The Book Club

Sympathy for an Asshole

Jeffrey, hello!

All is peachy here. And it’s as sunny as can be. I hear it’s rainy and grim in New York.

Visiting the farm with me today were four Ritz-Carlton chefs (Andrew Carmellini from Café Boulud is arriving tomorrow). None of them had heard of Mr. Bourdain’s book.

Do you know what they learn at the Ritz-Carlton? If a customer is unhappy with a dish or the service or the polish of a salad fork, they are told to ask the customer what they can do to make things better, whatever that may be (well, at least, apparently up to $2,000). I wonder what Mr. Bourdain’s policy is?

Who is Hunter S. Thompson, anyway? (Just kidding.) I will have you know I was eating well when I was 7, blissfully unaware of the slop shops in Manhattan.

I never saw the Food Arts article. I was surprised to read that he had described the food at Les Halles to be “relaxed, funky, sensual, and occasionally, whimsical.” In the beginning of his book, he writes that he sees cooking as an opportunity to satisfy his desire to “shock, amuse, terrify and manipulate.” Maybe he should have tried working in the fashion industry.

My favorite paragraph (and yes, Jeffrey, one that made me laugh aloud) was in the section offering a list of pointers for newcomers in the business. Under “Assume the worst,” he writes,

Just because someone you work with is a miserable, treacherous, self-serving, capricious and corrupt asshole shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying their company, working with them or finding them entertaining. This business grows assholes: it’s our principle export. I’m an asshole. You should probably be an asshole too.

So maybe he is, but there is a part of me that was starting to like him. He is a lively writer (though I would like to know what time of day he wrote: five minutes before 6 when he woke up or after a long night of cooking and boozing?), with the dumb but thrilling luck of falling again and again into the kind of scene most people would run from. It has provided him with great material.

I was beginning to pity him, too. All those years of hard labor and so very few good meals. (Day to day, it’s true, cooks generally do not eat well.)

It looks like Mr. Bourdain has started a trend. Leslie Brenner is writing a book about a year in Daniel Boulud’s kitchen. And just before I left, I received a new book, a tell-all about the life of a waitress. Can’t wait.

Jeffrey, it’s been great chatting with you this week. We should have dinner sometime soon. I’ll let you choose the place. Please no rubber apples or road-kill bread.

Talk soon,