`Don't Try This At Home' is a collection of short pieces written by forty (40) of the world's most notable chefs and culinary figures, edited by culinary agent, Kimberly Witherspoon and culinary wordsmith, Andrew Friedman, known to me primarily as a co-author of Tom Valenti's two better than average cookbooks from an accomplished New York restaurant chef.
Two things which are misleading from the title are the fact that some of the contributors are not among `The World's Greatest Chefs' (from the subtitle at the top of the page) and many of the incidents recounted in the book are less about cooking per se than about relations between people in the kitchen, between the kitchen and management, and between the kitchen (back of the house) and the wait staff (front of the house).
There is no question that many of the contributors are among `The World's Greatest Chefs'. Chief among these are Ferran Adria, Daniel Boulud, Michel Richard, Eric Ripert, Norman Van Aken, Tom Colicchio, and Mario Batali. Oddly, the authors, Anthony Bourdain and Sara Moulton, of two of the most instructive pieces come from writers whose fame arises more from their writing and communicating experience than from purely culinary efforts. Bourdain's piece looks very much like a chapter from his famous book, `Kitchen Confidential' when it recounts a totally disastrous New Year's Eve dinner where the executive chef under whom Bourdain was serving as a sous chef planned the evening's celebratory meal and ordered all the provisions without giving any hint to the kitchen staff about the menu for the evening. The day and the piece opens with Bourdain and staff waiting for the chef while provisions arrive with absolutely no instructions on how to begin prepping the goods. Aside from the negligence of not leaving any instructions with his staff, the dinner plans were a disaster since most of the dishes came from the saute station, which had but four burners.
Bourdain's piece does offer some instructions to both amateurs and professionals on party planning, but it also violates the notion that no matter how serious the disaster, professional chefs always pull it off somehow through some creative imagination of by simple Herculean effort. Sometimes, things simply go irretrievably wrong.
Since he is one of my culinary heroes, I was particularly interested in the piece from Mario Batali, which says little about culinary technique and mountains about relations between people in the kitchen. Like some articles, the real name of Mario's antagonist is not revealed, so we can try to guess who this now-famous London chef and restaurateur is. I confess I actually read about this period in Mario's career in the Profile done in the `New Yorker' of two years ago, but I forget who the villain of the piece is. But, if you really want to know, track down the `New Yorker' culinary issue with the Batali profile.
In many ways, this book is the culinary version of `The world's funniest pets'. It's a guilty pleasure which may contribute to your understanding of human nature, but it is not likely to help your cooking one wit. The greatest impression I get from the book is the difference between the professional culinary workplace and the kind of technical, research oriented business office with which I am familiar. While I am certain that chef's like Colicchio, Batali, and Rippert can go for months with no disasters, I do get the sense from this and other sources that the professional kitchen is a human pressure cooker where tempers get as hot as the sautéed sole, about as often as that fish may be ordered.
Thus, I found this book remarkably entertaining and informative, but not for the reasons you may gather from the cover or the editors' introduction. If you liked `Kitchen Confidential', you will certainly like this book.