Monday, 9 December 2013


Having said which, “Les Halles Cookbook” has a kind of poignance to it doesn’t it? But what I like even more than the recipes, good as they were, was Anthony Bourdain’s no nonsense philosophy of life. Quite simply this is the best management book I’ve read for ages. Because it talks about a real service business with the gas turned full on. His kitchen is hot. Bourdain tells you how to stand the heat.

Here are some of his observations about work just to give you a few amuse bouches of his style:
It’s about perspiration, he says, it’s not in the blood, it’s in the energy and effort and, despite his protestations, the training.

They are some of the best cooks of cuisine bourgeoise in America. I would proudly put them up against any cheese-eating, long-lunch-taking, thirty-two-hours-a-week-working socialist clock-puncher from across the water. Any day. They’d mop the floor with them. This is less a testimonial to my training abilities than it is evidence of the triumph of persistence, hard work, pure hearts and a sense of humour”.  

It’s about pragmatism. It reminds me of the Lord Rutherford quote “We have no money. We shall have to think”.

Poverty and tough times can produce genius.
“It is no accident that in just about every country you might want to visit, the good cooks seem always to hail from the most ass-backward and impoverished backwaters.”

So straitened circumstances can bring out the best. It’s about the ability to transform by using your brain.
“Something magical……that’s what cooking has always been about at its very essence…’s all about transformation, about taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. That’s magic.”

It’s about learning from your mistakes. This is what great training can do….teaching skaters to “skate to fall” so they learn their limitations and teaching cooks how close they can get hot before burning.
”Screw-ups are good. Screw-ups – and bouncing back from screw-ups – help you conquer fear. And that’s very important because some dishes know when you’re afraid. They sense it, and will….misbehave”.

The art of preparation has always been key. It’s the biggest timesaver there is.

“Mise en place (means) that you know where everything is. You know how much you have. As a result your mind is similarly arranged, rested and ready to cook – a perfect mirror of your work area.”

And the best lesson of all is that life is a balance of time versus perfection.

“It’s what we do every day in restaurants. The age-old question of durability versus quality. The quest for the perfect balance between what’s good and what’s serviceable.

It’s seldom good being brilliant but very late in the workplace. Compromising brilliance is what I call a “value-added trade-off” – it works if we can present brilliantly and sell it well enough.

Read Bourdain and you’ll learn a lot.

It’ll also improve your cooking.

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