February 18, 2006

Turning The Tables

by Stephen A. Shaw

This book, a diner's primer on the restaurant business, has some very fine writing.

My father never managed to get a sandwich named after him at the Stage Deli, and he never won the Nobel Prize. Years after his death, however, a Greek diner on Columbus Avenue still offers 'The Professor Salad', and you can still order 'Professor's Special Lobster Cantonese' at a local Chinese restaurant. And I like to think that, somewhere out there, the Russian grill man is teaching physics at a prestigious university but still remembers how to make 'Eggs Professor'.

What's missing from this most pleasant and entertaining of books -- I saw it in Vrooman's Pasadena and it seduced me away from a very fine thriller -- is anger. Ruhlman, in The Making Of A Chef, is angry at his instructors, angry at the archaic tradition, angry at the snow. Bourdain, in Kitchen Confidential, is pretty much angry at everything since the Enlightenment. Shaw finds himself in tall cotton -- he's writing about good food, he's eating it and talking about it and he's getting an advance against royalties. Through much of the book, everything is wonderful. We need a dash of acid -- vinegar? citrus? Perhaps need bad guys and bad meals, if only for balance and exercise.