So, it’s the late 1980s, and I’m working at a restaurant in the West Village called “Formerly Joe’s.” This is the restaurant I’ve talked about before where I worked with Michael Chicklis and Edie Falco.
It was a pretty contemporary restaurant, complete with a raw oyster and clam bar. My friend Tony Bourdain was the clam and oyster shucker for the restaurant. Traditionally, I’d wait on a table and after cocktails they would generally get an order from the raw bar, in the way of clams or oysters as appetizers.
Tony, who now goes by Anthony, has several books out and even appears in his latest project, a travel and food series called Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Travel Channel in his own series. I don’t get this cable station, although I’m tempted to in order to see him.
In his best-selling book, “Kitchen Confidential; Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly…” Tony warns the reader:
“There will be horror stories. Heavy drinking, drugs, … unappetizing industry-wide practices. Talking about why you probably shouldn't order fish on a Monday, why those who favor well-done get the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel, and why seafood frittata is not a wise brunch selection.... But I'm simply not going to deceive anybody about the life as I've seen it.”
Most of us working at the restaurant were all struggling actors trying to make it. I knew Tony as a writer (also struggling) who was there to pay his bills. I remember him talking in great depth about his dreams of writing novels but I didn’t take it that seriously as everyone working there had dreams of greatness.
This is the same restaurant where when Michael Chicklis asked for time off to film “Wired” (the life story of John Belushi) he was told by the manager-owner that he couldn’t have the time off. He subsequently quit and his career took off.
I was never a raw clam or oyster person (still not) but Tony was very verbose with his offering of free raw food. This of course was a big no-no in the restaurant.
Similarly, many bartenders would offer free drinks to the wait-staff. Though not at Formerly Joe’s, as the bartenders were big buds with the owner.
Now, whenever I tended bar, I made sure I related well with the waiters and never had that holier-than-thou bartender attitude. If I was going to sneak drinks, I would let the waiters do it too.
But back to Tony and cooking. He tells his readers about the true mission of successful restaurants:
“What most people don't get about professional-level cooking is that it is not at all about the best recipe, the most innovative presentation, the most creative marriage of ingredients, flavors and textures; that, presumably, was all arranged long before you sat down to dinner. Line cooking — the real business of preparing the food you eat — is more about consistency, about mindless, unvarying repetition, the same series of tasks performed over and over and over again in exactly the same way. The last thing a chef wants in a line cook is an innovator... Chefs require blind, near-fanatical loyalty, a strong back and an automaton-like consistency of execution under battlefield conditions.”
At least that was Tony’s opinion. I think you should read this book if you already haven’t. Once again, it’s called Kitchen Confidential, and it’s by my old friend Tony.