I just finished reading Restaurant Man by Joe Bastianich. I know, I am several years behind the New York Times Bestseller list. Maybe that’s what happens when you prefer to head north instead of south out of Albany. We prefer the Adirondacks to New York City. Usually.
Restaurant Man is a bible for anyone even remotely considering opening a restaurant. Bastianich admits to a rough relationship with his dad, the original restaurant man. That said, Bastianich clearly embodies his father’s knowledge and attention to the pennies, nickles and dimes of the business. Every glance through a restaurant is a mental calculation on what each item is costing the bottom line. If you want to survive in the business, you need to be a Joe Bastianich Restaurant Man. I imagine many called him something else using the first letters of his last name, bast…. That’s what you need to be to succeed.
What really takes the book to another level of enjoyment is what one of my colleagues recently referred to as “being common”. Bastianich writes with the same language that would be used in any given kitchen during service. Profanity rules on the line, and Restaurant Man does not white wash the story.
It’s not that simple, however. Bastianich is by no means “common”. His language simply mirrors what you live in the kitchen. As a former waitress, banquet waitress, cocktail waitress, banquet manager and coat check girl (not in that order), I appreciate the veracity. It is what it is, and restaurant man is watching at every turn, especially at closing time. That is a chapter worth reading.
Here are some classic passages:
When talking about kitchen hierarchy, with the lowest of the low being on pots and pans: “The first thing you do when you interview your dishwasher is ask him where he’s from. The ones from Puebla can cook. I don’t know what the f*!! goes on in Puebla, I’ve never been there, but everyone who comes from there can cook like a motherf*!!$**. You can get them out of the sink and off the pots and put them right on the line.”
When talking about morning wine tastings: “Tasting the first wine in the morning is like seeing the first pretty girl of the day – the impact is clear, the impression is vivid, there is little ambiguity. Beauty is apparent, and it lingers. But with every wine tasted after the first one, it’s the same as with every girl you see on the street – you’re more likely to observe a ripple or a wrinkle, a blemish, poor posture. … But even after a twelve-hour day when you’re sweating it out on the F train trying to get back to Queens and you see a beautiful woman, it’s like seeing the sun rise all over again.”
When talking about his love for Friulano wine: “Every day we would end up drinking Tocai Friulano made by a local farmer, out of these thick, chewed-up glasses. … But this wine had such great richness; it was really waxy on the palate, almost thick and viscous, served chilled, but never too cold, and with a slice of prosciutto San Daniele it would give you an incredible sensation, like separating honey and beeswax right on your palate – the wax would remain between your teeth, and the honey would dribble down the back of your throat and warm your whole body.”
When discussing the increase in food cost per plate: “The veal chop is the bane of every restaurateur’s existence, because there’s almost no margin; the food cost is just too f*!!ing high. I lose money on it. If a four-top comes in and every one of them orders a veal chop, I might as well go to their table, give them twenty dollars each, and tell them to get the f!** out.”
I don’t know about you, but I am thinking about searching out a Friulano wine, which I will pair with the best prosciutto I can find. And the next restaurant? Veal chop. What have I been missing?