Food is the star of the family drama; kitchen is where the star is born and worked on. Most of the family actions happen there–the rinsing, chopping, stir-frying. Most of the cleaning and tidying up happen in there; most of the curses and regrets are uttered there. Mistakes happen that can ruin a favored dish; treasured ceramics can be dropped and cracked. Most of the sharp weapons of a family are stored in the kitchen too.
A restaurant kitchen is dramatic on a new level. I know two waitresses and one restaurant owner in the Asian community here, and they tell me chaotic stories of the stifling hot kitchens filled with fumes and steams. And among such chaos, one has to focus since a small mistake can ruin an entire dish. What I learned from them has convinced me that a restaurant kitchen is a sweatshop (literally since it is so hot), in which delicate steps are performed and artistic results are expected.
This is probably why I like shows and books about food and kitchen. I used to watch a popular food competition show, but after one season of listening to a famous chef bullying people in front of camera, that’s it for me. I swore I would never watch another food competition in my life since it brings out the worst in everybody involved.
I still watch decent food shows and read books by chefs, like Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”, “Medium Raw” and Marcus Samuelsson’s “Yes, Chef”. However “Notes From A Young Black Chef” by Kwame Onwuachi is better, for the simple reason that he has a lot of stories to tell. He’s only 27 at the end of the book, but I feel that one book is not enough. He hardly touched his two years in Nigeria. I am very interested to know any cultural differences he experienced, but the author is to focused on winning the life battle than dwelling on “insignificant” cultural details. I am eager to know all the details of his hustling for survival in Bronx, in college, in Louisiana, but I feel that the author doesn’t want to reveal too much since it might involve the privacy of his friends and relatives. I know this sounds ridiculous, but his book reminds me of “Water Margin”, my favorite book growing up, in which 108 outlaws hustled for survival in a big mountain surrounded by marsh land and eventually they surrendered to the government. The 108 outlaws, called heroes or warriors, each with unique weapons and skills, are the origins of the kung fu spirit and the popular computer game from Japan “Outlaws Of The Lost Dynasty.”
I can even pinpoint which character the author resembles–the hero Song Jiang –who’s gentle, benevolent, intelligent, who has higher goals in his life and has higher moral callings. I especially admire him for trying to make his kitchen a good place without bullying and unfairness, which he had suffered before he became the head of the fancy D.C. ( District Of Columbia) restaurant. I want to cheer him on to reach whatever he dreams of.