If you don’t already, you should know about this man. He was the youngest chef to have received three coveted Michelin stars. He is the chef who gave them back. I would not want to work for this man, and fortunately, my plebeian cooking skills–oatmeal and salad–guarantee that I won’t ever do that. Besides, White has left the kitchen. After a blazing career as the enfant terrible of British cuisine, he’s apparently devoting his time to restaurant development and ownership, books, hunting, smoking, and riding in a chauffeur-driven Land Rover. Good. Because in the kitchen he was hellishly demanding. This self-proclaimed adrenalin-nicotine-caffeine addict made life as miserable for his staff as other head chefs had made his life miserable during his apprenticeships. From what I’ve read about celebrity chefs, this bullying and anger are main ingredients is fine cuisine.
Imagine working in a hot, crowded kitchen preparing up to 100 meals a night. Might tempt anyone to put his/her head in the oven. Imagine the unquestioning obedience demanded and the perfection expected. In a hot, crowded kitchen among armed combatants, sharp knives, fire, with other angry, hungry , sweaty chefs parboiling in the culinary hell that is common, if we believe White’s book, The Devil in the Kitchen: Sex, Pain, Madness, and the making of a great chef. Anthony Bourdain, in his Kitchen Confidential, shows us a similar history. So the connection between violence, anger and rampant egotism and what we call good food is common. As a teenager, I waited on tables in a little place in Greenville, RI, and feared the cook. He was fat, sweaty and ill-tempered. I didn’t know I in the midst of culinary tradition. I just knew I wanted out and never wanted to cook if that’s what it takes. But, excuse me, I’m now going to scramble a couple of eggs and be glad that I don’t have to worry about my sous chef getting his uniform cut to shreds if he mentions the heat in the kitchen. Do add this book to your food lit list, though. It’s an education in high culture, sort of.