Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.
This column’s theme: Serves You, Right? It’s a to-read list for fans of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.
If you’ve ever been behind the counter you can sympathize, as you know it takes a certain set of skills to handle rude customers and navigate one of these workplaces without ending up in jail. If you’ve never been behind the counter then all these books are worth a read to understand what the employee might be going through, to achieve the best possible outcome for all concerned.
So if you like:
Knowing how to cut corners in a kitchen
The Food Network
You might like
Sheehan traces his way up the kitchen ladder, from floor mopper to head chef, in this memoir of culinary operations, bad decisions, and wildly inappropriate workplace behavior.
Five o’clock came and went. It seemed to me suddenly like there wasn’t enough air on the line for all of us to breathe. I had chills. Cold flashes skittered up and down my spine while my front half baked. This being Florida and me being too young for menopause, I imagined it was malaria and stood firm, waiting for the hallucinations to kick in. With the ventilation hood going full blast, Roberto and Chachi couldn’t keep the pilots on their unused burners going so had to keep kissing them back to life—leaning over and blowing across the palms of their hands to get the flame from one to jump to the next with the gas turned all the way up. The alternative method: smacking a pan down on the grate at an angle and hard enough to catch a spark. They did it over and over again until Floyd yelled at them to quit it.
This book delivers on all fronts:
[X] Kickass introduction.
[X] Vital information on the workings of a commercial kitchen.
[X] How to properly insult your co-workers to limit the time you get crap as the new guy.
[X] The worst dinner service he ever had.
[X] How to quick thaw hundreds of pounds of fish after the last shift didn’t.
[X] Figuring out why in God’s name he keeps coming in day after day.
[X] Wicked smartass delivery and possibly hyperbolic descriptions of everyday situations.
Sheehan pulls no punches when describing the characters he’s worked with, and, in reading his story, you can feel the heat and will need to wash off the grease. If you’re not sold on this after reading the introduction, where he hopes a missing cook doesn’t come back in as a zombie, you can give it a pass, but that’s exactly the point where I knew I was finishing this book sooner than later.
Or if you like:
Avoiding the worst room in a hotel
Finding out “what’s good around here”
Getting your car back unscathed
and, of course, Kitchen Confidential
You might like
This recounting of Jacob Tomksy’s career in the hospitality industry is full of tips, tricks, and things to avoid doing at all costs if you want your next trip through a hotel to be a good one.
And when all is said and done, you will understand the hotel life, what we do, and how we do it. Though why we continue to do it may be harder to grasp. All of this will be beneficial to you because the next time you check in with me (and believe me, I get around; I’ve probably checked you in a couple of times already), the next time we meet, a comforting, bright light of total understanding will be shining in your eyes, and I will help you and you will help me, and reading this book will give you the knowledge you need to get the very best service from any hotel or property, from any business that makes its money from putting “heads in beds.” Or, at the very least, it will keep me from taking your luggage into the camera-free back office and stomping the s*** out of it.
As a hotelier, I am everywhere. I am nowhere. I am nameless…except for the name tag.
As a reader and occasional traveler, I love understanding how things work because it tends to help keep unpleasant surprises from popping up. Things like the best way to book a room, or what one should tip various staff, or how to get the most out of one’s stay by leveraging the local talent, is all in here. Now that’s not to say this is a how-to manual, it’s just useful information that comes out of seeing how things have worked, or not, for the people Tomsky has had to deal with. I highly recommend this for anyone staying away from home.
Or if you like:
Not standing the heat and getting out of the kitchen
Knowing how to avoid a little something extra in your meal
A career that has work available everywhere
Handling customer crises that are not your fault, but are your problem
You might like
Debra Ginsberg’s twenty-plus years of waitressing provide an insight to what’s happening behind the scenes at the front of the restaurant, and nicely bookends any of the aforementioned books about chefs.
And now, twenty years later, I am able to view the almost certain disaster of Table Five with a well-practiced trick.
I am, during these times, able to send myself into a brief fugue state. During this moment, the timpani of clattering plates and forks, the noise of conversation, yelled commands, espresso machines hissing, meats sizzling, frying, and roasting, and wine-glasses clinking all fade almost to nothing. The restaurant takes on a strange out-of-focus glow and begins moving in slow motion. Time itself halts. Within this pocket, I am able to clear my mind of the fact that Table Six wants an olive, an onion, and a twist in his martini, that Table Seven wants the salad after the main course, and that I will have to apologize profusely to Table Five when and if their meals arrive. Instead, I know that I will soon be finished with this shift and I will go home with upward of one hundred dollars in cash. In less than two hours, I will be home and able to do whatever I please. As an invaluable bonus, I will also have another experience to add to a rich and varied store.
In the meantime, I’m just waiting.
Waiting stands on it’s own, but pairs particularly well with kitchen memoirs, presenting what’s happening in the front of the house while the kitchen is on fire. The reader gets Ginsberg’s history, and motivation, along with the difficulties and rewards of her career as a waitress. She addresses strange misconceptions (“I’ll bet you meet lots of rich men”), and provides insight on how to handle things like some customer’s way too public displays of affection at a table. Anyone who is or has been working in restaurants who could sympathize and maybe learn a few things from her experience, and Waiting is a great way for customers to peek behind the curtain and understand what could be going on the next time their food is taking a while to arrive.
So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column, where the theme will be: Crews Control.