These are life stories revolving around food, which means they are some of the best there are. They involve wisdom and humour and personal memories and life lessons and, yes, some sound advice and tips about food and cooking. You won’t find these in my kitchen, but on my night stand.
Anthony Bourdain took the profession of cook as an adventure, just as he did life. For him, it was a calling, a reason to live. Cooking was for him “the last meritocracy – where what we do is all that matters”. It was about being part of a “dark and adrenaline-jacked” subculture, “to be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs”. He thought the best food was simple food. He lived for creating something with his own two hands, but which involved all his senses. He wanted to be the best, wanted to be different, he was afraid of nothing. He had a carefree disregard to conventional morality, but had a clear belief in what is right and what is wrong, and thought that the “black and white” of this business was, besides food, what had attracted him about it in the first place. He wrote Kitchen Confidential while he was still working the line and he had no reservations in talking about sex, drugs and the insights of a hidden world, “the gossipy, self-effacing, overtly depraved world of chefs and cooks”. But he also gives you the feel and beat of the buzz of the kitchen, a real taste of that frantic world. The life of a rock ‘n’ roller, but also the life of a craftsman.
I loved the honesty, the humour, the verve, and how he threw movies into his stories about food: “Please treat your garlic with respect. Sliver it for pasta, like you saw in Goodfellas”, or “When the restaurant opened, we’d begin every shift with a solemn invitation of the first moments of Apocalypse Now, our favorite movie”.
Here are some words we could all live by.
“Character is more important than skills or employment history.”
“Showing up on time is an absolute virtue and being late is always, always bad.”
“Only the strong, the serious and those with a sense of humor survive.”
“The road to any kind of success can be a long and bumpy one.”
“Since all my dreams came true, I’ve had to make adjustments.”
In the introduction she wrote to Heartburn, Nora Ephron said: “One of the things I’m proudest of is that I managed to convert an event that seemed to me hideously tragic at the time to a comedy – and if that’s not fiction, I don’t know what it.” I laughed a lot reading this autobiographical novel. I like a good book that can make you laugh, especially when it’s based on a real life story (that of Ephron, seven months pregnant and married to investigative reporter Carl Bernstein, discovering her husband was having an affair). And it is the way the writer spuns tragi-drama into comedy that makes this a great novel. Good comedy, and this goes for both books and movies, will probably never get the place it deserves – so many times you can reach people much easier if you make them laugh, whatever the subject.
Along the “Heartburn” plotline, the author throws in recipes and culinary anecdotes (the heroine, Rachel, is a food writer and cook book author): “Linguine alba cecca, it’s a hot pasta with a cold tomato and basil sauce, and it’s so light and delicate that it’s almost like eating a salad.” It’s these little secrets that draw you even more to the story. When does food not do that?
“Obviously I didn’t start out in life wanting to be a food writer. These days there are probably people who do – just as there are now people who start wanting to be film critics, God help us – but I started out wanting to be a journalist.”
“The whole point of cooking is that it is totally mindless. What I love about cooking is that […] it is a sure thing! It’s a sure thing in a world where nothing is sure; it has mathematical certainty in a world where those of us who long for some kind of certainty are forced to settle for crossword puzzles.”