, by Anthony Bourdain
Published: US, May 2001, The Ecco Press
I'm at best an indifferent
cook; I make mean quesadillas
and black beans
) and my sandwich
es are quite aesthetic, but that's about it. I'm also not a big biography
reader, usually preferring the total disconnect
But I like good writing
. And Tony Bourdain has that strange gift for making his runaway train of thought
collide with his penchant for colourful phrases and explode into a goulash
of words that are funny, meaty
with content and informative enough that you feel like you've walked away sated
There's some stuff about food, too.
The book is composed of a series of vignettes
, a sort of dim sum
offering that gets better with each bite. While it is autobiographical
and chronological, Tony's personal life serves mostly as the background to the topics discussed. Throughout the book Mr. Bourdain covers everything and anything you ever wanted (or perhaps needed) to know about the restaurant business
, in the context of his own experiences. He doesn't hesitate to break off the personal to talk about the generic, and vice versa - a particular business practice
he's discussing may be spiced up with a personal take, so he'll fill in with that. Let's put it this way - if this book was a dish, you'd want to eat it, then ask for more.
Tony doesn't pull any punches in talking about his own experiences; as you'll find out very soon into the book, a cook is part construction yard
tough, part maximum security
inmate, part crazed junkie
, part perfectionist
and part proud craftsman
. While some cooks have more of one aspect than another, any particular kitchen will contain quite a motley crew
. Add to that the pressures of working for people with dubious past
s or questionable legal status
s that are trying to rip you off as much as you're trying to rip off them
, your boss
es constantly trying to cut costs in ways that are more harmful than helpful, all the while juggling the actual function of the ongoing struggle between the customer
s' demands and the kitchen's ability to satisfy them ... well, in the chapter "A day in the life
", we find out that Tony's 11th cigarette occurs before the earliest of the staff comes through the front door of Les Halles
, and a solid chunk of work has already been done (which isn't to say that any less will be done later).
So! To sum up; you get an autobiography of a very interesting type of man; you get several stories of the shadier side
of the kitchen business, written quite well; you'll find out more than you ever wanted about the "standard
" practices of kitchens
that you should be aware of (but probably don't want to); how to detect a doom
ed restaurant venture ahead of time, and finally, you may get a new appreciation of the cooks
that make your food. Or you may just become appalled at the practices, behaviour and language of the same people.
One of the blurb
s on the back says: "This is the kind of book that you'll rush through in one sitting, then go around spouting off entire passages to anyone who'll listen". It's true.
This book noded as a contribution to The Bookworm Turns: An Everything Literary Quest.