Who wouldn’t know this guy? I first heard of him in the show, “No Reservation” – Malaysia and Penang. Copies of his book were sold in last year’s Big Bad Wolf’s book sale and my curiosity led me to pick up a book entitled – Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000), with an intention to learn about the restaurant industry abroad.
Image from http://wherepenmeetspaper.com/
Running through the pages of his culinary adventure gives a glimpse of his personal and professional story. The writing style is liken to a jig saw puzzle as bits and pieces of smattering information of him is scattered throughout. Page after page, the book depicts a real, fast-pace and frantic work culture of a professional kitchen that is sure to impress any reader.
Since it’s not a newly released book, an extensive reviews of the book can be found on the web therefore I will not elaborate further on this area.
The highlight of this book is his nuggets of advice from his accumulated wealth of wisdom garnered for more than 20 years of working in the restaurant industry of his country. It’s a perspective for one to have a hint of who he is, his life-long career pursuit in the culinary world and a sneak peek of the restaurant industry of the western world.
He started with saying,
“So you want to be a chef? You really, really, really want to be a chef?
To those serious ones who know what it is they are entering, who are fully prepared, ready, willing and able, and committed to a career path – who want to be chefs, must be chefs, whatever the personal costs and physical demands – then I have this to say to you: Welcome to my world!”
He suggested a few pointers on the proper conduct, attitude and preparation for those who intend to walk this pathway:
1) Be fully committed.
Don’t be a fence-sitter or a waffler. If you’re going to be a chef some day, be sure about it, single minded in your determination to achieve victory at all costs. You are, for all intents and purposes, entering the military. Ready yourself to follow orders, give orders when necessary, and live with the outcome of those orders without complaints. Be ready to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
2) Learn Spanish!
Much of the workforce in the industry you are about to enter is Spanish speaking. The very backbone of the industry, whether you like it or not, is inexpensive Mexican, Dominican, Salvadorian and Ecuadorian labour – most of whom could cook you under the table without breaking a sweat.
Should you become a leader, Spanish is absolutely essential. Also, learn as much as you can about the distinct cultures, histories and geographies of Mexico, El Salvador, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. Show them some respect by bothering to know them. Learn their language. Eat their food. It will be personally rewarding and professionally invaluable.
3) Don’t steal.
In fact, don’t do anything that you couldn’t take a polygraph test over. If you’re a sneak and a liar, however it will follow you forever. This is a small business; everybody knows everybody else. You will do yourself immeasurable harm.
Don’t ever take kickbacks or bribes from a purveyor. They’ll end up owning you, and you will have sold off your best assets as a chef – your honesty, reliability and integrity – in a business where there are frequently rare and valuable qualities.
Temptation, of course, is everywhere. Faking petty cash vouchers, stealing food, colluding with a purveyor or a co-worker is extraordinarily easy. Avoid it. Really. It can come back to bite you later in your career.
4) Always be on time.
5) Never make excuses and blame others
6) Never call in sick. Except in cases of dismemberment, arterial bleeding, sucking chest wounds or the death of an immediate family member. Granny died? Bury her on your day off.
7) Lazy, sloppy and slow are bad. not a good sign. Enterprising, crafty and hyperactive are good.
8) Be prepared to witness every variety of human folly and injustice.
Without it screwing up your head or poisoning your attitude. You will simply have to endure the contradictions and inequities of this life. Accept it.
Why is he/she treated better than me? How come the chef gets to loiter in the dining room, playing kissy-face with [insert minor celebrity here] while I’m working my ass off? Why is my hard work and dedication not sufficiently appreciated? These are all questions best left unasked. The answers will drive you insane eventually.
9) Assume the worst.
About everybody. But don’t let this poisoned outlook affect your job performance. Let it all roll off your back. Ignore it. Be amused by what you see and suspect. This business grows assholes: it’s our principal export.
10) Try not to lie.
Remember, this is the restaurant business. No matter how bad it is, everybody probably has heard worse. You made a mistake. Don’t lie about it. Admit it and move on. Just don’t do it again. Ever.
11) Avoid restaurants where the owner’s name is over the door.
Avoid restaurants that smell bad. Avoid restaurants with names that will look funny or pathetic on your resume.
12) Think about the resume
Nobody cares – except the chef, who won’t be hiring anyone with delusions of thespian greatness. Under, Reason for Leaving Last Job, never give the real reason, unless it’s money or ambition.
Read cook books, trade magazines. They are useful for staying abreast of the industry trends, and for pinching recipes and concepts. Some awareness of the history of your business is useful, too. It allows you to put down your own miserable circumstances in perspective when you’ve examined and appreciated the full sweep of culinary history.
14) Have a sense of humor about things. You’ll need it.
Below is the cover of the book.
Image from http://www.amazon.co.uk/
Source: Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (London: Bloomsburry Publishing Plc, 2000), 293 – 299.