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May 14, 2007

Quote of the Day

From Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential:

No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American.  The Ecuadorian, Mexican, Dominican and Salvadorian cooks I've worked with over the years make most [Culinary Institute of America]-educated white boys look like clumsy, sniveling little punks.

May 14, 2007 in Quotes -- Nonfiction | Permalink

Comments

I'm glad you're coming around to the idea that people are poor because they're lazy. :D

Posted by: snark | May 14, 2007 3:05:04 PM

Restaurants on the west coast would have no cooks if the US rounded up the non-green card folks and shipped them home to where ever. But they sure do work hard.

Similarly, we'd have little new housing if construction workers had to prove citizenship, and lawns wouldn't get mowed and children day-cared for.

I don't have a magic immigration/legalization 'cure'. But anybody who can hold a job for 2 or 3 years doing the most arduous tasks surely fits in my mind as a worthy US citizen.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 14, 2007 3:25:28 PM

Jim - We would still have restaurants and houses but everything would be more expensive. You do realize of course that other people use to do the majority of those jobs before the large influx of Mexican and Latin American labor into California. The gardeners and farm workers were once all Japanese.

Posted by: sansei | May 14, 2007 3:57:40 PM

Okay... but to be fair, the American culinary types look like "sniveling punks" in part because they are - as Bourdain well knows, restaurants pay horribly, which means a lot of Americans can't possibly make a sustainable income on the work, leaving... well, immigrants, and many illegals who can be paid more cheaply, and rich kids (a/k/a sniveling punks) who can afford to do essentially volunteer work by sustaining themselves on small fortunes. The New York Times just did a front page story on culinary students saddled with huge loans, and the situation is really awful for some. My sister is a chef who has a good gig as a baker now, and a programmer husband who makes enough to let her pursue what she loves. But it is all about labor of love, and I'm sure some people don't appreciate the gifts they have that allow them to do what they do. It doesn't make us all bad Americans, or immigrants all heroes with great values.

Posted by: weboy | May 14, 2007 4:20:08 PM

bourdain seems like one of those snivelers to me.

Posted by: x | May 14, 2007 4:34:58 PM

We have a saying in the restaurant business.

"There Is No Such Thing As An American Dishwasher."

Posted by: sangfroid826 | May 14, 2007 4:38:59 PM

It's certainly true that a tremendous amount of the hardest work in American kitchens is being done by immigrants (legal or otherwise). This has probably always been true. But I would recommend a large grain of salt as a side dish to whatever Anthony Bourdain is serving up. I've read two of his books and he comes across in print as a tough-talking poseur, and a bit of an asshole

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb | May 14, 2007 5:09:49 PM

"I don't like the way he comes across in print" is a poor reason for skepticism, Paul. Do you have any actual reason for not believing anything he says, or just nebulous feelings of "he's an asshole"??

Posted by: Craigo | May 14, 2007 5:12:48 PM

Do you have any actual reason for not believing anything he says

Given that Bourdain is expressing his opinion based on his personal experiences rather than citing any statistical facts, it is perfectly reasonable to bring in Bourdain's character and how one perceives his previous writings when evaluating his credibility.

Yes, news flash: people who have few other options is life will work many times as hard for a small pittance than those with other opportunities who perception in life is colored by the middle-class professional lifestyle of their parents. I'm sure everyone is shocked.

Posted by: Tyro | May 14, 2007 5:18:22 PM

What if it had been "working with the disciplined, educated American chefs, its quite a contrast to those lazy, undisciplined, sloppy Ecuadorian, Mexican, Dominican, and Salvadorian chefs are. Their third-world working habits hold back any kitchen."

Surely we'd recognize here that this is a stereotype. Lazy Latin Americans are a stereotype, and a gross generalization that is hardly fair to the individuality and uniqueness of Latino/as, who, like Americans, have a mix of lazy people, hard workers, and middlers.

Why, then, do we accept Bourdain's stereotyping of Americans as snivelling punks? Or, for that matter, his stereotyping of Ecuadorians, Dominicans, Mexicans, and Salvadorians as universally being striving hard workers?

I admit, I don't know that what Bourdain says is false, but certainly the fact that it's Bourdain who's saying it diminishes its credibility in my eyes.

Posted by: Julian Elson | May 14, 2007 5:33:37 PM

well, I've read bourdain's books and when he describes white boys in restaurant kitchens as snivelling punks he is clearly not describing all "Americans" he's describing all upper class americans who try training for restaurant kitchens wherever he's encountered them. REad his (or any other americans) description of being trained in french kitchens and you will see that they all cop to snivelling because none of them are expecting the brutality that is ordinarily shown to the beginning line chef. Bourdain's work isn't based on a common stereotype so it doesn't fall into the category of impermissible or racist but rather itself generates a new stereotype based on his particular experience. Sorry if that bugs Julian Elson but its not really any different than any other individual or writer generalizing from his own experience. I think "snivelling american punks" can take it.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | May 14, 2007 5:54:17 PM

I'm growing a little sick of the Elite in this country shitting on the American worker. No one in any industrialized nation works harder than Americans. Comparing workers from first world nations to workers from third worlds nations is foolish. Of course people from shittier countries are used to living shittier lives and will accept atrocious hours and horrendous conditions. Those arguing that Americans should adopt the standard of Ecuadorians are really just arguing that we all shit up and stop complaining about being exploited.

Posted by: soullite | May 14, 2007 5:54:20 PM

well, I've read bourdain's books and when he describes white boys in restaurant kitchens as snivelling punks he is clearly not describing all "Americans" he's describing all upper class americans who try training for restaurant kitchens wherever he's encountered them. REad his (or any other americans) description of being trained in french kitchens and you will see that they all cop to snivelling because none of them are expecting the brutality that is ordinarily shown to the beginning line chef. Bourdain's work isn't based on a common stereotype so it doesn't fall into the category of impermissible or racist but rather itself generates a new stereotype based on his particular experience. Sorry if that bugs Julian Elson but its not really any different than any other individual or writer generalizing from his own experience. I think "snivelling american punks" can take it.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | May 14, 2007 5:54:49 PM

I'm not saying that what Bourdain is saying is impermissible. I'm just saying that I don't find it particularly credible.

Posted by: Julian Elson | May 14, 2007 7:07:58 PM

Yup, he's 100% correct about that.

I'm a function bartender. I work in places all over Boston, and know a heck of a lot of the chefs and sous chefs, at least to say "hi" and "where the fuck do they keep the lemons in this kitchen?"

A lot of the CIA guys are pretty damn good, and I like them fine. But if you want a job done RIGHT, it's going to be the Dominican guy who's doing it.

Is it a stereotype? Yes, of course it is. And I can think of a couple white, middle-class, culinary-school educated guys who are fantastic, and a couple of immigrant cooks who suck.

But Bourdain's observation, as a general rule, matches perfectly what I've seen. It's not hard-and-fast, obviously, and getting to know someone and working with him or her (mostly "him" on the kitchen side -- I think I've seen eight male chefs for every female chef I've seen) is a much better way to judge than by stereotypes -- but "Hispanic immigrant > white culinary institute" is the way to bet.

It's been commented, and is true from what I've seen, that it doesn't matter what the cuisine is -- French, Italian, Chinese, Thai -- odds are it's a Dominican making it. Maybe not as the head chef, but as the sous chef.

Sometimes, the same Dominican. Some of those chefs are amazing and can, and do, make world-class food in several entirely separate cuisines, working several jobs.

Posted by: Ian Osmond | May 14, 2007 7:37:45 PM


Well, it is interesting that Bourdain is himself a CIA graduate, is from the middle class and was clearly a fuckup for a lot of his life until he managed to ride a food trend to media stardom.

So, comments:

1. It's interesting that the vast majority of the media "food stars / star chefs" are either Europeans or largely white Americans. There's a lot of questions about why that is. The illegal immigrants AND non-white Americans don't generally get to move up to the executive chef ranks, while white people do (along with some model minorities like Asians). Let's admit that the reason for that is that:

a. you only get to be a star chef if your local entrepreneurial class in a very major city is willing to back you in a restaurant venture. Starting such a restaurant can easily have start-up costs of a million or more. Like venture capital of any other kind, access to capital is often dependent on connections and prejudices of the local capitalist class - i.e., white people have connections, dark ones don't. White people know how to market themselves as star chefs, dark people don't.

2. like other commentators, there's a lot to be annoyed here by Bourdain's comments. First, most Americans showed a lot more dedication to their jobs than Bourdain has (read the book - he used most of his restaurant career primarily as a platform for drug abuse, occasional drug dealing, alcoholism, sexual harassment, theft and business mismanagement). I don't appreciate media stars shitting on American workers.

3. Bourdain never mentions the actual racism in the restaurant industry - the almost universal prejudice against hiring African-Americans as wait staff in high end restaurants, the lack of non-white star chefs, etc.

4. Besides which, as a restaurant operator himself, I'm certain that Bourdain operates his own place like all the other assholes in the industry: extremely low pay for everybody but himself, use of illegal labor and lots of stupid mind games and BS from the star chef.

Posted by: burritoboy | May 14, 2007 7:43:07 PM

One of my nephews is starting at CIA this fall. He's one of the smartest, hardest-working and most compassionate people of his age group.

Bourdain's a putz.

Posted by: Randy Paul | May 14, 2007 8:47:07 PM

white people have connections, dark ones don't. White people know how to market themselves as star chefs, dark people don't.

While few, if any, non-whites become star chefs, few whites become star chefs, either. Deciding that your career path is to become a star chef isn't a good value proposition regardless of what your race is. Want to be a successful restauranteur? Open a pizza place.

There are two ways to motivate serious hard work of the sort Bourdain is referring to. One is the promise of large compensation down the road. That's why investment bankers, corporate lawyers, and doctors work such long, long hours. When the time comes, they make serious amounts of money (and in the case of doctors, human lives are at stake). The other way is to have employees that are so desperate, they know that if they don't keep up the heavy work pace, they risk having their families starve or lose everything they have. Since no one is going to ever make serious money as a cook (as burritoboy said, low pay for all of them in return for abuse and mind games from the head chef) it helps if the kitchen finds employees who are as desperate as humanly possible.

Posted by: Constantine | May 14, 2007 9:50:12 PM

You're perfectly entitled to not like Bourdain or his writing style, but to say he is full of **** is not correct. The guy worked in the restaurant industry, at a large number of places, for a couple of decades. That gives him plenty of experience from which to make his assessment.

And if you think he is an elitist snob who shits on the workers, you might want to read this post before you pass judgment.

Posted by: fiat lux | May 14, 2007 10:08:31 PM

The illegals are being used as a foil against all of you middle class working stiffs. Yes goods would cost more if Americans filled those jobs... that's the point. You are being sold out for cheaper and cheaper labour. American's could fill those jobs were they, too,willing to: forgo paying taxes, augment earnings by using public clinics/Emerg.Rms., food stamps and live several families to a house or apartment. I am amazed that the American public is so myopic that and eagerly embraces cheap (often inferior quality) Imports, and imported cheaper labor to the ruination of domestic standard of living... and then wonder why the infrastructure (roads, utilities, etc.) are crumbling and why there are no tax dolars to pay for the same?
on another subject all together... why is it that americans (lower case intended) have become so spineless as to allow foreign nationals to march in U.S. cities on U.S. soil in order to dictate or influence public policy? ARE YOU NUTS??>?!

Posted by: jukkou | May 14, 2007 10:55:59 PM

I'm growing a little sick of the Elite in this country shitting on the American worker. No one in any industrialized nation works harder than Americans.

Wanna bet?

New Zealand, Korea, Japan,Iceland, Hungary, Greece, Finland (just), Canada and Australia.

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | May 14, 2007 11:40:47 PM

Summer of 1984 I worked as a busboy/dishwasher at a restaurant just outside San Francisco. During the busy shifts, there'd be two of us working at the same time, and usually the other one was Mexican or Salvadoran.

Every single one of them made me look like a whiny, snivelling little punk. (I suppose I probably was one.)

One of them I remember was working a couple of jobs and putting himself through culinary school so he could be a chef. I wish I could remember his name. I bet he's done brilliantly.

Posted by: Evan | May 15, 2007 1:08:07 AM

Piator,

With your link, you make the case that at the very least you are a "...clumsy, sniveling little punk", since you were too lazy to point to a specific location on a website, I spent a little effort and found that in each of the countries you mention above work shorter hours. Granted, you've tapped into a blue blooded reference, but...

In the future you might do a little leg work like this"

http://www.ilo.org/global/About_the_ILO/Media_and_
public_information/Press_releases/lang--en/WCMS_071326

or this:

http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/steady-cn.htm

Or this:

http://archives.cnn.com/
2001/CAREER/trends/08/30/ilo.study/

Or this:

http://itotd.com/articles/351/
work-week-and-vacation-variances/

Should I go on?

Posted by: S Brennan | May 15, 2007 1:26:35 AM

OK, great. Why is this the quote of the day? Hey Ezra, guess what? Where I work the mexican influx of the last few years has meant a great return for my employer in terms of employees willing and able to work endless hours, and quality of service has gone completely to shit. Every mexican? Hell no! Its really about the person, not the color. But, I guess I shouldn't note quality decline associated with the new cheap "darker" labor source, in the same way I would be stupid to highlight a few bad experiences with white upper middle class chef types in restaurants.

Hey, this kind of bashing is fun! So where are we? lets see, whites are inferior kitchen people and mexicans can't deliver mail. Golly, I can't wait to see where this line of thought goes, as I am sure it will be really helpful in dealing with all sorts of political issues going forward. Is there some kind of chart I can refer to so I know where everybodies skills have been pre assigned?

Posted by: greg | May 15, 2007 2:03:56 AM

The comments above indicate a portion of the spectrum of views on what to do about immigration (and the larger issue of globalization), but the portion shown here (in nice polite blog company, most of the time), indicates why neither political party has a united view on solutions. This cuts across almost all the US ideological groups in ways that can barely be imagined. The EU has similar problems from east to west and south to north (including Turkey and growing issues with former-empire-related citizens and migrants from previous colonies.

And the US problem is not new either: each wave of nationalities that have immigrated have faced similar hostility. It isn't that long ago that the US had essentially open immigration from E\europe and large scale immigration from asia. Now it is related to Mexico and central America. Global warming will start new migrations that are hard to detail, but high probability.

Rock and hard place: The effects on labor from immigration can only be mitigated partially by trying to stop over-the-boarder migration - many jobs can still be exported. The social safety net needed to cushion the blow to working folks can't be politically created, sustained and paid for with current levels of hostility. Just wait until your doctor's appointment is done via video from Malaysia. How will Canada prevent out-migration of US folks to the north when US southern regions are wastelands and deserts? Will Oregon fence its borders and require visas to visit?

I guess I'm saying we haven't begun to imagine how big this problem is going to be not far down the road, and the 'let's build a fence' people are just as simplistically wrong as the 'let's have a better social safety net and retraining of workers' are.

Hang on your hats, its going to be a bumpy road far, far into the future.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 15, 2007 2:42:44 AM

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