My brother-in -arms
I’ve been involved with food since I was eleven years old, when I made pizza off the back of an old converted Sunbeam bread truck. That fire trap had a working oven in it and would catch fire fortnightly.
I worked in kitchens while in reform school, in delis, pastry shops, Italian restaurants, pizza and sub shops, and I cooked all through the Army. Those were heady days.
On Mother’s Day, 1970, I started work at Fantasia Restaurant, a five star behemoth in Cambridge Ma, that would swallow me up.
You could get lost in there. It had its own bakery, laundry, butcher shop and dessert shoppe. It had six working bars and more employees than a super bowl game.
Waitresses outnumbered men 200 to one. Penicillin was the drug of choice.
I worked there for 15 years. In that time, I can say, I never drew a sober breath. My paychecks would pile up until Bruno Perni came out of his office and hit me over the head with them.
Booze was allotted on the hour. Every hour. After my very first shift, I threw up in the parking lot.
When the kitchen crew was drinking heavily, the line to pick up food would really slow down. Waitresses would cue up runway style to pick up their food off of the “slide”. The slide was a “pressure point”.
Things would get rowdy.
When cocaine came into vogue, the line would really speed up and food would come flying. The waitresses were amazed. It wasn’t cooked, but at least they got it in good time. We thought.
There were no dupes, only shouting. You had to have an unbelievable memory. You better, some of these gals could chew nails and spit rust. In short, it was a madhouse. Only a fool would attempt it sober. I didn’t.
When Anthony Bourdain died, I actually wept. I read his book, “Kitchen Confidential” years ago and devoured every word. I knew exactly what he meant. I felt like I was in the kitchen with him.
The problems with drugs and alcohol, the unsteady work, the vagabond lifestyle, the smelly kitchens, the transient help, the unscrupulous owners, the unbelievable, and endless effort that goes into working a busy kitchen.
All holidays ever meant to us was more, longer, harder hours. Luckily, we never had to do it sober. Mother’s Day, notwithstanding.
Tony was a heroin addict, among other things, and on his show he would drink. Like it’s not the same thing. Dangerous. With travel, production pressures, time constraints and did I mention…sucky locations?
Look at his eyes. I watched them closely when he was eating in some shit hole in Burma or Rangoon trying to shove some local “delicacy” down his gullet.
Yeah, he was making a lot of money, but that lifestyle will (did) take its toll.
I’m thinking, whatever pain he was carrying around to make him step off the planet, started years ago….in some dirty kitchen.
I miss you Tony, I felt your pain.