Somehow, someway I managed to avoid ever really working in a restaurant except for a brief stint as a waitress in a bar where all the ad guys drank every afternoon, resulting in my revelation that, “hey, that’s what I want to be when I grow up”. So the truth is that I didn’t think I’d be interested in a book written by a long time cook and chef.
And then I met Anthony Bourdain via his infectious (in the good way) Travel Channel series No Reservations. It’s fair to say that it was definitely love, or more properly lust at almost first sight. Imagine how much deeper my lust has grown now that I know he is one fine writer – and in the wordsmith-y kind of way, my absolute favorite – and that the show’s distinctive voice is all Tony? Well, it’s bone deep, honey. ‘Nuff said.
In case you don’t know Tony, he is a classic Bad Boy. He smokes. He drinks. He smirks. He loves the Ramones. And he’s just about the hottest guy over 50 that I can think of at the moment, not counting some of those pretty boy actors. Still, it’s important to note that Tony isn’t a pretty boy – his attraction is all about the you-know-he’s-bad-and-he-could-totally-take-you-there-too attitude, the smart ass humor, and the fierce intelligence oozing from every pore. And, okay, so his tall, lanky body doesn’t hurt either.
Kitchen Confidential, first published in 2000 before his TV fame, was a run-away bestseller that I’m starting to think I was one of the last people in the world to read. It’s a memoir in the classic sense in which Tony begins by telling of how he naturally came by his food obsession via his French foodie parents. What he also makes clear is that by an early age Tony was a pusher – always wanting to take everything at least one step further than anyone else. He segues into a variety of stints cooking in Provincetown and his time at the Culinary Institute of America, but most of the story centers around his 20-plus years working in New York restaurants. This is where the book really shines.
From letting the reader in on the intricacies of restaurant subculture (some of which you really don’t want to know) to capturing the macho posturing dominating most kitchens on to giving the reader a true perspective of just what a tough job it is to work in and run a restaurant kitchen, the book feels like the ultimate insiders guide to places we all visit every week, but most of us don’t really know.
Tony also doesn’t spare himself. He’s a testosterone-oozing swaggerer, an often stupid risk-taker, and a serial womanizer (read between the lines for that last one since he was still married to his first wife when he wrote the book) who got into some pretty serious trouble over the years. It’s all here. In spades.
As for that fine writing, I mentioned. There is a passage of which I am particularly fond (some of you may have seen this at the AAR blog a few weeks ago) that exemplifies just how powerful and compelling spare prose can be. Here’s Tony on the subject of middle-aged businessmen (and mid-life crisis victims) who make the lame-ass decision to get into the money-sucking restaurant business:
See, what I mean? He can write, too!
“Maybe the dentist is having a midlife crisis. He figures the Bogie act will help pull the kind of chicks he could never get when he was yanking molars and scraping plaque. You see a lot of this ailment – perfectly reasonable, even shrewd businessmen, hitting their fifties, suddenly writing checks with their cock. And they are not entirely misguided in this; they probably will get laid. The restaurant business does have somewhat more relaxed mores about casual sex, and there are a number of amiably round-heeled waitresses, most of them hopelessly untalented aspiring actresses for whom sexual congress with older, less attractive guys is not entirely unfamiliar.”
I know not everybody out there is going to buy Tony’s act. And, even if you do, you might find him, as one of my blog commenters noted, best taken in small does. As for me, I’m on a glom and about to start reading his two novels, one of which deals with the subject of – who’d a thunk it? – Typhoid Mary. And just because I’d like to keep a good thing going, if there are any romances out there with a Tony clone as the hero, could somebody let me know about them? Please?
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