I read Kitchen Confidential when I was first starting my greeting card business. It gave me hope that one day I could leave my restaurant job and live off of my creative endeavors. It was a beacon of light to help guide me out of the back breaking, mentally draining restaurant work and succeed as an artist. No matter how old I was getting, how much shame I felt about still struggling to make a living, there was a chance for me too.
Restaurant jobs for creative people are very seductive. Flexible hours, you can travel and your job will be waiting for you, extra shifts are always available when you need extra money for a project. You can wake up late and have the whole day open for you to write or draw or play music. You start out thinking it’s just for a year or two until your big break comes. But it never does.
The years dissolve away and you realize you have been in a restaurant time warp. One night someone calls you ma’am, your feet begin to constantly ache and burn, your shoulders have permanent knots. Your days off begin to be days just to recover…you are too tired to make art anymore. Personally, I realized that I had warded off drunk customers with a bat more than once. More. Than. Once. I was beginning to think it was too late for me.
Reading Bourdain’s book was like finding a cool river in a desert. I savored it, studied every word. His burned out aching body was mine. I became a detective, trying to find every clue about what he did right to escape the business. His ability to admit his own bad behavior through the years made me be more honest about my own negative ways. His book is an honest evaluation of where he was in his life. He wrote it before he ever knew he would be a famous TV personality traveling the world.
The last chapter is my favorite. He is just a tired man, a burned out chef, questioning his marriage, bummed about his financial situation. His body aches, he has cuts on his hands and burns on his arms. He does not know that the words he is writing will catapult him out of all his difficulty into a new life, but the reader knows and it’s exhilarating to read.
I stayed in the restaurant business well into my thirties. I had done every job in the industry: dishwasher, line cook, prep cook, late night janitor, waitress and bartender. I was done. I put all my energy into building a business with my art abilities. I changed my work habits, my attitude, my sleeping schedule. I read more books.
It was in no small part because of the belief Anthony Bourdain put in me that I realized that I still had time to escape the restaurants and live my dreams too.
Thank you Anthony Bourdain.