Years after Kitchen Confidential, three new chef memoirs have just been published. Two of them come blurbed by Bourdain himself: Spiced chronicles the travails of pastry chef Dalia Jurgensen as she moves through the kitchens of Veritas, La Cote Basque, and even Martha Stewart; and The Hunger follows John DeLucie as he goes from Dean & DeLuca prep cook to macaroni-and-cheese maven at the Waverly Inn. Meanwhile on the semi-pro circuit, Under the Table offers a taste of Katherine Darling’s stint at the French Culinary Institute. It revels in cooking methodology more than coke and methamphetamine (put it this way: The most memorable celebrity encounter is with Dean Jacques Pépin). So what makes a good chef tell-all? We read all three to determine the ultimate recipe.
1. Start with an unfulfilling job
The Hunger: DeLucie is a recruiter at Brenton Financial Consultants, a “soulless operation.”
Under the Table: Darling is working in a “fishbowl cubicle,” at a literary agency.
Spiced: Jurgensen has a “stifling” job as a sales and marketing coordinator at a publishing house.
2. As soon as your chef career begins forming, add a trial by fire, with a hint of humiliation
The Hunger: DeLucie thinks he’s going to get fired from Dean & DeLuca after preparing a potato salad without cooking the potatoes.
Spiced: Jurgensen thinks she’s going to get fired from Nobu for overbaking a genoise, then burning a hole in a pot.
3. Mix in some intense, exacting mentors who love chucking your food in the garbage
The Hunger: At Margaux, “Peter would walk over, peer into the little stainless-steel pan where you stored your handiwork, and without a word dump the whole thing into a nearby garbage pail. ‘DO IT AGAIN!’”
Under the Table: The sadistic Chef Robert yells at Darling that her meticulously cut carrots look like “total shit” and casually throws them in the trash.
4. Add a dash of co-worker hook-ups
Spiced: Coming off a breakup, Jurgensen has her first lesbian experience with a waitress, then ends up dating her chef at Layla.
The Hunger: DeLucie grows distant from his wife and eventually starts an affair with a hostess after making out with her in the storage room. Later, he takes up with a waitress at the Maritime.
5. Inject a healthy amount of testosterone
Spiced: At La Cote Basque, the line cooks refuse to let “blanquita” change in privacy, make come-ons and comments about her weight, and accuse her of being a lesbian.
The Hunger: A waiter identifies a patron by writing “GIANT TITS” on the dupe.
6. Allow time for kitchen pranks
Under the Table: After a fellow stabs Darling in the ass with a tressing needle, she jabs a pig sticker in his pants.
The Hunger: At Yellowfingers, other chefs turn the stove up or even off when he isn’t looking.
7. Be careful that things don’t boil over with your bitter, jealous co-worker
Under the Table: Chef-instructor Cyndee is a “snake” and a “mean-spirited witch” who “never missed a chance to belittle one of us.” She’s dating another chef, “a despicable, petty man, one who took immeasurable delight in causing other people emotional pain.”
Spiced: Gilma is a holdover from the previous management who passive-aggressively messes with Jurgensen’s mise.
8. Check for kitchen scars
Spiced: Jurgensen puts her hand in 350-degree sugar but has to tough it out because she still has tickets to fill.
The Hunger: DeLucie proves his “nonpussyhood” by knifing his hand almost to the bone and working through it.
Under the Table:Darling cries when an instructor thwacks her in the face with a spatula after she uses old fish.
9. Pepper cooking descriptions with onomatopoeia
Under the Table: WHAP! WHAM!, etc.
Spiced: Chk! Chk! Chk!
10. Add flavor via an encounter with Robert De Niro, or other celebrity substitute.
Spiced: Jurgensen describes the thrill of prepping a dessert for Woody Allen and Soon-Yi on her first day at Nobu. Later she spots De Niro chatting with Harvey Keitel.
The Hunger: One of DeLucie’s countless celebrity encounters is with “Bob.”
11. Blend in some Times reviewers
Spiced: Jurgensen obsesses over the fact that Ruth Reichl (operating under the alias Marge Hooper) returns one of her desserts half-eaten, but is overjoyed when she ends up praising them in a two-star review. William Grimes makes a later appearance.
The Hunger: The sommelier at Margaux convinces his zydeco bandmate Bryan Miller to dine there, and tips off the restaurant. Three stars. At Waverly, DeLucie is worried when he thinks Bruni and his party have been seated at the worst table in the house, but Bruni pens a glowing review.
12. Serve to Anthony Bourdain in hopes of a blurb
The Hunger: “A terrific first person tour of the best and worst of the back-of-the-house New York restaurant world with an all-too rare happy ending.” –Anthony Bourdain
Spiced: “Great insider stuff and a valuable addition to the annals of first-person culinary history.” –Anthony Bourdain