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In his book Kitchen Confidential, superstar writer and food lover Anthony Bourdain said chefs were ‘like gods’ who ‘dressed like pirates.’ In a restaurant kitchen, the chef is the ultimate authority, a figure that can inspire fear, rebelliousness, and a cult of personality.
But it’s not only the kitchen boss that makes restaurants a hotbed for excellent stories. Every member of staff, from the bottom-rung dishwasher to the elegant hostess at the front of the house — and the waiters and bartenders and busboys in between — is a character worth considering, as are the customers who bring their own stories to the table.
The closed environment and hot kitchens force these disparate people into close quarters, physically and mentally. They form an oddball family of convenience, and in some cases, genuine feelings that can affect life inside and outside the restaurant. The nightly rush of customers creates strong bonds among the staff, while the tedium of a quiet night leaves plenty of time for telling jokes, making mischief, sharing a cigarette.
In this episode, we chat about our personal experiences in restaurants and discuss why restaurants are such great settings for human drama. Then we recommend books populated with relatable, difficult, and loveable characters. The settings include a Chinese restaurant in Maryland, a Lebanese café in Los Angeles, the last night at a Red Lobster in Connecticut, and a fine-dining experience with an unforgettable waiter in Oslo, Norway. We also get into the nitty-gritty of restaurant life with a nonfiction book — written by an accountant (!) — that’s surprisingly compelling.
Top image courtesy of Toa Heftiba/Unsplash.
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