Scott Haas hangs around chef Tony Maws restuarant Craigie on Main and watches the great chef and his team work. Tony is a chef and an asshole-of course, that’s a bit redundant. Anyone who has watched Hell’s Kitchen is familiar with the foul mouthed antics of Gordon Rasmey and one of my personal heroes for lo these many years has been Anthony Bourdian. Neither man seems to suffer fools easily. So Tony is the self centered, I’m Right, You’re Wrong demi-god of his tiny little world. There are times when Scott shows one of the revolving cast of line cooks question something Tony has said, and even on something that is simple common sense, such as when a chef says he didn’t add salt because the dish calls for anchovies to be added later, Tony tells him to add salt. When the chef repeats his opinion that the anchovies are pretty salty, Tony repeats several times to add salt to the dish. Scott always backs up Tony in his writing of these incidents. Tony, in short, can do no wrong.
Which is the overarching backbone of Back of the House. Tony, and Tony alone, knows what a dish is supposed to taste like and he can’t trust any of the people who work for him to get anything right. He is constantly tasting and correcting and tasting again. I’m not surprised that people leave his employ on a regular basis, some to peruse careers in other industries than food service. What’s surprising is that none of them cleaned Tony like a fish before they threw their apron on the floor and walked out.
But then, that’s kind of the whole point of Back of the House. Yeah Tony’s an asshole, but god damn can he cook. The life of a genius is not something anyone else can understand. So it is an odd and interesting book. Scott worships the ground that Tony walks on, but he has no qualms about showing him as just this side of madness, and occasionally crossing over to the other side. Maybe Scott is blind to his blatant hero worship or maybe that was just the result of watching the chef work for a year and half.
This was a fun book that talked about a lot of food stuff outside of my wheelhouse. Even things I was familiar with, such as mashed potatoes, were prepare in a way unlike any mashed potatoes I have ever had. The Craigie on Main Burger is one of the things that put the restaurant on the map, so naturally, Chef Tony hates the burger and does everything he can to make it impossible for the average customer to eat one. He prefers serving his Tasting Menus, where he personally picks out what foods to serve. Here you’ll find things like House-Made Phytoplankton Garganelli Pasta and Sashimi of Maine Hiramasa. Sure I can’t get that burger?
Back of the House was well worth reading.