A few days ago. I made the mistake of scrolling too far down on one of my books listed on Amazon and noticed two new reviews. Both of them were 1 star, so of course I was curious as to what these people had to say. One mentioned how they liked the story and that characters, blah blah blah. The other made some short statement about spelling and grammar. This had me pissed off for several hours until I went back trying to figure out why I still had a 4-star rating with these kinds of complaints. It turns out that these two people account for 4% of the reviews on this particular book.
I guess the question is why do I care? Who are these people to say such things and why does it matter to me? One of them I have yet to figure out how they even came across my book. Was the algorithm choking on a virus? I looked at other reviews the person had done and none of the martial was anything like my book. As for the other person who said they liked the characters and story, none of the things they reviews were anywhere near similar to things they preferred. I don’t know their story. I don’t know how they came across it.
The reviews pissed me off. People see that shit and while I wish I could wash it away it is there to stay. If that is how they felt I can’t deny it. They don’t know me and I don’t know them but it does help me understand why Hemingway would show up at the newspaper office with two pairs of boxing gloves and would hound the reviewer outside until he was able to knock him out for the poor review that was published. What a fucking legend!
The first response that comes to my mind is “where is your damn book?” These are the same people that while they criticize my work have not written anything of their own. Did they pay for the material they read? Yes. Besides sitting there and reading it what work did they put in? They paid $2.99 for a book. The last time I bought a new book it was $30 and it was the last book that Anthony Bourdain had worked on before he died. I’m not one to pay large sums of money for a book and since I’m not exactly a professional writer by any means charging more than $2.99 is out of my league. That fact they rad the whole damn things says a lot considering the number of books a put aside unable to finish it for various reasons. And here is where I come to my point.
Who am I writing for? Ultimately it is for myself. I write the books that I would want to read. Action? Check. Fast paced? Check. Situations that make you think? You can check that one off as well. A book written for someone like me isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Much like the books I sat down and forgot about not everyone who reads my stuff is going to appreciate it. There is also the other factor that has been suggested to me several times. “Write at a 3rd grade level to appeal to a larger audience.”
Why do I have to dumb down my writing? What the hell is happening in out public schools that this is the level that is expected for a mass audience? Shouldn’t this be a wake-up call for most of society and why aren’t people challenging themselves to something that works their mind? Imagine trying to publish Infinite Jest today. It would never happen. Our society it lazy and wants a whole lot of things for nothing. I charge $2.99 for digital copies of my books to make myself available to a mass audience. If I make money cool. If I could make a living at it, even better. The number of readers in today’s society is small. I think it might be the smallest percentage that it ever has been. Hundreds of books are published every month and those books fight for a really small number of customers who might buy their product. Then there is me. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. If not, I hope that you find something of mine that you might enjoy. If not, thanks for the short review. I’m glad you put as much work and thought into it as I did writing the entire book. Take care.
In 2018, the unthinkable happened. Anthony Bourdain, beloved TV host, writer, and chef was found dead in his hotel apartment in France. This was not the first well known writer to die that year and the library had a large selection of his work in books and film on hand. I was surprised the previous months at the lack of interest in writers like Harlan Ellison, Peter Mayle, Tom Wolfe, and Philip Roth to name a few, who went without a display or mention on the website. When famous people die that is when the public takes a sudden interest in them again. Bands like Nirvana sold more albums after the death of Kurt Cobain than when he was alive. The same day of Bourdain’s death I sent an email to the director of the library asking if we could do a display for him featuring his works. I was redirected to the person in charge of doing displays and told, “if we did a display for every writer who died we would always have a display up.” There was also mention that they thought about doing a display dedicated to Jim Harrison because he was from Michigan, but they felt he didn’t have enough work to justify it. His library of material filled two shelves in the fiction section.
There was only one thing to do. That night, before the end of the shift, I printed out a picture of Bourdain and collected all of his materials from the library. Episodes of No Reservation and Parts Unknown from the audio-visual section, cook books from the second-floor non-fiction, and his biographies. The material filled a cart and at the bottom of his picture I wrote in the suicide prevention hotline number. The next morning there was an uproar. All day people were talking about the display and how it wasn’t approved. Librarians were mad that materials had been moved. As the day went on patrons came in, saw the display, and checked out various movies and books from the cart. The director decided to let it stay.
A year later Toni Morrison died and to now surprise of anyone she received a display in the lobby showing her works and legacy. Can you find the difference between Toni and the rest of the writers that had died in the last year? I can.
There is a well-known and well documented policy of discrimination at the library and its not just for writers. There is a difference between patrons and patrons, staff and patrons, and staff and staff. Everyone is divided up by their differences and who they are determines policy and actions taken in every situation. The rights of a homeless, oh I’m sorry, “unhoused” person trump the rights of someone who is employed and paid the taxes that keep the library working. If one patron is white and the other black the library with side with the BIPOC person in every case. Patrons are above staff in most situations. If there is a dispute among staff members it is decided upon by race or gender. Throw in a few other things like sexuality and political beliefs and you can see how the policy works. There are rules on the books for these things but they tend to be treated more like suggestions rather than actual rules. If the library was a religion, you could compare them to the worse Christians you ever met, the pick and choose, I sometimes go to church, “the bible does say he can beat his wife” variety.
A perfect example of this policy took place during the “occupy the park” protest of 2019. The city was ahead of its time with social protest when a group of homeless, I mean, unhoused people set up tents in the park and demanded stuff. Free housing, healthcare, food, and a whole list of things that were absurd to say the least. The bathrooms of the library became the port-a-potty for the protestors and we saw an influx of loiters and theft from the library. Meanwhile the library sided with the protestors, putting together care packages for them including soap, gloves, socks, tooth brushes, etc. most of these items were later found in the bathroom trash never used. This is what happens when you take people’s tax dollars and divert them to other things besides what they were intended for. The library literally threw money away to act like social workers instead of librarians. While the tax paying public could have received more materials to use for their own use their money was handed over to ungrateful socialist who demanded something for nothing.
It was during that time that a tall black man about 6’3” wearing a red jump suit came into the library and started harassing some girls upstairs by the computers. Security asked him to leave and that was when “shit got real.” I was in the back hallway and could hear the yelling going on. There was a children’s event taking place on the third floor and while mothers were bringing their children in to the event the man was screaming at the security guard refusing to leave. “Fuck you, fucking dyke bitch. Pussy eating bitch. Suck my dick you faggot bitch!” This is a small fraction of the things he said to the security guard who is black, a woman, and lesbian. Gay bashing at the library, you would think somebody would stand up and put a stop to this. There is no way that this would be tolerated at such an upstanding place as the library. They pride themselves on standing up for minorities and especially gay people, right? The security guard was by herself when I walked out the door and watched as women shielded their kids from the man losing his shit in the lobby.
After hearing some of the things the man was saying I walked up to him, within six inches of his face and said “you need to grab your stuff and leave, right now.” I could see the gears in his head breaking as he looked at me not knowing what to do. He stepped back and was silent for a few seconds. “Did you just walk up to me like that. What the fuck. Who do you think you are?”
“You need to leave. How many times did she tell you to leave?”
“Man, fuck her. Fucking lesbian dyke bitch.”
“Leave now or go to jail.” It was the final warning I would give.
He continued his temper tantrum and I stood there making sure nothing would happen to the security guard. A few minutes later the cops arrived and the man had a warrant for a violent offense. He was arrested and hauled off to the squad car. The security guard thanked me and for the next year I was repeatedly reminded of how I was the bad guy in the situation. You read that right. I was the problem in the situation. It wasn’t the gay bashing, the threats of violence, or the fact that a man with a violent past was causing a scene in a building where kids were coming in to an event. No, that guy was fine. He was in the right. The straight white man who decided to stand next to his gay co-worker while she’s being attacked is the problem. In what world does this make sense?
A few weeks later the same man who had been arrested came back to the library and took a seat up on the second floor. Security noticed him right away and told their supervisor who told them not to do anything unless he did something. When the man was arrested the library was given a no trespassing order so that if he ever showed up again, he would be arrested immediately. This is why the police are reluctant to hand these out. The same victims that receive them don’t use them and instead are hurt later when they don’t use them thinking, “he won’t hurt me this time, he’s changed!” then they end up in the ER and the cops are baffled as to idiocy of the situation. Luckily the man got up after 15 minutes an walked out.
This was another case where I should have seen the red flag to get out and find a new job, but instead I stayed.
Three years ago, the world lost an example of the American dream. A bottom level chef, dope addict, and workaholic wrote a book that transformed his life and the life of others. Kitchen Confidential boosted Bourdain from a kitchen to television. There were books that came before and after but none of them were as successful as his culinary opus. For some reason his path did not take him into the literary world as he inspired to do, instead he ended up on television throwing insults at Rachel Ray and Emeril Lagasse. That trip didn’t appear to have an ending and somewhere along the way there was the idea for Bourdain to help others become published. An Anthony Bourdain Book became a subdivision of Ecco publishing, the company that published Kitchen Confidential. Every year after 2011, Bourdain picked books, some of them by people he knew, and they were published with his Oprah like stamp on the cover. For seven years this trend continued until Bourdain’s death in 2018. I have come across these books over the years and I have enjoyed every single one. I became curious, how many of these were published? Are there more on the way? Is there a list of all the Bourdain books with his stamp of approval? Sadly, Ecco stopped the publication of Bourdain books in 2018. The last books that Bourdain picked that year were the last to be published with that stamp of approval. The other questions took my down a Google rabbit hole that left me in a world of disappointment. Ecco didn’t have a list of books they had published, only listing items that were still available or still in print. Amazon doesn’t have a category for Anthony Bourdain books although they carry many of the titles I found. eBay was hit or miss with the deciding factor being how the seller listed the item. Even Wikipedia, while it had a listing for Ecco and their subdivision, did not have a list of books that Bourdain published.
The following is the list that I have been able to put together so far:
You’re Better Than Me by Bonnie McFarlane
Pain Don’t Hurt by Mark Miller
Start the Fire by Jeremiah Tower
WD50 by Wylie Dufresne
The Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn
We Fed an Island by Jose Andres
The Mission Chinese Cookbook by Danny Bowien
Prisoner by Jason Rezaian
Vegetables Unleashed by Jose Andres
Grand Forks by Marilyn Hagerty
L.A. Son by Roy Choi
They call me Supermensch by Shep Gordon
Eating Korea by Graham Holliday
Eating Vietnam by Graham Holliday
Rice Noodle Fish by Matt Goulding
Grape Olive Pig by Matt Goulding
Pasta Pane Vino by Matt Goulding
Hawker Fare by James Syhabout
Adios, Mother Fucker by Michael Ruffino
Stealing Green Mangoes by Sunil Dutta
The publisher stated that the Bourdain portion of the company would publish 3-4 titles per year. There are 20 titles listed here and I’m not sure if they are all of the books published. I have a feeling there might be some missing. After this, there is the question of the introductions Bourdain wrote for other authors, books that Bourdain edited like the 2008 Best of Travel Writing, and the documentaries that Bourdain created like Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. Besides No Reservations and Parts Unknown Bourdain did a lot of projects on the side and some of which were released after his death. To stay on track here let’s focus on the books that Bourdain thought were worthy of being published.
I don’t know if this is a complete list or not. If there is anything missing, please comment on this post so that I can add and edit anything that had been forgotten. For one reason or another Bourdain thought these books were important and while some became popular for obvious reasons there are some that were forgotten the moment they hit the shelves. I find it interesting that Eating Korea appeared to have sold well and was an enjoyable read. However, Eating Vietnam was forgotten and I didn’t even know about it until I started doing this project. Even Goodreads appeared to have dropped the ball on that one.
Where should I go after this? Documentaries? Obscure writings that Bourdain contributed to? Let me know. In the meantime, I have some reading to do.
As a kid my parents would throw me into a dumpster to look for discarded food. There were only three of us and while we were not bad off if there was anything better than cheap it was free. I would pull out bags of oranges that had not gone bad, boxes of pasta past their shelf date, and in one instance a plastic bag filled with leavened dough from the local little Caesar’s. We spent an entire day baking loaves of bread, bread sticks, and storing away what wasn’t used in the freezer.
I learned early on that food goes to waste at an unprecedented level in this country. The store we were dumpster diving at was a Harding’s grocery store in an upscale neighborhood. This store didn’t bother with a clearance section to move old product. Anyone who bought from such a section would be judged for having financial problems, instead of looked up to for being thrifty. So these things were thrown into the dumpster and written off in their books as a loss for a bonus tax break.
Before I started a 30 day social media and news fast a story popped up regarding a Fred Meyer in Portland Oregon who called the police to stop people from jumping into their dumpster at night. A dozen cops showed up and stopped a group of people from searching through the dumpster for food to salvage. I have several issues with this. Store employees were standing guard at the dumpster to make sure nobody was able to climb into it. When the crowd became too big they called the police to protect their “trash.” A dozen police officers stood guard for an hour and a half making sure nobody went into the dumpster. As a business I have to assume that whatever they had thrown away was worth more than the pay of the police officers and what their staff was paid to watch over a dumpster instead of moving and selling product in the store to make a profit. If that is the case, why wasn’t the food in that dumpster donated to a local food pantry instead of tossing it into a dumpster? There has never been a case of a business being sued for donating food to a pantry.
Before the death of Anthony Bourdain, he produced a documentary called Wasted, it wasn’t about drug abuse but how all over the world food is wasted and what we can do about it. People were interviewed about dumpster diving, food was collected to feed to pigs at farms, composed was created for farmers, the list grew as to how this Waste could be used for a greater good.
The current situation of inflation and rising food cost is going to make life difficult for those who can not afford the cost. Solutions will need to be found and whether it is growing your own food or diving into a dumpster people will need to do something.
There are two stores in my area that sell food at a discount compared to major supermarkets. The first one we found is called Cadillac Marketplace. They not only sell food but other products that have sat on store shelves so long they are throw into a tractor trailer and sold to the store at a low fixed price. Protein bars that are usually $3 I buy for $.10 and boxes of cereal sell for $1. Bags of Starbucks and Bulletproof coffee sell for $4 when they are usually $10-$15. The first time I went to this store I walked out with two banana boxes filled with food for $75. A few weeks ago the owners of this store bought a load of food that included cases of MREs (meals ready to eat) brand new and sealed shut. With Covid-19 and the lockdowns MREs have been in short supply and they regularly sell on Amazon for $120 for a single box to $300 for two depending on what you get. The individual bags appeared on the shelves and I started to fill the cart. When the owner noticed me, he said that he had a pallet in the back and he wanted to move it out to save space. I bought six boxes for $10 each.
In a nearby town called McBain there is a small Amish store called Pineview. We had heard about it from the neighbors and decided to check it out. This place ended up being twice the size we thought it was when we pulled up. The frozen food section was massive, carrying the over stock of meat and produce usually shipped to restaurants and stores. We found everything from lunch meat ham, breakfast sausage, Greek yogurt, cheese, and bacon for $1 each. It was even cheaper if you bought it by the case. The first time we went I threw a box of Cornish hens in the cart for $10. These were Tyson brand and the last time I saw them at the local Meijer they were 2 for $8. Protein bars were mix and match 10 for $1. Pasta and Rice hovered around $1. We found large containers of Bolthouse Farms eggnog for $1, it doesn’t expire until March of 2021. At the end of the trip, we filled two carts, that turned into six banana boxes filled with food, and paid $120. For the first time since buying our freezer chest it now full.
I’m not sure how the Amish do it. I don’t know why these items are offered at one store but guarded by police at another. I remember watching a show with Andrew Zimmerman about people who go dumpster diving in Seattle then take the items they collected and cook it into a meal that was handed out to the homeless via a food truck. Even though nobody was made sick, countless people were fed at no cost to anyone other than the volunteers, the city shut it down for health code violations. It would appear that good Samaritan laws do not apply to feeding the homeless.
With the amount of food that is wasted in this country, even under mandate by the state, it is safe to say that this trend will continue. The Amish and stores like the Cadillac Marketplace won’t have a hard time filling their shelves. Food will continue to go into the landfills while people go hungry unable to pay ridiculous prices. The only way I can think to counter the cost of produce is to grow your own. To expand on that idea is to have people grow enough for themselves and more for their neighbors. If people grew produce on their property it would take a burden off of the grocery stores. We have seen this happen before after the fall of the USSR. Cuba told its people to grow food where ever they could find land. If you were growing food, the land was “yours.” People didn’t starve, they ate better than they had before, and the country moved on.
Texas is currently experiencing a food shortage. The state of abundance, vast swaths of land, cattle, and of course FREEDOM, is going through something many people in our country have never seen before. Store shelves are bear and with the power grid down the food supply chain us unable to move. Everything is literally frozen in place. This is why we should not only be filling pantries with food that have a long shelf life, but learning to preserve food that we grow. Fresh is best but food, regardless of the quality, is better than starving.
I read a story about a man who filled his bathtub during the blackout and woke up the next morning to find all of his drinking water frozen into a block of ice. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how people can expect something that rare to happen and prepare for it. Some of the videos I watch told me that in Texas they didn’t even know where their water main shutoff was when a pipe burst in their house. Maybe I’m lucky with where I live. I have seen 120 degrees weather in Michigan. I saw -40 degrees last winter. I’m poor enough to work on my own house and know where the circuit breaker is, the water shut off, and fire extinguishers are assorted where a fire might break out. To me these things are common sense. If I was living in Texas, I wouldn’t know what to do if I spotted a scorpion in my house, came across a rattle snake in my yard, or was charged by a wild boar. We do have bears though.
Rising food prices are here. There is no more speculation of what might happen. The Federal Reserve is printing money like it is the die off of the beanie baby bubble. The stock market is inflated from the influx of money. With a food shortage looming and the value of the dollar declining we will start to see prices we have never seen before. Kiss organic food goodbye, nobody will be able to afford it. Even with the ability to buy food becoming harder for the majority of people some governments are making it more difficult to survive. In the UK the health inspectors are cracking down on people growing and/ or preparing food in their homes and selling it to neighbors. They are now proposing that people caught doing this without a license could face 2 years in prison for feeding people. This would include your local tamale lady who is just trying to make a couple extra bucks. Could we see the closing of places like Pineview and the Cadillac Marketplace in the future? I would not be surprised if the government stepped in and said that cutting more food out of the market during the time of a shortage was for our own good. “We are the Government and we are here to help.” Cringe.
We as individuals need to be creative. We need to learn how to make the most out of the food we have and relearn tools that our ancestors had only a few decades ago. There was a time, not that long ago, when food wasn’t cheap. We have had it good for a long time now due to cheap oil. The world is changing and as a species we need to adapt to it. While the powers that be think they can implement a policy that will cover all places and cultures, they are horribly wrong. Texas is a prime example. People in local areas need to figure out the best way to make it in the new world that is coming. Where I live the land is rolling hills, the soil is filled with clay, water pools into ponds everywhere, and we have constant wind. There is a lot of cattle and livestock here. Dairy farms are a dime a dozen. Rolling hills of wheat and corn are common. Move closer to the lake and you will find grape vines and hops growing in fields. One policy will not fix a state, or a country. It is beholden of the individual to figure out the best measure to work through this. The only people that can help us in the future is ourselves.
All I wanted was a hard cover copy of A Cook’s Tour, one of Bourdain’s early books after Kitchen Confidential, for my personal library. I noticed that eBay had a nice selection of books for fairly cheap and some places offered free shipping. If I could get a good copy for a few bucks instead of waiting for a local shop to get one in then I would buy one online. I found a copy by a library bookstore and they were offering free shipping. I figured throwing a few dollars to a library was a good investment for everyone. I placed my $8 order and waited, and waited, and wondered if it would ever come. Today I came home after running some errands and found some packages on the porch, one of them was for me. I opened the package to find my copy of A Cook’s Tour. I flipped through the pages to see if it was a first edition and found the signature first. The loud obnoxious “Hello!” was in my face and I turned the light on to see if it was real. Flipping the page over there was that indentation of a pen being pressed against the page. I had seen these before, the early signatures being simple and a quick scribble of his name, during a time he wondered if his fame was a fad and if it was all going to fall apart at some time unexpectedly. This was before the knife or the skull and the addition of “cook free or die” written on the page. I have found gems like this before. A signed first edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay with an inscription by the author Michael Chabon was on the shelf at a local store of $1. I bought it and took it home feeling little guilt happy to know it would stay in my collection for decades to come. This was the first book I read where I thought to myself “this is what writing is all about.” My taste has changed over the years but that one book has always stayed with me. Other have come my way over the years, John Updike is a common occurrence, Jim Harrison is on the list, and the local Bonnie Jo Campbell is a dime a dozen in town but I don’t pass them up. This by far is the best find I have come by after seeing dozens of Bourdain’s signed books online for hundreds of dollars and wondering if I would ever be able to own one. I couldn’t help but wonder if his ghost swiped its hand and said “ya know, he’s always been a big fan, stuck through until the end, here you go young man.” I had been looking over his estate auction wondering if I could buy part of his personal library, but this is so much better and in my price range. Somehow, someway, this book came my way, and that need for a person bit of Bourdain’s history being in my life is complete. From now on this book is not for sale, it’s staying on the shelf, I’ll take it out for moments of inspiration and when I die the kids will likely donate it to the local goodwill. I hope I raise them right. Maybe it’s time to get that “Cook free or die” tattoo.
I still remember the day you died, now three years ago but feeling like yesterday. Out of all the deaths I could imagine yours was the one I had the most respect for. It wasn’t the suicide or drug overdose that we hear so much about, although you did flirt with those from time to time. I dread the care facility, the place where you rot away and people forget about you while they steal your stuff. Bedpans and seated showers are not the place for me. You died doing what you always did and weren’t going to stop from old age or loneliness, I know your wife died six months before. It seems like we all have someone waiting for us on the other side. How was it greeting Anthony Bourdain to the other side? I can imagine the feast you had prepared of duck breasts and pigs cooking in every way possible. They are selling his things now and I have seen some of yours. You are scattered around the country now, autographed books, your photo at Dick’s Pour House, French wine, and people still complain that you owe them money. Have a check ready for when they arrive. Tomorrow I will be cooking up a batch of pumpkin bacon soup from one of your favorite cookbooks by Fergus Henderson. The house will smell of bacon and garlic, and I will become fat as I prepare for winter. Hunting season is here and while we don’t have dove or quail in these parts it is calming to be in the woods and clear one’s head that the world always tries to fill with someone else’s gibberish. We all need to get away, even the crickets are singing their song in the city longing for a time that there wasn’t a city, when all of this was theirs and the only concern they had was what to eat and who to breed with. Humans were like that once until things became so damn complicated. What is it about our nature that causes us to destroy the little bit of good that we have? Are we all greedy? Is it some kind of lustful thirst that we can not satisfy pushing us toward our own demise? The empty bag of potato chips beside me might hold the answers. We continue to take until there is nothing left.
There are many things that I could say about Anthony Bourdain and while this book is dedicated to him I will try not to let his memory take over what should be a collection of stories about my time as a cook. I didn’t read Kitchen Confidential until almost a decade after it was published. The first time I picked it up was just after my ex-wife moved out and we were separated. Not long after that Medium Raw was released and that was the book that gave me some connection with the man, having gone through a similar time in my life and knowing the pain of separation. I was looking for something, although I didn’t know what at the time and somehow along the way Bourdain and a few others filled that void in my existence.
No Reservations became a big part of my life allowing me to see far away places while stuck in the same town that I had grown up in. at one point I even purchased a passport but it has never been used. My adventures are of the old school local kind and I am going to have to either make a serious of big changes or accept the fact that I am not destined to venture out into the world. Maybe I’m just not the traveling type.
There was a hope that had come from Bourdain, knowing that a man could spend the majority of his life slaving in a kitchen and with a series of fortunate events change everything in his life for the better. I started to look at my own life and wondered what I could do to change where is was and get out of the day to day funk that was my life. My career was a dead end. What had promised to be an opportunity to grow had dwindled to biweekly paychecks and no raises for 5 out of the 14 years I had worked in healthcare. The only people that appeared happy were those that had left the hospital who often used the hashtag #lifeafter__________ (fill in with your hospital of choice). I had 14 years of experience in a job that I hated and not much else to offer the world.
After my divorce I went out and bought a laptop. It sat in the closet for a year before I pulled it out and started writing. At first it was short stories but all of them were in the same world. Soon I realized they were tied together and part of the same story. A year later I had this thing that I didn’t know what to do with. I ran into a friend who had posted a kids book on Amazon and said “what the hell, people buy it or they won’t.”
Skipping ahead, that book turned into $20,000 in sales over three years with sequels and spin offs. The debt from my divorce was paid off, I had savings in the bank, and I learned I could do something beside mop up blood, pick up dismembered fingers from the floor, or learn that I was not going to have another raise after 14 years of service. I was fucking done with it all.
I put in a three week notice to give my supervisor time to find a replacement to work in the ER and even that was fucked up. They should have known something was amuck when there was a flood of people leaving out the door and nobody appeared to be upset about leaving. I took three months off, the first break from working since I was 16 years old and it taught me there was another way to live.
I am much happier now. Earning an income almost double what the hospital was paying, having a daughter, and a supportive wife who puts up with my eccentric ways. There was a time when I thought a person just found a job, went to work, and eventually retired. Towards my final years at the hospital I watch too many people reach retirement age and never make it to receive that first check. The older employees were dropping like flies and it was before they could have that retirement party. I did not want that to be me and because of Bourdain I realized it didn’t have to be. Life isn’t a closed book where you are destined to do the same thing over and over again. If that’s what you want then you can choose that for yourself but these days it’s a dangerous path to take. I know too many people who worked for a company for twenty plus years who were eventually escorted to the door, handed a small check and told to ‘fuck off’ in a polite way. I was determined not to be that person.
Bourdain also allowed me to look back at my year as a cook and find the good memories of a time that I had either forgotten or wished to forget. It wasn’t the best of times and the people I was hanging out with did not have my best interest at heart. I was an odd guy that didn’t appear to fit in anywhere and somehow attracted those who thought they could better themselves by being around me, but at the same time tried to bring me down to make themselves feel better. This was not a winning situation for anyone and I an glad to be done with it. This is why films like Good Will Hunting is a myth. When Affleck tells Damon that he better arrive at the house one day to find him gone, from my own personal experience those friends don’t exist. They resent you for trying to better your life and once you leave there is no coming back. If you are bettering your life you shouldn’t desire to come back. That was one thing Bourdain always feared, when would the trip be over and he would find himself back in the kitchen, too old to work and wondering what he had done with the time he had. You won’t find me working in a hospital ever again and there is a difference between enjoying cooking at home and running a line in a kitchen.
Some would say that chefs are the new rock stars of our culture and I would have to disagree. That mentality is dangerous and for those working the line there is nothing glamorous or sexy about slaving over a hot stove and being yelled at for 12-16 hours a day. It’s factory work with food. Think of the last time you heard about a famous person stamping out auto parts or the sexy guy or girl working the forklift. Working sucks and the best thing we can do is learn from it or at least find the motivation to do something else. Don’t wait as long as I did, you never know how much time you might have left to do what you really enjoy.
I have seen successful start-up restaurants and I have seen the remains of those who thought they could do things in their own way. For starters I will use the Mexican taco place down the street from my house. They started simple and first sold their tacos out of a small food cart hauled around by an old Ford F150. The money they made from that stand went into renovating a building during that project their taco cart was parked in the parking lot still raising money for their project. While this seems smart and the best way to do things it also took them three years to reach their goal. It may have taken time but everything is paid for and everything they make from this point on is profit with no payment to be made to the bank. Equipment and gear were purchased second or third hand from auctions and other outlets at a fraction of the cost if it was new. Let somebody else pay those prices, you know, the poor bastards that have no idea what they are doing. Construction and labor were all DIY with flooring and walls all done by friends and family. There is no secret to how to build your own establishment, it takes hard work and time, two things people don’t want to invest in anymore, instead seeking the easy way out.
Then you have people starting a restaurant with money. The fact they have cash to burn can be the biggest obstacle they will face. There is a brewery downtown that decided years ago that they would extend their establishment and add a restaurant to their building. This place was famous for beer not food and while one could argue that its only natural for them to expand into other things, I would like to point out it is very difficult to make a profit from serving food. Making beer and serving alcohol is the best money maker one can hope for and if you are looking to make more money with that kind of establishment than maybe you should expand the types of drinks you serve.
All the classic mistakes were made with this expansion. Over 3 million dollars was spent on the kitchen alone. For some reason a person with a limitless credit card thought the whole thing should be new. This was also done backwards, installing the kitchen and design then hiring the chef who would be working it. Nobody during this process had experience running a kitchen and yet they were picking the spots to put the stove, fryer, prep station, oven and so on. The flow of the kitchen and the type of food you will be serving are key to having a functioning kitchen.
Next came the hiring of the chef. There were two options in the end. One was a guy who worked for a company who toured the country selling kitchen supplies and showing new businesses how to prepare their meals. This guy had skills that were learned over time. Next you had a guy from California who had a habit of rubbing his noise while sniffing and thought he was the greatest thing on the planet. The daughter of the brewery’s owner thought he was pretty hot herself so you can guess as to who they hired. The coke addict lasted less than a year when they finally realized he had no idea what the hell he was doing. Money started to leak from the business like the Titanic cruising along after hitting the iceberg, the only difference is that they didn’t notice they hit anything and it was self-sabotage.
After 3 million dollars spent, a coke addict was hired for the kitchen, piss poor food was decided to be served, and an inexperienced crew roamed the kitchen the final nail was put into the coffin. Hopcat, a piss poor business with bad service, but for some reason loved by all, moved in across the street. It was game over for the brewery that had everything to offer in that small section of town.
I couldn’t tell you what they were thinking. When the brewery first started it was small, functioning out of a kitchen and serving one keg at a time. The owner used one cooking pot per batch and worked on recipes over the years. He gradually expanded and slowly over time the business grew to epic proportions. This was the Mexican taco cart but with beer. He had done things right the first time but somewhere along the way from the three divorces, national distribution, car collection, or maybe the coke habit, things started to go downhill and he forgot where he had come from. I have heard this story before, hell I lived it in a past life. You start working for a company and everything is going great. They have good benefits, they pay well, treat people with respect and then over time things start to disappear. The benefits are trimmed back, raises are no longer given, vacations are no longer approved and when you say something you are told “be thankful you have a job.” There is a strange business model that everyone follows to their own destruction, expand like a virus until you are dead.
Now why would a brewery with a stunning reputation decide to expand into the less lucrative restaurant industry? Greed. Their books topped off and while they were making more money than they could spend, there was the appeal of making more. Lessons had been learned long ago on how to do these things without going bankrupt and yet if you throw in a bunch of money people think they know better than the time-tested methods of yesterday. People were fired, benefits lost and the curtesy of a “I’m sorry” never came to mind. Lives were ruined and those on high, the captains of industry that knew better, didn’t think twice about it.
I talked before about a tribe, the group of people who work together with one goal in mind. If you want a functioning kitchen you better have a good tribe in place who is willing to work together through thick and thin. Serve the best food, on time, presented the same way and do it again. If there is anyone in the kitchen who can’t follow this model get rid of them. When I kicked Opie out of the kitchen it was because he was fucking things up for the rest of us. We could pump out a thousand perfect sandwiches and that one douchebag could ruin everything for everyone. This kind of self-destruction can be unstoppable from the top. You could have the best crew, the best ingredients and then some snot nosed kid steps in and think he knows better, add in some drug addiction and shit goes down hill fast.
So, you want to start a business, one that serves food? Start small, don’t invest your retirement account into something you have never done before. You know those tamale ladies who are pedaling their food behind closed doors, start out like that. Make sure there is a market for what you want to serve. If you have to take out a loan do it with the understanding that you might have to file bankruptcy. Set a number in your head for how much debt you can accrue before calling it quits. You can lose other people’s money but it’s a double whammy to lose your business and your savings. Try to build your business with your profits and don’t quit your day job until you are making enough to pay yourself. Buy everything second hand or install furniture and equipment by yourself. Have standards of quality over quantity. Do not over expand.
There is an Italian sausage place in town that has been successful for over a decade now. The man started out making the sausage at home and then bought a food cart for local events. He has a tiny car and bought a place on the business loop where he spends his time making sausage. He has the one building, still uses the cart and is doing very well for himself. He didn’t put up several diners across the city in the hopes of making more money, he had his goal in mind, reached it and now has the security of knowing that he is the one guy in town that people go to for his style of food.
People tend to make things more complicated then they need to be. As long as civilization has been around people have made a living from serving food. People have to eat and most of the time they aren’t able to cook for themselves. This industry wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t profitable and to make more out of it than it is turns it into something that it shouldn’t be. Serve good food, be consistent, and repeat. If you get this down people will come back. Hell, even McDonald’s figure this one out.
Today turned out to be a big day for getting things done. The proofs for Daisy arrived unexpectedly early and I did a small photo shoot for the cover of Motherf*cker: My year as a degenerate cook. This morning I wrote a new chapter for the second book titled Rob’s Lament and that clocked in at 2000 words.
Daisy is available for pre-order now and I’m currently recording the audiobook version which should conclude this week, then comes editing. I am still writing material for Motherf*cker but the plan is to release it on June 8th for the one-year anniversary of Anthony Bourdain’s death, three days after Daisy comes out. Am I crazy? Yes!
I doubt I will have the audiobook recorded for Motherf*cker but the print version and Ebook should be out. While creating the cover for Daisy I wanted to have three separate covers for each version, but cover creator had other plans for me. The image that was voted the best one for the Ebook also ended up as the cover for the printed version. As for the audiobook, I haven’t gotten far enough to find out how that will go.
Towards the end of my time at Olga’s I was invited to go out to Karaoke night at Brann’s Steakhouse located next door to the Mall. This was the first and last time that I would hang out with many of the servers and cooks who I had worked with. The manager that had come out had a reputation for belting out late 80’s pop songs. Many of the people tried to perform 90’s rap/ hip hop and a few tried to get me to sing “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-lot. I declined and eventually, through the aid of much alcohol, picked Ænima by Tool. Nate Dawg made some comment about me of all people picking a 6-minute song and I didn’t care. I had to listen to him rapping some track by Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
When I finished singing one of the only songs, I had memorized the bar was silent. “and that was Matt, the only guy I have seen able to sing Tool. Very nice.” The DJ said before announcing the next up to the stage. This night I learned about putting myself into horrible situations. I was too drunk to drive, knowing this is a good tool to stay out of trouble. The bad part about know this was being taken to Karen’s apartment across the street to sober up. We didn’t have Uber back then and I didn’t want to pay for a cab. I argued to sleep in my car, but it was below freezing outside. I caved in and fell asleep on Karen’s couch, coat still on and my large case of CDs wrapped in my arms. Back then people would steal CDs from cars which is unthinkable today. After Karen checked on her kids, she came back into the living room. I pretended to be asleep and I was in a state of panic as she stood over the couch. After a long moment there was a deep sigh and she disappeared.
Early that morning I woke up and found the apartment dead silent. Karen was still asleep, and I wanted to be out of there as soon as possible. I grabbed my CDs and went out, walking across the street, finding my car in the Brann’s parking lot and driving home. I needed something different. I needed to get out of Olga’s before I ended up as a trophy on somebody’s wall.
There are places in Kalamazoo that appear impossible to get into. Pizer, Stryker, Bronson, Borgess, the list goes on but the institutions that offer a living wage had their doors closed unless you knew somebody on the inside. My mom snuck her way into the hospital through a loop whole in their hiring system. She was working at a daycare center operated by the hospital however it was a separate entity and the employees were not regarded as hospital employees. One of the other women she worked with bid on a job that was only inhouse and she got the job. Others started to do it and soon HR learned about these women who shouldn’t be bidding on these jobs but not before my mom was in.
One of the floors in the hospital was short staffed for cleaning people and I was given a paper application. That paper was handed to the manager who gave it to HR and before I knew it, I had an interview. The job was 12 hours a day, three days a week and I took it. This was the first time I had health insurance, I didn’t have to worry how many hours I had to pay rent, I wasn’t standing over a hot stove and I didn’t have anyone yelling at me ever twenty minutes. This was a complete change from where I had been working.
I still had some credit card debt from college and wanted to save up for a new car. I continued working at Olga’s and after working 60-70 hours a week for 6 months I left. I still remember the moment I was standing in the kitchen and my mind shut off, looking into nothingness and snapping out of it half awake and dragging myself through my task. I had money saved up, the credit card was paid off. It was time to relax and start living like a normal human being.
I went up to the manager’s office and found Meagan sitting at the desk. I think she had just finished putting together the next schedule and I told her “I can’t do this anymore.”
“You’re quitting?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied with the intend of giving her a two-week notice.
“Today?” she asked. I had not considered this. I fully intended on giving them two weeks and find someone to cover for me, but after all the short shifts, all the double shifts, the times I worked by myself what difference would it have made. Knowing I didn’t ever have to come back was a blessing in disguise. She never should have asked that question.
I can do that? I thought to myself. “Uh, Ya. Today.” Meagan started to cry, and I said “sorry” before turning around, hanging up my apron and going downstairs.
“Motherfucker, where are you going?” Nate Dawg asked as I walked past him in the kitchen without an apron.
“My shift is over,” I said.
“We’re short staffed. Want some more time?”
“I just quit,” I said.
“Oh, you get a job at the hospital and you think you’re better than us now?”
I thought for a second, after all the insults, long nights of Nate tearing me down to make himself feel better, the constant ridicule for not liking the same things as him, I had had enough.
“Ya, I am better than you.”
“Get the fuck out of here motherfucker. Piece of shit. Fucking asshole. I can do this whole fucking thing myself. I don’t need your help uppity asshole.”
“Nate, go fuck yourself.” I walked out and never saw Nate again.
There was a weight off my shoulders. A burden had been lifted and, in the end, I had to wonder if it was ever worth it. What is the purpose of running a business that treated people like cattle pushing them into the butcher shop every day? Who thought of these business models and at what point did they ever seem like fun or a useful profession? I understand making hot food, serving those who need to eat, helping keep the rest of us going, but this was something else. Olga’s never figured out if it was fast food, or a bistro for lunch, or (heaven forbid) fine dining. It wanted to be everything to everyone and in the end, it failed its customers and the employees the most. I was now free from the grips of Olga’s and I only went back there once in the last 20 years. Some of the same servers still worked there. I spotted Junior working in the kitchen with his hair now white and his frame thinner than I remembered. I wasn’t curious about some of the other people I worked with and therefore didn’t ask. That time was gone, and I was grateful to be out of there. My membership card to the brotherhood of the spatula had been revoked.