I’ve been working in professional kitchens for nearly twenty years. Even earlier than that I taught myself how to cook at home just to feed myself around aged twelve. My mother would most of the time go to work in the evening or sometimes just fuck off out on the piss at the drop of a hat. The desire to cook for myself was born out of necessity but soon transformed into enjoyment. What started as the reheating of findus crispy pancakes and potato waffles soon developed into cooking a basic Penne Arrabbiata, developing the recipe, teaching myself to cut the onions, chilli and garlic, transitioning from tinned tomatoes to skinning and de-seeding my own. Most boys my age were happy to spend their evenings when parents weren’t around watching TV and spanking one out into a sock, I spent mine reading recipes, learning the fundamentals of cooking, discovering my calling in life, eating well, fending for myself, sitting down to a freshly prepared meal all done by my own hands.
Then I would spank one off into a sock.
Aged fourteen my Dad gave me my first copy of Kitchen Confidential. I had never heard of Anthony Bourdain before but he insisted that if I wanted to be a chef then I should read it. I was dubious so he offered to read me a passage that he had found particularly amusing. It just happened to be the part where Tony describes the newlywed bride being bent over a 55 gallon barrel and being banged senseless by the chef in full view of his kitchen brigade as her new husband and family enjoy their wedding meal in the room next door. I love this passage, especially the end where he says that that was the point he knew he wanted to be a chef, however hearing it for the first time, read aloud to me in full graphic detail by my Dad when I was a teenager? Awkward as fuck. That was nearly twenty years ago and whenever I think of that blushing bride being rear ended over a barrel, I think of my Dad and he will never know (until I publish this)
Putting my Fathers brief foray into Adult literature aside and the mental scars I still carry of his porno Jackanory at the kitchen table, Kitchen Confidential really changed my outlook on the restaurant industry. Where as some may have been rightly scared off by the horror stories of long hours, excessive drinking, drugs, smoking on the line, stealing and general kitchen piracy. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. It was without a doubt where I believed my future was. As a definite misfit and outsider Tony made it feel acceptable to be this way, in fact, we were celebrated for being backwards miscreants and scarred, damaged, hardcore kick ass fucking pirates with a penchant for booze, drugs and nicotine.
To learn today of the passing of the great man, the incredible writer whom AA Gill once described as Elizabeth David written by Quentin Tarantino was something extremely hard to take. As the news broke and I found myself welling up in the kitchen mid Friday lunch service the younger cooks couldn’t understand what the hell was up with me. How can I explain? How can I tell them that this man, this person, is the solitary reason that I am here, doing what I am doing today. I became a chef because of him. Whilst working at a restaurant I met my wife, the most incredible person in the world who has given me my two beautiful (if not a bit smelly and sometimes twattish) young boys. How we met is a story for another day, suffice to say I did what cooks do, finished service, went to the restaurant bar with the crew and she was there. My world. The rest is history.
How else can I explain to people that don’t understand the influence that this man had on my life? He was one of us, not the worlds greatest chef by his own admission but my god could he work the line, run the pass and command his troops like a badass motherfucker. He is the reason I stack twenty dry tea towels above my station every service. He is the reason I am meticulous about my ‘meez’ and how my section is an extension of me. Messy station=Messy mind. He is the reason I call all Spanish line cooks ‘Papi Chulo’. He is the reason I drink Caipirinhas like they are going out of fashion. He is the reason I never order fish on a Monday and always have a steak in the reach in fridge that’s ‘Saved for well done’. He is the reason I will always have a special understanding with the bar staff, you give me drinks, I give you food, simple. He is the reason I still spin plates into the window with ‘a little english’ on them knowing one day one will fall onto the floor and I will end up looking like a total cunt. He is the reason that I will try any food in any situation any time, any place. He is, to me a defining character in my life. He is my idol, my hero, my influence. He is the reason I want to travel, to experience the food, culture and people of every single country on this beautiful planet.
A planet that is now missing one beautiful person.