Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Performance Enhanced Kitchen

Talking to the new barman pictured, he starts officially when I can get 2, 1950's vintage batteries that will fire him up to [as described on the box] mix a martini, drink it, then glow red and blow smoke out of his ears.. cant wait! Until then he is sitting behind the bar doing what all good bartenders are known for...listening .

I was telling him the other night that Big Tony Bourdain is to hit our shores soon and as part of the summer light reading recycling campaign I thought you might like to read this review un-edited of his first book Kitchen Confidential it was printed in The Age in 2001.

The Performance Enhanced Kitchen

Excerpts in the New Yorker, critical acclaim from the major reviewers, Anthony Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential has even been touted as the new ‘Down and Out in London and Paris’ by Newsweek.
The title is from the 1958 Jack Arnold directed cult movie classic High School Confidential. You remember the one with Mamie Van Doren in that sweater, Russ Tamblyn as the cool nark posing as a hepcat, Jackie Coogan [uncle Fester] as the evil pusher and Jerry Lee Lewis as himself. Occasionally featuring as a late night double with Reefer Madness for the stoned lounge lizard set. A film so ridiculous that nobody took it seriously. Well, here we go again. This one is bound to be optioned.

Bourdain’s book hit the stands in Australia during the Sydney Olympics, a time when we all got an education in performance enhancing substance abuse.
Not a bad briefing for this entertaining but equally ridiculous, purportedly true biography.

The wild card in this very neat and well-written tale is heroin.
Bourdain’s book takes us into the “culinary underbelly” of the New York restaurant scene, through the stoned eyes of the author. A Vassar dropout turned line cook. A self-made bad boy, desperately trying to be a working class hero amongst the hard men of the kitchen.
It’s all very ‘cool’ but for the assumption that this is how it is, and its OK.


steve said...

I suspect you are not a Bourdain fan George? I found the that book a real page turner having witnessed some similarly bad behaviour in Melbourne's kitchens whilst doing my apprenticeship in the early eighties. However I dont think Bourdain created this genre. Nicholas Freeling, a crime writer, spend his early years as a chef in 50's & 60's France & England & wrote about it in the wonderful, 'The Kitchen Book'. His stories precede Bourdains by nearly 20 years & they are just as entertaining.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hi Steve

Not a matter of being a fan or not, as I say its a great read and well written. I had to share a table with Tony at the after party for Masterclass and he liked the review and said it was the only one that had looked at the book closely. I was dissapointed in the misssed oportunity to expose the way that performance enhancing substances have been used just to keep people working at an unreasonable pace.
But I guess we have to summarise everything these days to thumbs up or down. I was trying to put the book into a context wider than just a good yarn. Which it is, unless you happen to be burying the young apprentice that did not really get a chance to understand dosages of modern drugs.

neil said...

I think it's in the nature of kitchens to be hard places. Long before drugs, alcohol was the coping mechanism of choice and if that didn't do you in, the coal fired stoves did.

Funny isn't it that at home, the kitchen is considered the woman's domain, but professional kitchens, mens. Perhaps if there were more women chefs, kitchens might be better places to work, or is it the anti social hours that are to blame?

stickyfingers said...

I love the new bartender George, now how can we find you those batteries? Better start scouring garage sales...? I look forward to meeting him on our next visit.

In regards to AB, I think that any industry that works hard and fast, under the pump and relies heavily on a combination of artisanal skill and is also constantly expected to rise to creative heights, has those who will rely on performance enhancing substances. Some of the others who thrive there are just plain nuts.

I have certainly seen many friends in fields such as these resort to a crutch of one kind or another. But look at Tony now. He can't get back into the kitchen, as he physically couldn't cope with it and - if the blog written by his TV show's producers is any indication - he's probably too drunk most of the time anyway.

Apparently this latest visit to Melbourne takes him wobbling down the path of Street Food with Tony Tan, Matt Preston and Paul Wilson - nice to see that he has some locals in tow. Apparently in Hanoi his producers relied heavily on information gleaned from the blog Noodle Pie - a great read - though the blogger moved last year to France, so the info is not current.

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