Anthony Bourdain

I have a certain fondness for Anthony Bourdain. I remember reading his initial article, Don’t Eat Before Reading This on the Amtrak from New York to New Haven. My Zaid loved Anthony Bourdain as well. I gave him a copy of Kitchen Confidential soon after it came out. I remember when Zaid took us to Les Halles because he wanted to eat at Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant. The food wasn’t very good but we certainly enjoyed the experience. Bourdain had a great quote in A Cook’s Tour about the experience of eating:

The best meal in the world, the perfect meal, is very rarely the most sophisticated or expensive one. I knew how important factors other than technique or rare ingredients can be in the real business of making magic happen at a dinner table. Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life. I mean, let’s face it: When you’re eating simple barbecue under a palm tree, and you feel sand between your toes, samba music is playing softly in the background, waves are lapping at the shore a few yards off, a gentle breeze is cooling the sweat on the back of your neck at the hairline, and looking across the table, past the column of empty Red Stripes at the dreamy expression on your companion’s face, you realize that in half an hour you’re probably going to be having sex on clean white hotel sheets, that grilled chicken leg suddenly tastes a hell of a lot better.”

I also like this quote from Kitchen Confidential on the nature of work. There’s always the complaint that the “young people” don’t know the value of work. Also, there’s a fetish at companies about leadership and “out of the box” thinking. When I was at Citi, there was a drive to have everyone be “A” players. Everyone should be innovating and coming up with new ideas. One of my friends who was running a call center took umbrage with this, saying, “I need these guys to answer the phone from 9 to 5. I need them to be good at it and I’d like them to stay there for their whole career if possible to leverage that knowledge. I don’t want them to tall strive to be managers. There’s only one manager on the team.” Bourdain said it well in his discussion of line cooks:

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 standup mercenary who takes 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. More often than not their efforts, convinced as they are of their own genius, are geared more to giving themselves a hard-on than satisfying the great majority of dinner customers. Personally, I’d prefer to eat food that tastes good and is an honest reflection of its ingredients, than a 3-foot-tall caprice constructed from lemon grass, lawn trimmings, coconuts and red curry. You could lose an eye trying to eat that. When a job applicant starts telling me how Pacific Rim-job cuisine turns him on and inspires him, I see trouble coming. Send me another Mexican dishwasher anytime. I can teach him to cook. I can’t teach character. Show up at work on time six months in a row and we’ll talk about red curry paste and lemon grass. Until then, I have four words for you: ‘Shut the fuck up.’