Wish you’d chosen a 9-5 job? Lessons from Anthony Bourdain’s apprenticeship bestseller
Why should a contractor read the very first book of a famous TV chef? Because this legendarily hard-living man had a contractor's soul
July 10, 2018 by Steve Payne
As famously contemptuous as Mike Holmes is about shoddy contracting, Anthony Bourdain, the New York bred celebrity chef and culinary-travel TV show host who died last month, was as equally derisive about bad restaurants. Whereas Holmes would say, “Rip it out!”, Bourdain would warn, “Don’t eat that!” Both men became famous and wealthy for their arguments in favour of quality.
The public reaction to Bourdain’s death has been significant. Many people have said that they felt they knew the man personally. A reality TV show has seldom been so real. As he struggled up the truly greasy pole of his line-cook apprenticeships, Bourdain was fired often and deservedly. He became a drug addict and talked about that on his shows, too. Yet he recovered from it all and became successful beyond his wildest dreams.
Bourdain was a survivor of a trade that inflicted serious mental and physical pain on its practitioners. To those status-minded souls who sometimes wonder if they should be in the the trades at all, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Anthony Bourdain’s confessional book about his early years as an apprentice chef. It’s called Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.
This bullshit-free book, now a bestseller again, about an industry that too often sets prices and establishes reputations by pomposity, explains the strange obsession that drives people through the mind-bending ordeal of learning to cook at a professional level in madhouse kitchens (all busy restaurant kitchens, pretty well). More than that, I think it’s the best book about the psychology of pursuing a trade (as opposed to a “career”) that I have ever read.
Bourdain writes about the pain, stresses and frustrations of his trade and the exhilaration that comes from conquering those adversaries. He pounds home the truth that quality output on a work shift comes from prior preparation of tools and supplies (what top-level line cooks call their mise en place). And Bourdain makes it very clear that his trade – and it’s true of ours – is worth the suffering because it’s a meritocracy. You can’t hide garbage work and prosper. You can’t bullshit your way to success. Being a chef or a contractor is all about the performance. True success as a chef or as a contractor is one of the highest achievements anyone can earn in the entire world of work. That’s why it’s worth being in our business. The glory is real.