Monday, September 13, 2010

Restaurant Follies

In the introduction to my book Guy’s Guide to Domestic Engineering, I wrote, “Friends often wondered, with all of my restaurant knowledge, why I didn’t open a restaurant. Usually my response was laughter. I knew full well how hard restaurant owners and chef-owners worked, nearly 24/7. Basil has to be in your bloodstream to a bring a restaurant to life and keep it on life support. The good ones are magical. Cooking is one of the creative arts. I love basil, but it is not in my bloodstream.”

That was never a tough decision for me. And I have never second-guessed myself—at least on that decision. Reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential makes me feel like a freaking oracle. It has been out a while (2000) and was a surprise best-seller, especially to the author. He wrote the book for fellow chefs, thinking it too much of an inside treatise for us innocents who patronize restaurants.

A month ago I had purchased his latest work, Medium Raw, but put it down after a few chapters and bought his first best-seller. I’m glad I did and recommend it to all foodies or foodie wannabees. Though, even for foodies it is often a language foreign.

He entitles his chapter on restaurant ownership, “Owner’s Syndrome and Other Medical Anomalies.” In it he writes, “Inarguably, a successful restaurant demands that you live on the premises for the first few years, working seventeen-hour days, with total involvement in every aspect of a complicated, cruel and very fickle trade. You must be fluent in not only Spanish but the Kabbala-like* intricacies of health codes, tax law, fire department regulations, environmental protection laws, building code, occupational safety and health regs, fair hiring practices, zoning, insurance, the vagaries and back-alley back-scratching of liquor licenses, the netherworld of trash removal, linen, and grease disposal.”

So, you own a successful dentist practice and your friends say you should open a restaurant because you give great dinner parties? Fugetaboutit. Invest in a chain of tattoo-removal shops.

* He meant Kabbalah, a Jewish term mostly meaning mystical. So Kabbala-like means mystical-like intricacies.

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