Don't Try This At Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs Paperback – Oct 2 2007
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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.
“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 (four stars/Critic's Pick)
“If you liked Kitchen Confidential for its frank behind-the-scenes glimpses of kitchen life, you'll love this book.” ―Los Angeles Times
“Once you've watched these masters of their universe drop a foie gras terrine into a bowl of warm chocolate sauce, restore a wedding cake accidentally covered with shards of glass, disguise a bag of dirty laundry with crème anglaise to stand in for a mound of fallen meringue--you'll realize you've probably gotten off easy.” ―Washington Post Book World
“The chefs, now stars themselves, deserve credit for having managed to endure so much misery early in their careers, from tyrannical bosses, spoiled patrons, eye-rolling waiters and thuggish busboys. The best of the essays here convey that spirit of determination, alongside the absurd theater of it all.” ―Wall Street JournalSee all Product Description
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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.
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.