Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Don't Read This: Today's Jeopardy! answer: Benedict Arnold, Alger Hiss, Anthony Bourdain.

The correct question: Name three people who betrayed important secrets.
Everyone knows about Arnold and Hiss. And in the restaurant world, everyone is finding out about Bourdain.

A longtime New York chef, Bourdain recently did the unthinkable in an article for the New Yorker: He exposed restaurant practices that chefs and restaurant owners would prefer the public didn't know.

The article teems with entertaining revelations. Among the most intriguing:
* Say it's a Monday night, and you've got a hankering for pepper-crusted ahi tuna at your favorite restaurant. Why not go for it? Says Bourdain: "If you like four-day-old fish, be my guest."

Bourdain points out that chefs order their weekend supply of fish on Thursday, for Friday arrival. They hope to sell most of it by Saturday night, and they don't reorder until Monday for Tuesday arrival. So the chances are good that the fish you order on Monday has been decomposing in the kitchen's refrigerator for about 80 hours.

* Patrons who order their meat well-done do a valuable service for cost-conscious chefs. According to Bourdain, "they pay for the privilege of eating our garbage."

It seems that in many kitchens there's a time-honored practice called "save for well-done." When the chef runs across a particularly unlovely piece of meat--riddled with fat or connective tissue, or just a bit stinky with age--he has three options. First, toss it out. Second, feed it to the staff. Or third, serve it to Philistines who wouldn't know good meat if it came dangling with a USDA Prime tag. Any bets as to which option most kitchens will choose?

* Are you a vegetarian? The chef despises you. Writes Bourdain: "Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public--and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the Vegans--as enemies of everything that's good and decent in the human spirit."

* Anyone who orders chicken in a restaurant is throwing away money. Chefs have no respect for chicken--in Bourdain's words, "it bores the hell out of them." The only reason it's on the menu is to satisfy people too stupid to find something better to eat.

* Any chef who doesn't use gobs and gobs of butter should find another line of work. Butter, says Bourdain, is everything--meat is seared in it, sauces are intensified by it, onions are caramelized with it.

* Chefs prefer cooking for midweek regulars. Tuesday night is best--the food has been delivered that day, and the chef is rested after a couple of days off. Weekend dining, in contrast, is for tourists and well-done-ordering rubes.

* If you cringe at the thought of food prepared under less than antiseptic conditions, don't go near a restaurant. If any city ever decided to enforce all its sanitary codes to the letter, Bourdain says, "most of us would be out on the street."

--Howard Seftel

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Howard Seftel