Thursday, November 13, 2008

Loose Book Review of Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

I'm a bit late in reading Anthony Bourdain's best seller "Kitchen Confidential; Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly", but now I feel I'm a bit of a Bourdain groupie. I am sure he has plenty of them now, and must find it funny that even though he didn't become a punk rock star that he has hit the big time. "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel has long been a favorite show of mine, so I'm not new to Anthony's ways. But I loved the book. It only took about 5 days to finish, and I'm a very slow reader. The stories are great, accurate and often hysterical. Having only lasted in the culinary underbelly during high school as a busser, I can appreciate how hard the lifestyle of a chef must be.

And I also realized I have a one track mind. Reading this funny story about Anthony Bourdain's life in the restauraunt biz was entertaining, but led me to see many truths about the work world at large. Throughout the book Anthony talks about what he values in employees and bosses. He also talks about his hiring and firing methods at different types of establishments. And in the final chapter he gives some suggestions to those individuals who might choose to become a chef. These suggestions are applicable to lots of jobs. Here they are:

1. Be fully committed. When you decide on a career, go for it with everything you have. Whether you decide you want to be a chef, or say a wine salesperson. You need to live, eat and breath your job.
2. Learn Spanish! Maybe this isn't so true of all industries, but I think it is very helpful in the wine industry. Knowing how to speak to your vineyard crew is very important, as is being able to communiate with your cellar staff. I have to echo Anthony's sentiment that many of the Spanish speaking workers you will encounter are some of the hardest working individuals you will ever have the honor of working with. So get to know how to say hello at least. Even better, get to know as much about them and their culture as possible.
3. Don't Steal. Words to live by.
4. Always be on time.
5. Never make excuses or blame others.
6. Never call in sick. Anthony's got some great stories about the lengths he went to to always make it in to work, and the reassurance he felt when his staff did the same.
7. Lazy, sloppy and slow are bad. He goes on to say that enterprising, crafty and hyperactive are good. I agree, most of the time.
8. Be prepared to witness every variety of human folly and injustice. Ok, so you might see more of this in some professions, but as time rolls on, you see more and more of this, and not letting the bad get the best of you is very important.
9. Assume the worst. I always do. As my old boss used to say, paranoia is good. But don't let it get to you--just let it keep you on your toes. Being ahead of the game can have its advantages.
10. Try not to lie. Nothing more to say.
11. Avoid restaurants where the owner's name is over the door. This might not be as true in the wine industry where many establishments are named for the owners. Try to work at a place that is well respected and has good street cred. It will help you when you are looking for your next job, or looking for additional staff at your current employer.
12. Think about that resume. This gets to job hopping and moving around in responsibility level. Resume readers can see a lot about you from that resume--so before you make a quick decision, think about what a job change right now might look like a few years down the road.
13. Read! While Anthony is urging aspiring chefs to read cookbooks and trade magazines, I encourage you to read as much job related information as you can. Trade magazines, lifestyle magazines, cookbooks, blogs, websites, newspapers, and of course books. Keeping on top of trends and issues in your industry will keep you well positioned for changes. He also recommends knowing a little bit about the history of your chosen profession as well. Reading books about super salespeople, or the hunt for rare wines, and maybe the history of the winery owner you work for can be very helpful in the long run.
14. Have a sense of humor about things. Something everyone needs.

I encourage you to pick up the book. He has a couple of more recent books, which I'm sure will be just as good, if not better.


Douglas Trapasso said...

Amy, do you have any tips on what to read (other than the usual suspects, of course, like Spectator, Food & Wine, etc.)
As a part-time wine person wanting to move up the wine food chain, I am sure there are less mainstream mags and blogs I should be reading that offer great info too.

Amy said...

Hi Chicago Pinot:

Good to hear from you. I was reading the Wine Spectator blog one day when James Laube published a piece about walking his dog. One of the respondents noted that the only non-industry book she had read in the last year was "Marley and Me" (a great book too)--so I know there are a lot of words out there about wine. I read Spectator, Wine Advocate, Wines & Vines (trade publication) and Wine Business Monthly regularly. I think reading recently published books about wineries, chefs, food writers all keep you current. Also, reading sales and management books are very helpful--especially if you are working in a wine shop, or getting into wine sales. I also cheat every so often and listen to a book on tape. It's a great way to handle a commute, and you are getting great information, and often entertainment while you drive.
On another note, I noticed you were going to the wine blogging event held recently in Santa Rosa--how was it?