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Don't Try This At Home [Paperback]

Us Bloomsbury
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 15 2007
Forty of the world's best chefs vie to shock, amuse and educate readers about the workings (and more often, the malfunctions) of a restaurant behind the kitchen door. Candid and self-deprecating, these adrenaline junkies turn desperate situations into perverse triumphs. Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Anthony Bourdain, Scott Bryan and Fergus Henderson are a few of the culinary elite who recall tyrannical bosses, spoiled patrons, thuggish busboys and waspish waiters.

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From Publishers Weekly

Food is fast becoming entertainment, so it's only natural that it should follow in the footsteps of sports and show business and offer up a collection of bloopers. Literary agent Witherspoon and food writer Friedman corralled 40 gastronomic heavyweights to share their versions of dinners gone wrong. The highlight is, unsurprisingly, the piece by chef and bestselling author Anthony Bourdain. His "New Year's Meltdown" is a case study in what happens when you don't plan (Bourdain admits, "Nobody likes a 'learning experience'—translating as it does to 'a total [a**-f******]'—but I learned"). Mario Batali's "The Last Straw," though not relating a culinary catastrophe per se, is runnerup: Batali was in culinary school when he clashed with a chef; in a spectacular crescendo, the chef hurled a pan of risotto at the young student, but revenge was sweet. But for every fantastic screwup, there's a dud. The translated pieces (such as the one by Spanish titan Ferrán Adrià) fail to captivate, and others, like Jimmy Bradley's tale about how he got drunk on the job to spite his boss, are neither entertaining nor instructive. Still, this collection happily reminds us that even big shots have off days. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"In the end, Don't Try This at Home is as uplifting as it is amusing; it's a reminder that--in real life as in the kitchen--guts are as important as genius." -- People magazine, a four-stars Critic's Pick

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars foodie must have May 22 2006
A nice insight of behind the scenes going ons in some famous kitchens. I did find some of the stories, mostly those from food writers who insisted on plenty of fluff, a little drawn out in places. However in the back of your mind you realize that the story can only go on so long as there are some 40 culinary stories. Absolutly a few gems especially from Mario Batali. Was he in fact working with Marco Pierre White? I would really like to know! Marcus Samuelsson's story had me a little choked up as it is worth the price of the book in it self. Daniel Boulud's story is great and kindly mentions Susser Lee (does he mean Susur Lee?). Yes a few typos here and there but generally a must have for any chef or foodie who can relate to the odd bad days behind the stoves.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  51 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun read about tales of mayhem in the kitchen. Aug. 7 2006
By Rebecca Huston - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Cooking at home has become it seems, a very big business indeed. Turn on the television and you find networks that show chefs demonstrating cuisines and styles, vendors hawking the multitude of cookware and gadgets, and in bookstores shelves abound with volumes that cater to every whim, fad, fashion and idea. Sometimes, what you get is junk. And rarely, you come across a jewel of a book that digs down into the heart and mystery of food, and you find something that's utterly new and bewitching.

Such was the case with reading this collection of tales and ancedotes from the heavy hitters in cooking, Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs is a mad, wild ride of everything that can go wrong. Whether they are disasters in a professional restaurant kitchen or on a catering job, the stories range from those that make you cringe in embarassment or sympathy, or those that make you laugh at a just reward served up to a snooty, rude customer.

There were several stories that I enjoyed immensely: Ferran Adria's tale of a shipment of lobsters that went bad for a banquet of three thousand; Mario Batali speaks of revenge on a martinet of a chef; Anthony Bourdain of a kitchen gone to hell on New Year's Eve when the chef had such a brilliant vision that it was doomed to failure; Claudia Fleming's tale of The Blob , and very nearly every tale in the book. There are stories of fights, ingredients gone haywire or AWOL, personality clashes that would make you cringe in horror.

But each one reveals something to the art of being a chef, and a good one at that. Namely, it's that the successful ones are good at the quirks of human behavior, at what it is that makes managing people to get the best out of them, of keeping your cool when everything is literally falling apart. Most have the talent of being able to laugh at the craziness of things, and able to be innovative when the circumstances warrant it. Most are able to tell their stories with both style and humor.

And all of them manage to provide a bit of insight for all of us who occansionally have the wild, mad dream of being a great chef. They're just as much cautionary tales as they are entertainment; it's become a well-known fact that most restaurants that open are going to close.

So if you are a fan of Food Channel or like to thumb through your collection of Gourmet magazine, you're probably going to like this collection. Editors Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman do a fine job of assembling the stories, all arranged in alphabetical order by the authors, with a short little bio in the front of each one. It's a fun read, with each one taking not much more than fifteen or twenty minutes to get through.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Little Cooking, Lots of Personality, Gullty Pleasures to be sure. Nov. 3 2005
By B. Marold - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
`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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Didn't bother to use spelling/grammar check April 6 2012
By Bob - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Several of the chapters are quite entertaining, especially if you're a fan of Kitchen Confidential type stories. Unfortunately, the many grammatical and spelling typos were too distracting for me to truly enjoy the book. When practically every introduction has at least one typo, I is frequently replaced with a 1, and an entire paragraph from a previous chapter is spliced into the middle of a following chapter it became too much for me. Editing like this really shouldn't be allowed commercially and I would certainly like the money back I spent on the Kindle version of this book.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Plate Sept. 20 2006
By dephal - Published on
Some of the pieces in this book are really funny, such as a tale of what happened when a hollandaise delivery met up with LA rush hour traffic. Many remind the reader than even the greatest of chefs is still human. Some of the pieces will amaze you with chefs' creativity in the face of diaster (one chef, for example, stuck with a ruined wedding cake, calls in the dogs). Unfortunately, some of the pieces are just plain boring. In one, for example, the "disaster" is that the narrator gets yelled at for throwing away some onions. I'm sure it was painful to him, but it's just not that much fun to read. In total, I'm not sure the good parts of the book make it worth shelling out money for. I borrowed mine from the library.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Raucous good fun Oct. 4 2005
By Brooklyn reader - Published on
I read the excerpts from this collection in the New York Times Magazine and went and bought the book, I was so delighted with them. Dan Barber's piece about working for David Bouley and learning to "talk to the fish" was hilarious; It had never occurred to me that you have to listen to the food cooking as much as taste, see and smell it, to know if it's cooked properly. I was surprised to read all these readers comments slamming Gabrielle Hamilton's piece; I actually thought she showed uncustomary sensitivity for a chef, even letting this candidate through the door when he hadn't been straight up with her about being blind. Marcus Samuelson's piece about being a black man in a white kitchen was powerful and refreshingly thoughtful in contrast to the raucousness of many of the other pieces. I plan to give this to all my friends who devoured KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, it has the same exuberance and behind the scenes details that bring down to earth what always looks so safe and easy on those cooking shows.
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