My shoes were soaked. My clothes smelled of seafood guts. They were splattered all over my apron, shoes and everything else. Dishes kept coming in, and I tried to push them through as quickly as possible. Sometimes clean; sometimes not. It was my first real job. The people were fun, but the situation was terrible.
In the kitchen, rock music played as cooks prepared the seafood at the Red Lobster in St. Catharines Canada. My best friend brought me in and immediately knew it wasn’t the job for me. The money was good, at the time. My co-workers were characters.
It all came back to me while reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. It is one of the more accurate books about what it was like to be in the kitchens of the 1990’s and maybe earlier.
The book is a fun read. I don’t know if it is because I know Bourdain from the TV shows but while reading it all I could hear was his voice. The sentences paint the chaos of a kitchen trying to be controlled. It talks about the path he chose to make money by being a cook then rediscover how much he loves the food and how he becomes a chef. It showcases a cast of characters like Steven his sous chef (or second in command) and his job in the kitchen as well as his real job to know everything going on in the kitchen. There are the talks of Adam, a magician in the kitchen making bread but questionable everywhere else. There are many others.
The first part of the book is autobiographical talking about how he got into the business while working as a kid in Provincetown before going to university and then culinary school. He writes about taking job after job trying to chase the money and finally bottoming out with drugs and alcohol before being lifted back up by other chefs.
The book also provides some simple things like a day in the life of a kitchen in a prominent New York restaurant. It chronicles the millions of small decisions being made every day to push out food as well as how to build out and run a restaurant from scratch. There are tips on what kind of materials to buy if going into the industry which may or may not be up to date. Finally, there is an address at the end to future cooks or want-to-be chefs. In-between are the stories,, and they make it a fun read.
It is the stories that brought me back to 1992, at the Red Lobster, there were a lot of characters of cooks with bloodshot eyes, beer coming back for the batter only to be replaced with water or just enough to give the beer oder. At nights, some of the food went missing only to be cooked at my place or someone else’s. When I was 18 and 19, it was fun but something I would never go back to.