From ‘Kitchen Confidential’, by Anthony Bourdain
Read it if you are a foodie, you need no other reason.
I cannot remember when was it the first time I fell in love with food. It may have come from my deep rooted affection of yogurt since before I learnt to speak, or with the discovery of existence of coconut chutney and paper dosa in a tiny Madarasi dhaba while in 3rd grade. Food became powerful to such a great extent that my life goals began to revolve around it. Even my enthusiasm for travel comes from the understanding that a simple chane ki daal can be cooked in distinct flavors unique to different parts of our country. Notably, food is like my spirit fuel. If I even need to make my day better, all I need to do is make a good cup of coffee, and after a long day of work, it is cooking a simple but lavishly flavored chicken curry that does it for me. I am aware that I live to eat, and give the experience of eating too much importance in my life. And anyone who have even a quarter of affection for food like I do should read Kitchen Confidential. Not only is it a great insight in to the hotel and hospitality industry, but it is also an honest recollection about the experience of cooking by someone who truly understands food. Anthony Bourdain speaks to the likes of me, enticing with stories about eating real sushi in Japan, to the tricks and must dos for the cooking enthusiast. His insistence that real cooking is simple, easy and uncomplicated gave me confidence to try the oddest of dishes at home. Every time I eat a new item, somewhere in the back of my mind I analyse it like Bourdain suggested, and recreating it becomes an easy task. It should be noted that this book has no mystery, and no concrete story, and as it is about Bourdain’s experiences, it is reasonably narcissistic. But it is warm and juicy, full of laughable moments, and leads to the reader feeling hungry.
Notes from the book:
On being a writer but identifying self as a chef:
If I need a favor at four o’clock in the morning, whether it’s a quick loan, a shoulder to cry on, a sleeping pill, bail money, or just someone to pick me up in a car in a bad neighborhood in the driving rain, I’m definitely not calling up a fellow writer. I’m calling my sous-chef, or a former sous-chef, or my saucier, someone I work with or have worked with over the last twenty-plus years.”
“The restaurant lifers who read this may or may not like what I’m doing. But they’ll know I’m not lying.”
“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”
“So, it’s not Super chef talking to you here. Sure, I graduated CIA, knocked around Europe, worked some famous two-star joints in the city — damn good ones, too. I’m not some embittered hash-slinger out to slag off my more successful peers (though I will when the opportunity presents itself).”
“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.”
“My little French friends were, I was astonished to find, allowed to have a cigarette on Sunday, were given watered vin ordinaire at the dinner table, and best of all, they owned Velo Solex motorbikes. This was the way to raise kids, I recall thinking, unhappy that my mother did not agree.”
“And I had my first oyster. Now, this was a truly significant event. I remember it like I remember losing my virginity — and in many ways, more fondly.”
“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.”
Anthony notices a bride having a moment with the chef at her wedding:
“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.”
“I found for the first time that constant proximity to meat seems to inspire black humor in humans. My meat instructor would make hand puppets out of veal breast and his lamb demo/sexual puppet show was legendary. I have since found that almost everybody in the meat business is funny — just as almost everyone in the fish business is not.”
“A good line cook never shows up late, never calls in sick, and works through pain and injury.”
“No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American.”
“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.”
On the same note:
“…pride in his professionalism over an artist any day. When I hear ‘artist’, I think of someone who doesn’t think it necessary to show up at work on time.”
“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.”
“Garlic is divine. Few food items can taste so many distinct ways, handled correctly. Misuse of garlic is a crime…Please, treat your garlic with respect…Avoid at all costs that vile spew you see rotting in oil in screwtop jars. Too lazy to peel fresh? You don’t deserve to eat garlic.”
“Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”
Sometimes I mention this to vegetarians. They don’t laugh.
“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.”
This is accurate description of human bodies:
“Like I said before, your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
His experience in Tokyo:
“The first tiny plate, tentacles of baby octopus, arrived, the chef standing there while we ate, examining our reactions — which were, of course, moans, smiles, bows of appreciation and thanks. Already feeling the sake, we thanked him in French, English and bad Japanese — covering all bases. More bows. The chef removed the plates.”
“His hands moved, a few motions with a knife, and we were presented with the internal parts of a giant clam, still pulsating with life as it died slowly on our plates. Again, the chef watched as we ate. And again, we were a good audience, closing our eyes, transported.”
“I did not want to leave. I had only begun to eat. There were a million restaurants, bars, temples, back alleys, nightclubs, neighborhoods and markets to explore. Fully feeling the effects of the sake, I was seriously considering burning my passport, trading my jeans and leather jacket for a dirty seersucker suit and disappearing into the exotic East. This . . . this was excitement, romance, adventure — and there was so much more of it, too much more of it for even another month, another year, another decade to adequately contain my investigations. I knew I could live here now.
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.
It’s never a good thing when a Frenchman says ‘C’est normal.”
Advice on being a professional chef:
“I wasn’t kidding when I said earlier that, at least in the beginning, you have no rights, are not entitled to an opinion or a personality, and can fully expect to be treated as cattle — only less useful.”
“Should you become a leader, Spanish is absolutely essential.”
“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.”
“Be prepared to witness every variety of human folly and injustice.”
“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.”
“Have a sense of humor about things. You’ll need it.”
“I tend to get philosophical on Sunday mornings; it’s an activity well suited to my current physical condition, when even lighting cigarettes is difficult, and the chamber-pots my brother and I would see in the old house in La Teste sur Mer seem like an attractive and sensible option.”
“Lying in bed and smoking my sixth or seventh cigarette of the morning, I’m wondering what the hell I’m going to do today. Oh yeah, I gotta write this thing. But that’s not work, really, is it? It feels somehow shifty and . . . dishonest, making a buck writing. Writing anything is a treason of sorts. Even the cold recitation of facts — which is hardly what I’ve been up to — is never the thing itself. And the events described are somehow diminished in the telling. A perfect bowl of bouillabaisse, that first, all-important oyster, plucked from the Bassin d’Arcachon, both are made cheaper, less distinct in my memory, once I’ve written about them.”
“People confuse me. Food doesn’t. I know what I’m looking at when I see a perfect loin of number one tuna. I can understand why millions of Japanese are driven to near blood lust by the firm, almost iridescent flesh. I get why my boss grows teary-eyed when he sees a flawlessly executed choucroute garnie. Color, flavor, texture, composition . . . and personal history. Who knows what circumstances, what events in his long ago past so inspire this rare display of emotion? And who needs to know? I just know what I see. And I understand it. It makes perfect sense.”
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