Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

My Summer Reading List: Heat

Originally posted on July 08, 2009.

Last time on My Summer Reading List, I reviewed Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Cheflebrity Anthony Bourdain. Beyond all of the hype Kitchen Confidential is simply a book about a chef who becomes a writer. This time around I am reviewing Heat by Bill Buford. All awards and accolades aside Heat is simply a book about a writer who becomes a chef.

Bill Buford HeatOh those midlifes. In my first 40 years on earth I’ve been a musician, a dot com guy, a writer and a chef. I wonder what 50 holds for me?

I could sit here all day trying to wax poetic about the transformation Buford made from literati to culinarian. but I don’t have to. I’ll just steal Buford’s words, “In the beginning, there was a writer, the ghost was the chef. In the end, there was the chef, the ghost was the writer.” Heat reads like two different books. The first is one of those culinary adventures that are so en vogue and the other a biography of Mario Batali.

The idea for Heat began when Buford threw a dinner party back in 2002. Batali was a guest at that party but by the time it ended the then-editor at the New Yorker had decided that someone needed to do a profile of the Iron Chef. Unfortunately Buford got no takers so he resolved to do the story himself. A fateful decision to say the least.

Buford elected to take six months to work in the kitchens of Babbo, Batali’s three star Italian restaurant located in New York’s Greenwich Village. When the story was done, Buford wasn’t. He resigned his post at the magazine to continue work his way up the ladder at Babbo. Before long he was on a plane to Italy to learn the old ways. His journey would find him hanging with Marco Pierre White in London, hand rolling pasta in Tuscany and butchering a pig in his New York apartment.

Heat is very well written as one would imagine from a writer of Buford’s experience and does a wonderful job of showing his journey from white collar to chef whites. Those thinking of making the career change to the culinary arts would be well served to read this book before turning in that letter of resignation.

Next: The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffery Steingarten.

My Summer Reading List: Kitchen Confidential

Originally published on June 17, 2009.

Last time on My Summer Reading List I reviewed Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, the beautiful story of a little girl in love with food who grows up to be a renowned food writer. Tender is a romantic telling of a life spent in food. Kitchen Confidential is a whole other beast.

Kitchen Confidential BourdainSemi-retired chef Anthony Bourdain shocked the world with his tome on the inside workings of the restaurant industry, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. As the story goes, Kitchen Confidential blew the lid of the industry upon it’s release in 2000 by revealing the drunken, drug-laden debauchery that exists in American professional kitchens. I question how many people were genuinely surprised by the revelations in Bourdain’s work, after all the restaurant industry employs more people than any other industry in the nation, save the Federal government, over 12 million jobs nationwide.

I believe that most of the hullabaloo was feigned. After all, of those in the media not currently employed in the Life (as Bourdain calls it) most at least used to be employed in it. To a lifer like myself the book was comfortable. It was like sitting down with an old friend over a bottle of Johnny Walker getting three sheets while reliving memories and swapping tales.

Bourdain paints a perfect picture of life in the kitchen, testosterone driven trash talking, seducing servers and drinking way too much. But what surprised me was the author’s love of food. Images sketched in words of his first raw oyster freshly plucked from the brine while only a lad to his experiences with the amazing creations of Scott Bryan, Eric Ripert and Ferran Adrià. Throughout the text I was constantly reminded of both Bourdain’s love affair with food and his sheer talent for the smithing of words.

Anthony Bourdain Medium RawThe boy’s got chops. At the time of its publishing I don’t think Bourdain knew just how good a writer he was. The book was so explosive, so popular that it actually was made into a television series, all though it was a short lived one. Fast forward nearly a decade and Tony is no longer commanding the kitchen at Les Halles, no longer going on three-day coke benders (I hope) and no longer chasing tail. He has become what he loathed and found it’s a pretty nice gig, this celebrity chef thing.

I made sure to put Kitchen Confidential on my summer reading list because I knew how important a book it is. What I did not expect was how much I would learn from it. In fact, I have gotten a whole new reading list from it. Bourdain emphasizes how important it is for any chef to read the classics, if you will, of our profession.

In sports the greats of the game are known by just one name: Hank, Bo, and Michael. Sports fans know of whom I speak. The culinary world is no different and it is these chefs of which Bourdain speaks. Works of literature produced from chefs so revered that they are known by just one name, Escoffier and Bocuse. So thank you, Tony. Not only have you penned a great book, but you have also made my summer reading project a little longer.

Next: Heat by Bill Buford.

ICA: Cora vs. Kostow

After last week’s battle of the salads between Morimoto and Amanda Cohen hopefully there will be some meat on the menu in the second-to-last ICA of season 8.  With Cora doing battle this week, we once again are left wondering Where’s Jose Garces?

Chef Cora’s challenger this week is rising star chef Christopher Kostow.  Oddly enough, Kostow has a full bio on the Food Network web site, a rarity for a one time challenger.  Could there be something in the works?

Christopher Kostow on WannabeTVchef.comWho could blame the Network for wanting to enlist Kostow after the hullabaloo surrounding the talented young chef the past few years.  A Michelin-starred chef by age 30, Chef Christopher was named to Food & Wine‘s list of Top Ten Dishes of the Year in 2007 and San Francisco Chronicle named Christopher a 2008 Rising Star Chef.  It was also in 2008 that he arrived at The Restaurant at Meadowwood in Napa Valley after a lofty and unconventional journey.

Rather than spending years shut away in some culinary school, Kostow opted to instead earn his way to chef by working at some of the most notable restaurants in the world.  He got his education old school when he left his hometown of Chicago to work for the likes of Trey Foshee and Daniel Humm.  Afterwards he did the rounds throughout France to learn the tricks of the trade in traditional French bistros.

Kostow describes his approach, “I embrace food memories — traditional combinations that work together — and then distill those flavors into something that is very much different, and very much stands on its own.”  Cat Cora has created a few food memories herself.

The judges for Battle: Oatmeal were Liliana Cavendish, Ryan D’Agostino and Nina Griscom.  There was also a Top Chef sighting as both competitors had sous chefs from that “other cooking contest” in tow, Richard Blais and Ed Cotton.

Click HERE for the outcome.

If you haven’t already please check out the interview of Cat Cora done recently by Lindsay Mott of MS Digital Daily.

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Review: Food Jobs by Irena Chalmers

Food JobsIn 2003 I discovered a profession that I thought was perfect for my passions and talents, TV chef. I have spent the past half decade trying to reach this lofty, if bizarre, goal. It has been a tough road as, like I have said before, there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. But, finally, there is now an instruction manual.

Award-winning food writer Irena Chalmers (The Great Food Almanac – an IACP Julia Child Award winner) has published a new book that introduces and lays the groundwork for all those foodies who want to make their hobby their vocation: Food Jobs: 150 Great Jobs for Culinary Students, Career Changers and FOOD Lovers.

Chalmers’s career has been unprecedented. She is a renowned and respected food writer, editor, and publisher who has lent her talents to literally hundreds of titles, cookbooks, and guides. In addition to her work with books, she has also contributed articles to at least a dozen different magazines, including Chef magazine, where she served as the “Last Word” columnist for five years. She has also been a guest on over a hundred radio programs.

Upon receiving my copy of Food Jobs, it was hard to resist jumping past the first 136 pages to get to chapter 4, entitled “All Things Media.” Alas I was able to keep my personal ambitions at bay and for almost 15 minutes, too. The first section of chapter 4 deals with food writing. The list of food writers who have progressed from written page to small screen is impressive, like Michael Ruhlman, Jeffrey Steingarten, Anthony Bourdain, and even Chalmers herself. As the chapter unfolds you also get looks at less glamorous but possibly more rewarding food media careers like publishing, food styling and restaurant reviewing.  And there are eight more chapters!

But the real magic of Food Jobs is that I discovered a lot of jobs that I had never thought of before. Professions like culinary tour guide, olive oil tester, and even fortune cookie message writer (somebody’s got to come up with that stuff) are all discussed, as are more conventional occupations like cruise-ship chef, menu designer, or product demonstrator. Chalmers’s work is perfect for those of you contemplating a career change or are just jazzed about food in general. Don’t be surprised if Irena Chalmers is toting home more hardware after the culinary awards festivals next spring.

photo courtesy of foodjobsbook.com

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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