin’ turkey, cocksucker’? I dunno. But I do love it.”

39.”Why did God, in all his wisdom, choose Adam to be the recipient of greatness? Why, of all his creatures, did He choose this loud, dirty, unkempt, obnoxious, uncontrollable, megalomaniacal madman to be His personal bread baker? How was it that this disgrace as an employee, as a citizen, as a human being-this undocumented, untrained, uneducated and unwashed mental case who’s been employed (for about ten minutes) by every kitchen in New York-could throw together a little flour and water and make magic happen? And I’m talking real magic here, people. I may have wanted Adam dead a thousand times over. I may have imagined, even planned his demise-torn apart by rabid dogs, his entrails snapped at by ravenous dachshunds, chained to a pillory post and flogged with chains and barbed wire before being drawn and quartered-but his bread and his pizza crust are simply divine. To see his bread coming out of the oven, to smell it, that deeply satisfying, spiritually comforting waft of yeasty goodness, to tear into it, breaking apart that floury, dusty crust and into the ethereally textured interior . . . to taste it is to experience real genius. His peasant-style boules are the perfect objects, an arrangement of atoms unimprovable by God or man, pleasing to all the senses at once. Cezanne would have wanted to paint them-but might not have considered himself up to the job. Adam Real-Last-Name-Unknown may be the enemy of polite society, a menace to any happy kitchen, a security risk and a potential serial killer, but the man can bake. He’s an idiot-savant with whom God has serious, frequent and intimate conversations. I just can’t imagine what He’s telling him-or whether the message is getting garbled during transmission.”

40.”The whole world of cooking is not my world, contrary to what impression I might have given you in the preceding pages. Truth be told, I bring a lot of it with me. Hang out in the Veritas kitchen, take a hard look at Scott Bryan’s operation, and you will find that everything I’ve told you so far is wrong, that all my sweeping generalities, rules of thumb, preconceptions and general principles are utter bullshit. In my kitchens, I’m in charge, it’s always my ship, and the tenor, tone and hierarchy-even the background music-are largely my doing. A chef who plays old Sex Pistols songs while he breaks down chickens for coq au vin is sending a message to his crew, regardless of his adherence to any Escoffier era merit system. A guy who employs, year after year, a sous-chef like Steven Tempel is clearly not Robuchon-or likely to emulate his successes. It is no coincidence that all my kitchens over time come to resemble one another and are reminiscent of the kitchens I grew up in: noisy, debauched and overloaded with faux testosterone-an effective kitchen, but a family affair, and a dysfunctional one, at that. I coddle my hooligans when I’m not bullying them. I’m visibly charmed by their extra-curricular excesses and their anti-social tendencies. My love for chaos, conspiracy and the dark side of human nature colors the behavior of my charges, most of whom are already living near the fringes of acceptable conduct. So, there are different kinds of kitchens than the kinds I run.”

41.”As Scott well knows-and would be the first to admit-as soon as you pick up a chef’s knife and approach food, you’re already in debt to the French. Talking about one of the lowest points in his career, a kitchen in California, he described going home every night ‘ashamed, and a little bit angry’, because ‘the technique was bad . . . it wasn’t French!'”

42.”So did I, at that point in my career. I was good! I’d been to France. I had a CIA diploma-at a time when that was a pretty rare and impressive credential. So, what the hell happened? How come I’m not a three-star chef? Why don’t I have four sommeliers? Well, there are lots of reasons, but one reason is that I went for the money. The first chef’s job that came along I grabbed. And the one after that and the one after that. Used to a certain quality of life-as divorcees like to call it, living in the style to which I’d grown accustomed-I was unwilling to take a step back and maybe learn a thing or two. Scott was smarter and more serious. He was more single-minded about what he wanted to do, and how well he wanted to do it. He began a sort of wandering apprenticeship, sensibly designed to build experience over a bank account. He came to New York and went to work for Brendan Walsh.”

43.”I wandered the streets, gaping, my stomach growling, looking for somewhere, anywhere to sit down and have coffee, something to eat. God help me, I settled for Starbucks.”

44.”One could, Philippe had explained before leaving me off at Roppongi Crossing, borrow money to get home from almost any policeman if drunk and unexpectedly short of funds. The idea of not returning the next day to repay the debt was, in typically Japanese thinking, unthinkable.”

45.”So you want to be a chef? You really, really, really want to be a chef? If you’ve been working in another line of business, have been accustomed to working eight-to-nine-hour days, weekends and evenings off, holidays with the family, regular sex with your significant other; if you are used to being treated with some modicum of dignity, spoken to and interacted with as a human being, seen as an equal-a sensitive, multidimensional entity with hopes, dreams, aspirations and opinions, the sort of qualities you’d expect of most working persons-then maybe you should reconsider what you’ll be facing when you graduate from whatever six-month course put this nonsense in your head to start with.

46.”At the base of my right forefinger is an inch-and-a-half diagonal callus, yellowish-brown in color, where the heels of all the knives I’ve ever owned have rested, the skin softened by constant immersions in water. I’m proud of this one. It distinguishes me immediately as a cook, as someone who’s been on the job for a long time. You can feel it when you shake my hand, just as I feel it on others of my profession. It’s a secret sign, sort of a Masonic handshake without the silliness, a way that we in the life recognize one another, the thickness and roughness of that piece of flesh, a résumé of sorts, telling others how long and how hard it’s been.”

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