Book Review

The Dump: Don’t Try This At Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World’s Greatest Chefs


Title: Don't Try This At Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs
Author: Various
Genre: Nonfiction

This book made me quiver with anticipation. Quiver like a giant quiche before it collapses in a soggy, underbaked mess on the night of the King of Brunei’s birthday. I love to cook, I love to read about cooking, and I love me some trainwrecks. So the very idea of a collection of kitchen disaster stories as told by world-class chefs made me incredibly happy IN MY PANTS. Not to mention it features a short story by Anthony Bourdain, and I am totally Anthony Bourdain’s bitch. Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour, for all their swaggering flaws, are two of my all-time favorite books simply because they’re so much goddamn fun to read.

And Bourdain’s contribution about a disastrous New Year’s Eve catering job is fantastic. It’s as trainwrecky as my schadenfreudinous heart could’ve desired. The cooks are coked up and tweaking, the head chef is an asshole who doesn’t plan the menu correctly, nothing is going right in the kitchen, and the bouncers end up assaulting the customers.  I know it’s a good disaster story when it makes me go “HOLY SHIT” out loud, and this story made me do that multiple times. 

There were some other gems, too, such as Mario Batali’s clash with a famously volatile British chef; Batali’s final fuck-you after the chef tosses a pan at his head is pure, delicious evil. And then there’s another chef’s story about hundreds of live eels being spilled on the floor of a tiny Italian restaurant’s kitchen. As a friend of mine observed, the only way that story could’ve been any better was if they’d been electric eels.

But most of the stories fall along the lines of “Oh, this one time, a whole lot of people cancelled on us and we had a buncha lobster we had to use up before they went bad, so we made postickers, and it turned out AWESOME.” Or “This waiter was mean and rude one night and it sort of pissed us off so we fired him.” Or “I was in France on my stage, and this owl totally landed on my bed and freaked my shit out.”

Dudes. This is not what I want to read in a compendium of kitchen disaster stories. It felt like these chefs were holding back on the juicy stuff. Either they wanted to look good, or they didn’t want to piss off famous guilty parties. Whatever the reason, this holding back made for a largely inoffensive and singularly flaccid series of stories.

Halfway through the book, I realized I’d been working on it for almost a month and was less than halfway through it, and that I’d almost definitely found all the high points of the book. So back to the library it went.

My recommendation? Pick this up at the bookstore or the library, look up Bourdain’s and Batali’s stories, browse through some of the tales with interesting titles, and skip the rest. They’re incredibly boring.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Amy E says:

    That does sound like a fun book, Candy.  Shame about the holding-back.  C’mon, we want ALLLLLLLL the dirt, not just the mild stuff!  I think I will look for it at the library, though, because I love Mario Batali.

  2. 2
    laurad says:

    Agreed, a very disappointing book.  I’ve been a chef for 20 years, and what they should have done was gotten everyone drinking and telling stories….then they’d have gotten the GOOD ones!

  3. 3
    Miri says:

    Dude, have you read Bourdain’s “The Nasty Bits.”?  A collection of his older articles and then at the back a post script of sorts of him commenting about the article now.  There were a few “meh” entries but for the most part brilliant/dishy/expellitive peppered yummy Bourdainy-ness!

    Also have you read his Les Halles cookbook! Any cookbook with the words dumbass, numnuts, a peckerhead in it is one I’ll save for my Granddaughter!

  4. 4
    Candy says:

    Oooh, Nasty Bits is the only book of his I haven’t read. And his Les Halles Cookbook is the one book I brought with me to Seattle, actually. (Am typing this from my friend Katie’s laptop, she of the Nebula Haiku Review fame.) How can I resist a book with such a combination of cheerful verbal abuse and solid instructions on technique? Not to mention the truly excellent recipes.

  5. 5
    Miri says:

    I have a book of his fiction “Gone Bamboo” on my TBR pile… I’m sure I’ll get around to it soon… But I just got Tomas Keller’s “Bouchon” and French Laundry for X-mas prezzies soooo It might be a while.

  6. 6
    white raven says:

    I love Mario Batali, so reading about him telling some culinary diva to fuck off is worth slogging through the boring stuff.  I’m off to the bookstore this afternoon with my new giftcard.  If the book’s in stock, you can bet I’ll be flipping to that story for a reading.

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