Kitchen Confidential Highlights

by Anthony Bourdain

No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American. The Ecuadorian, Mexican, Dominican and Salvadorian cooks I've worked with over the years make most CIA-educated white boys look like clumsy, sniveling little punks. In New York City, the days of the downtrodden, underpaid illegal immigrant cook, exploited by his cruel masters, have largely passed — at least where quality line cooks are concerned. Most of the Ecuadorians and Mexicans I hire from a large pool a sort of farm team of associated and often related former dishwashers — are very well-paid professionals, much sought after by other chefs.

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Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. 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.

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I will continue to do my seafood eating on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, because I know better, because I can wait.

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Skills can be taught. Character you either have or don't have. Bigfoot understood that there are two types of people in the world: those who do what they say they're going to do — and everyone else. He'd

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Pot, quaaludes, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, Seconal, Tuinal, speed, codeine and, increasingly, heroin, which we'd send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get. We worked long hours and took considerable pride in our efforts — the drugs, we thought, having little effect on the end-product. That was what the whole life we were in was about, we believed: to work through the drugs, the fatigue, the lack of sleep, the pain, to show no visible effects. We might be tripping out on blotter acid, sleepless for three days and halfway through a bottle of Stoli, but we were professionals, goddammit!

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If you cut yourself in the Work Progress kitchen, tradition called for maximum spillage and dispersion of blood. One squeezed the wound till it ran freely, then hurled great gouts of red spray on the jackets and aprons of comrades.

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I saw, for the first time, how two beloved, funny and popular guys can end up less beloved, not so funny and much less popular after trying to do nothing more than what their friends told them they were good at.

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I'd been the culinary equivalent of the Flying Dutchman too long, living a half-life with no future in mind, just oozing from sensation to sensation.

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'Only one in four has a chance at making it. Ha, ha, ha,' I said, my words ringing immediately painful and hollow as soon as I'd said them. I counted our number in the back of that rattling Checker Marathon. Four. And right there, I knew that if one of us was getting off dope, and staying off dope, it was going to be me. I wasn't going to let these guys drag me down. I didn't care what it took, how long I'd known them, what we'd been through together or how close we'd been. I was going to live. I was the guy. I made it. They didn't. I don't feel guilty about that.

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If you take a hard look at Scott Bryan's operation, and you will find that everything I've told you so far is wrong, that all my sweeping generalities, rules of thumb, preconceptions and general principles are utter bullshit.

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My love for chaos, conspiracy and the dark side of human nature colors the behavior of my charges, most of whom are already living near the fringes of acceptable conduct.

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Read cookbooks, trade magazines — I recommend Food Arts, Saveur, Restaurant Business magazines.

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Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London is invaluable. As is Nicolas Freleng's The Kitchen, David Blum's Flash in the Pan, the Batterberrys' fine account of American restaurant history, On the Town in New York, and Joseph Mitchell's Up in the Old Hotel. Read the old masters: Escoffier, Bocuse et al as well as the Young Turks: Keller, Marco-Pierre White, and more recent generations of innovators and craftsmen.

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