A Chef’s Life

A Chef’s Life
Today started on a horribly sad note when my wife told me about the passing of Anthony Bourdain just a few minutes after I opened my eyes. I met Anthony back in the 90’s when I was just getting my feet wet in the business. He was cooking at Les Halles where he was Sous Chef under the husband of a coworker. At this time the Food Network was in its infancy and the idea of a celebrity chef was more of a localized phenomena (Bobby Flay was still cooking at MESA Grill and Mario Batali was at his tiny restaurant Pō for example). Food writing was done by professional writers, none of which I remember meeting had ever spent time in a professional kitchen. There was no Yelp, no online reviews or even online reservations for that matter. You would read the NY Times to know what is going on in NYC and it was one person’s opinion, the almighty Food Critic. Now we live in a world where anyone and everyone not only can share their opinion they feel entitled to share it and somehow most see themselves as an expert. I was working for my dear friend Billy Gilroy at his restaurants MATCH, which at the time were two of the hippest places in town. I was in my early 20’s, single and no children, the restaurant was my life. Most days I would work open to close, which meant getting home after a couple after shift drinks meant maybe 4 hours of sleep at best. I met some of the most interesting people during those years, coworkers, customers, vendors and the list goes on. The fuse on the culinary world had been lit and things were changing. We would meet up with friends from other restaurants at certain dive bars or if money was good maybe go to Blue Ribbon for a late night meal. We would share stories of dinner service or which Chef’s we hated or loved to work with. I loved every minute of it and I do miss the chaos at times, just not enough to go back. Great Chefs are artists and “feeding people” is their way of expression. I love the term “feeding people”, I once worked with a really amazing Chef at a super high end place and he would always say “we have X more people to feed”. There was a double meaning to this for me, one was the basic part of that was what the job was, cooking food for people, the other was the way it made it sound like we were doing some humanitarian effort, however, $150 a head is for dinner is far from charity, still you were filling an essential need to food, just on an elevated level. My brother was with a big PR firm at the time and as the celebrity Chef business began to take off the PR business had to change as well. As the years went by it became cool to be a Chef and it seemed everyone wanted to be one or at least know and hang out with one. All of these young kids dropping +25k to go to culinary school with the belief that they would graduate and be the next Gordon Ramsey, but be able to skip the talent and hard work part. I remember when Kitchen Confidential came out and friends and family were shocked by the stories that Mr. Bourdain so eloquently had told. The stories to me were all too relative and I knew or had worked with a good number of the characters in the book. Food is life and it tells the story of the people, the land, the history of where it originates. I loved watching him travel the globe and experience the culture of his surroundings through food, and drink of course. I have been lucky enough to have a job that allows me to do the same, I just do not have the writing skills that Anthony was blessed with. Something to aspire to. You will be missed.

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