Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
By Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain is the kind of person we all wish we could be. Or fine, the kind of person I wish I could be. At least when it comes to all of his traveling, eating, and overall awesome live-life-like-there's-no-tomorrow attitude. (April 2010: A very cool moment, as awkward as this photo may be.) My first introduction to him was on excellent Travel Channel show No Reservations. He's since left to do a show for CNN called Parts Unknown; he's currently in the Congo (as evidenced by his Instagram). Kitchen Confidential is about his life before that. I'm still about 1/3 of the way through and it's equal parts funny, reflective, and informative. I thought I'd reblog some words that I'll probably never want to forget when I eat out.
Because I loooove mussels:
"I don't eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef personally, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them. More often than not, mussels are allowed to wallow in their own foul-smelling piss in the bottom of a reach-in. Some restaurants, I'm sure, have special containers, with convenient slotted bins, which allow the mussels to drain while being held -- and maybe, just maybe, the cooks at these places pick carefully through every order, mussel by mussel, making sure that every one is healthy and alive before throwing them into a pot. I haven't worked in too many places like that. Mussels are too easy. Line cooks consider mussels a gift; they take two minutes to cook, a few seconds to dump in a bowl, and ba-da-bing, one more customer taken care of -- now they can concentrate on slicing the damn duck breast. I have had, at a very good Paris brasserie, the misfortune to eat a single bad mussel, one treacherous little guy hidden among an otherwise impeccable group. It slammed me shut like a book, sent me crawling to the bathroom shitting like a mink, clutching my stomach and projectile vomiting. I prayed that night. For many hours. And, as you might assume, I'm the worst kind of atheist."
"Watchwords for fine dining? Tuesday through Saturday. Busy. Turnover. Rotation. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best nights to order fish in New York. The food that comes in Tuesday is fresh, the station prep is new, and the chef is well rested after a Sunday or a Monday off. It's the real start of the new week, when you've got the goodwill of the kitchen on your side. Fridays and Saturdays, the food is fresh, but it's busy, so the chef and cooks can't pay as much attention to your food as they -- and you -- might like. And weekend diners are universally viewed with suspicion, even contempt, by both cooks and waiters alike; they're the slackjaws, the rubes, the out-of-towners, the well-done-eating, undertipping, bridge-and-tunnel pre-theater horders, in to see Cats or Les Miz and never to return. Weekday diners, on the other hand, are the home team -- potential regulars, whom all concerned want to make happy. Rested and ready after a day off, the chef is going to put his best foot forward on Tuesday; he's got his best-quality product coming in and he's had a day or two to think of creative things to do with it. He wants you to be happy on Tuesday night. On Saturday, he's thinking more about turning over tables and getting through the rush."
"Do all these horrifying assertions frighten you? Should you stop eating out? Wipe yourself down with antiseptic towelettes every time you pass a restaurant? No way. Like I said before, your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride. Sure, it's a 'play you pay' sort of an adventure, but you knew that already, every time you ever ordered a taco or a dirty-water hot dog. If you're willing to risk some slight lower GI distress for one of those Italian sweet sausages at the street fair, or for a slice of pizza you just know has been sitting on the board for an hour or two, why not take a chance on the good stuff? All the great developments of classical cuisine, the first guys to eat sweetbreads, to try unpasteurized Stilton, to discover that snails actually taste good with enough garlic butter, these were daredevils, innovators and desperados. I don't know who figured out that if you crammed rich food into a goose long enough for its liver to balloon up to more than its normal body weight you'd get something as good as foie gras -- I believe it was those kooky Romans -- but I'm very grateful for their efforts. Popping raw fish into your face, especially in pre-refrigeration days, might have seemed like sheer madness to some, but it turned out to be a pretty good idea. They say that Rasputin used to eat a little arsenic with breakfast every day, building up resistance for the day that an enemy might poison him, and that sounds like good sense to me ... Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico, and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald's? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble tacqueria's mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, Señor Tamale Stand Owner, Sushi-chef-san, Monsieur Bucket-head. What's that feathered game bird, hanging on the porch, getting riper by the day, the body nearly ready to drop off? I want some.
I have no wish to die, nor do I have some unhealthy fondness for dysentery. If I know you're storing your squid at room temperature next to a cat box, I'll get my squid down the street, thank you very much. I will continue to do my seafood eating on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, because I know better, because I can wait. But if I have one chance at a full-blown dinner of blowfish gizzard -- even if I have not been properly introduced to the chef -- and I'm in a strange, Far Eastern city and my plane leaves tomorrow? I'm going for it. You only go around once."