Thursday, November 12, 2009

is bourdain still required reading?

As the current culinary climate keeps shifting toward the young, passionate cooks, eager to progress and re-imagine what their mentors have taught them by being respectful of others, focused on a common goal and mindful of their behavior, there seems to be no room (successfully) for the characters whom are venerated by Anthony Bourdain in his seminal book, Kitchen Confidential.

As a dishwasher, when I began thinking that cooking might be the profession for me, I was urged by the chef to pick up Kitchen Confidential; sort of a non-buffer to the kitchen life to prepare me for the never ending journey that cooking is. I was instantly fascinated because I was seeing that I was working alongside some of the same people described in the book. I wanted to be like them; I wanted to talk like them, act like them, cook like them... I had every desire to work for the tyrannical chef who would throw a pan and threaten my life if I did something wrong.

I idolized that lifestyle and I believed that that is what cooking was, not only because that was what I was reading, but because that was the example being set by some of my fellow cooks–The guy that would smoke and sell weed any chance he got (who, to this day, is the best pantry cook I've met) or the 'secret' couple that would bang in the walk-in with a bottle of tequila tucked neatly away behind the saute meez (don't forget the rum behind the croutons). I was in the story and I relished in it.

But after a while it started getting old. Soon I lost interest in getting drunk and found that there was much more enjoyment in creating or in making sure that every plate went out exactly the same. I had found my sense of place and purpose, and it wasn't with the scene I was in. Prep became less tedious and transformed into a calming repetition. I focused my energy on consistency and worked on my knife skills until I couldn't see straight. I realized what I really wanted out of this. I found out what cooking is.

I don't tell this story because I think my life is important, but rather because I sense that there are more and more cooks out there who have either underwent similar changes, or just grew up under the new regime. The world of Bourdain is not dead, nor do I think that it ever will be. It certainly makes up a large part of the food world and some restaurants would not survive without the people described in his book. However, the restaurants at which I want to work, the ones who are innovating, creating, changing, progressing, these are the places where characters are less likely to be found. There is simply too much at stake for cooks to be drunk or drugged up to function at the level required of them at the Alineas or the L2Os.

Whereas Kitchen Confidential used to be a book I would recommend to young cooks, now I question whether or not I should. While there still is useful information in that book about some of the kitchen life, I don't think I want to nurture young cooks by inviting them to idolize the underbelly, but perhaps to proselytize them to believe in the new era that we are working hard to conceive.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Rupert- thanks for stopping by zested, and for your nice comments! I have been poking around your site and really enjoyed this post - I also loved reading Kitchen Confidential. But in my own experience helping to open high-end restaurants, I also found much more of an emphasis on consistent attention to detail than debauchery.