Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Talking Anthony Bourdain


Anthony Bourdain

Paris, France

I was working at Cafe des Artistes, a famous old New york restuarant on West 67th Street when I first heard of Anthony Bourdain. This was 1996, and most Americans would not become familar with Bourdain for 6 to 10 years, depending on the person. I discovered Tony in 96, and as usual, I was way ahead of the curve. My first contact with Bourdain's work was when one of the cooks Michael who i was friends with, told me about this book that he thought I would like. The book of course turned out to be Bone in Throat, a novel, and Anthony Bourdain's first book ever published (Random House 1995). As is the norm in the restaurant business, Michael and I often talked about food and the Biz. The Biz is what is known as the restaurant business, when restaruatn people happen to talk about it, they will say, "The Biz." I guess people in the film, music, and many other busines use the same terminology? Anyway, when it came to food, and the Biz, Mike and I were like minded, and this was my introduction way before the masses of the late great Anthony Bourdain, a person who is part of my, and millions of fans lives, as so many loved the guy and what he did. Did so very well, sucking up all he could, when it came to food, travel, hanging and conversing, and yes the Biz.

So Michael gives me his copy of Anthony Bourdain's Bone in The Throat. "Enjoy it," he says. 

"Thanks Mike. I will." and that was that. I have been an avid readers since I was a young boy. I escpecially liked biographies of people I admired, and as a young boy, loving, football, baseball, and pretty much all sports, the first book I ever read was about one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, Yankke 1st baseman, Lou Gehrig. Now, here I was almost 3o years later, I'd read Bourdain's 1st novel, and a couple years later, a autobiographical book of sorts, by Anthony Borudain, his life, and trials and tribulations in the Biz. The restaruant bisiness that is.

So I read Bone in The Throat, a book about a young chef Tommy Pafana (semi Tony), working in the restaurant business in downtown New York. Bone in The Throat centers around a small failing restaurant in New York's Little Italy, owned by Tommy's uncle. There are all sorts of hijinx, with Tommy witnessing a Mob murder, and trying to stay out of trouble, including anything that has to do with the Mafia. He also needs to stay clear of the FBI, who naturally have these mob guys under survelience. Tommy struggles with a Heroin addiction, and the ups and downs of everyday life, and the hard work of a sous chef working a restaurant kitchen.

The book is without quetion semi- biographic, as is the norm of many first-time novels, the writer (Bourdain) often write about their World, things they know, and things they've experienced, and have happened to them. Thus Bone in the Throat, a book written by a guy who has gone to Culinary School, as Borudain did, so did the character Tommy. Tommy has been working his way up in kitchens of New York restuarants, just like Mr. Bourdain. It's a good light hearted, entertaining book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I read it quickly, enjoyed it, and gave it back to my buddy Michael. "Thanks man. I loved it," I told Micahel as I handed the book back to him. And this was my first introduction to the great Anthony Bourdain.

A few years after I read Bone in The Throat, Tony came out with another book. This one was non-fiction, and titled Kitchen Confidential - Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, by Anthony Bourdain. The book was published in 2000, and I became aware of it a few months later, when browsing my favorite bookstore, Strand Books, in Greenwich Village. The next day I began to read it, at my usual spot, Caffe Dante, where I had my Cappuccino at, almost everyday for 30 years. That's were I went to meet friends or went by myself, simply to read, relax, and enjoy my coffee. I don't know the exact date, but whatever it was, it was sometime probably in the Autumn of 2000, that I read one of hsitory's great memoires of food, a person (Tony Bourdain) and the inner workings of the New York restaruant business, or as Tony, myself, and others call it, "The Biz." I loved it. Yes, I did. Thsi book was amazing, and I loved everything Tony said, Many things were secrets to your average reader, someone not in the Biz. So the book was a real eye opener, and people loved it. 

Anthony has always said, he originally wrote the book as an homage to all cooks and kitchen people in general, and he never expected the book to have thehuge monster success that it did, and making him famous, and instant celebrity in the process. He merely wrote it for industry people (restaurant people).

Yes, I couldn't stop laughing. Laughing because, nothing is funnier than the truth. And all of these things were true, and yes, funny. Or maybe not. I knew they were true, because I myself, at the time I read Kitchen Confidential, I myself had already been working in the restaurant business for 28 years, starting as a busboy at The Cambridge Inn, in Paramus, New Jersey, at the ripe young age of 13. I worked for four years at that restaurant, and learned quite a lot about the Biz, and about life. And I was great at it. I was one of the best damn busboys there ever was, and the waitresses used to fight over me, as they now just how damn good I was, I was fast, and I would do a whole lot of their work, and they could just breeze through their shift, and not have to do one iota of extra work, as they knew, I'd clear all the tables, all the customers would always have water, bread, a clean table, and I also helped them run out the food from the kitchen. I did everything I was supposed to do and more, and again, I was damned good, and I knew it. And besides working in the restaruant business and learning about it, the ins-and-outs and whatnot, I learned to always do a great job, the best possible, take pride in what you do and your work ethic, don't be lazy, like many in the business are, work hard, do what you're told (within reason of course), always show up for work, be on time, and don't take any days off, unless you are seriouly sick. 

I learned, and I learned fast. As I said, I was a great busboy. And as they say, this is Not Bragging, it is fact, I was a great bsuboy, a great empoyee, a great work, fast and thorough, and those are two things you need in sapdes in the restaurant business, you need to be thorough and fast. I was both. And I was likeable, another requirement of a good worker. 

One thing I never even thought about back then, as it didn't matter to me at the time, is the fact that in the restaurant business, and all buisnesses I guess, their are the good workers, the people who work hard and get things done, and there are the lazy ones, the people who are lazy, they don't have a good work ethic, they don't work hard, and try to get away with doing as little as they can, and not doing their fare share. When working in a kitchen of a restaurant, you usually don't have as much as a problem with these sad facts, as kitchen people tend to be a bit more professional and reliable at their jogbs than the front of the house people are. This is not saying that front of the house people aren't good workers, it's just that there are always a percentage of lazy people in the front of the house in just about every restaruant there is. There are always the the hard workers, what I call the nucleus  fo workers who do a great job and get a lot done, and then there are the lazy ones. Oh, if you are wondering what is a front of house worker, the front of the house consist of witers and waitresses (servers), bsuboys, bartenders, hostesses, and Maitre'd if the restaurant has one, and front of the house managers. And the there are the kitchen workers, also known as back of the house, consisting of dishwashers (the hardest workers), cooks, which can be line-cooks or prep cooks, the cold station (aka salad man), the Head Chef, the Sous Chef who is second in command to the Chef, and generally the hardest worker among cooks. In most restaurants, it is the Sous Chef who is really running the kitchen, and the Head Chef set the kitchen up and creates a menu, and oversees the entire kitchen, but it is usually the Sous Chef who is doing most of the hard physical work of running the kitchen, though these arrangements and amounto fwork done by the Head Chef, varies in restaurant to restaurant. Some head chefs may work a lot harder than other chefs, and vice-versa.

  Yes, I love Kitchen Confidential, and the late great Anthony Bourdain. Though I head read tony's work a few years earlier when I read Bone in The Throat in 1996, this was a whole other thing. Bourdain did a fine job with Bone in The Throat, and many people liked and enjoyed reading it, but when it comes to Kitchen Confidential, this was a whole other stratosphere were talking about. Kitchen Confidential was revolutionary, in that Bourdain let out many of the dirty little secrets of the restaruant business.  Secrets like, telling the reader, "Never order Fish at a reataurant on Mondays," as the fish is way past its prime (getting stinky) by the time Monday rolls around. Also, if you are the type of person who orders your Steak well-done, the cooks might give you the oldest piece they have, a piece of meat they refer to as "Save fro Well Done." A persone who orders their Steak medium-rare is going to get the fresher, better meat. He also adviced against ordering any daily special served  on a Sunday Brunch, as many times the chef is going thorugh his walk-in refrigerator and seeing what is getting old, and wanting to use it before it completely goes bad, he uses whatver those items may be to make the daily special. I msut note, that these things Anthony has warned of, yes they can be true, and are, but most of the times these so-called dirty little restaurant secrets, defineately are not always the case, so don't let these things that Tony wrote, discourage you from eating in restaurants. Hey, I'm not knocking Tony here, and definately not saying he is lying and that his warning are not true some of the times. Simply, I'm saying that these bad things stated are not the norm, so don't stop eating at restaurants. Use your own good judgement.

Kitchen Confiential made Bourdain famous. In 2001, Tony got his first offer to do a television show for the Foodnetwork. The show was called A Cooks Tour, and began in January 2002. Now here was a very critical point in Tony's career and my own awareness of Bourdain's genius. After reading Kitchen Confidential, I already knew Tony was a genius. This was quite evident. I saw the promos for a Cooks Tour and couldn't wait to watch the first episode. The first episode of Cooks Tour was called a Taste of Tokyo. I watched, and was smitten. Tony did it again. I loved Cooks Tour, and watched it every week. But knowing just a little bit about TV and how shows get started, I remember thingking and wishing, damn, I hope thsi show makes it. I hope people watch it, and like it. "Heck, love it." But I remember being a bit worried. I know that a lot of new doc tv shows get started by shooting just a few episodes, maybe 6 or so. They air these shows and see how they go. If people don't like them, they don't make any more, and the show gets canceled. I was hoping, almost praying for Anthony and his new TV show. Hoping people and the network would love it, they'd shoot lots of episodes and the show would have a good run.

Yes, I loved Cooks Tour immediately. It was awesome. Tony was awesome. I loved the show, and told all my friends to watch it too. I was also a bit enviosus. I had already traveled the World a good bit. I was in the biz, I had worked my way throught kitchens and had attained the title of chef. And I wanted to write as well. I knew I couldn't write like Tony, but I was working on it. I knew how to cook, I'd traveled the World, and at this point, I'm sure that I had done far more traveling than Tony. I knew all about Asian Street Food, and had eaten it all over South East Asia, and even before Tony. I loved and savored it, and had the huge passion for Asia, its people, it food. Just like Tony. Hey I wanted to be a celebrity chef, I wish I had my own show eating and traveling the World, just like Anthony did. Hey, I had the experience, and I had the chops. Just not the luck. Amn Tony was the man. And believe it or not, I'm a lot like Tony. A long career in the restaurant business, I cooked, I was a chef, I traveled, and I had the apprecitation and knowledge of travel and the foods of the World. I was also a bit snarky, just like Tony, and sort of disdain Rachel Ray, and Emeril's show, even before Tony came on the scene and made snarky remarks about them, I did the same. Anway?

I loved the way they shot the show, the things Tony ate and did, and the way the show was cut, and Tony's incrdiable narrations of the finsihed product (the shows). Well remember when I was worried for Tony and his new show? Not that I didn't think Anthony and his show were more thatn fabulous, just from the fact that so many millions who love stupid sitcoms and all sorts of crappy shows, and especially all the shitty shows that were on the Food Network. I was worried that there might not be enough smart people to watch and love Tony and hsi show a Cooks Tour, for it to sustain istself, and stay on air. My concerns were real, but I need not have worried, Tony and his show did fare well.

As it turned out, a Cooks Tour had a decent run, 35 episodes, running two seasons. The general public did get Bordain. They loved him and loved his show, and Bourdain was in hsi element, traveling the World, eating it, making great content, and putting together masterful travelogue food shows that people just could't get enough of, especially Tony's lust for life, the food, the travel, and his great wit and wisdom, snarky and wryness. Tony was funny, witty, and smart, and people just loved. And I was one of Tony's first big cheerleaders, long before the masses caught on. And yes, I am proud have been so.

... to be continued ..

Daniel Bellino Zwicke

October 2021  NYC


by Bellino



by Bellino


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