old Type: In Wife of the Chef, you vividly describe restaurant culture and how it feeds into your marriage; I felt exhausted just reading about it! How did you get the idea to write the book?
Courtney Febbroriello: The book started as a journal. At the end of the night as the last table lingered in the dining room, I would head to the office and write about service, customers, food, or employees. It turns out that I had a lot to say and it became a book.
BT: You and your husband, Chris Prosperi, come from completely different food backgrounds: you loved junk food and became vegetarian while he was exposed to a wide variety of cuisines. Do you think this helped you examine the culinary world from a more detached viewpoint?
CF: Absolutely. When you live in a restaurant environment fifteen hours a day you quickly forget that most people dine on TV dinners, fast food, and canned soup. Ingredients like foie gras, smoked salmon, and caviar are not commonplace for the average dinner. I am able to see food from both sides which allows me to poke fun at people who take it too seriously.
BT: You write pretty freely yet comically about Chris and the staff at Metro Bis; the end of the night recap had me laughing for a long time. How have they responded to the book?
CF: Everyone loves it. The staff enjoy pointing out their quotes and suggesting other Metro Bis events that I should have included. Chris laughed out loud when I read the book to him during the editing process. When people ask him what he thinks, he often responds, "It's all true. So what's there to think about?"
BT: I've read several articles that seem to suggest that culinary marriages can only succeed if both spouses work together. Do you think this is true?
CF: Culinary marriages are hard and there isn't a working situation that seems to save more relationships. We enjoy working together because we actually get to see each other, but we've been employed by husband and wife teams who screamed at each other all day long. Sometimes it works better to have separate lives. It really depends on the couple.
BT: Wife of the Chef has been described as the woman's response to Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. If the book had been Husband of the Chef, do you think it would have been different? Do you think owning a restaurant is harder for a woman?
CF: Ooh. This is a hard one. I'm sure that a husband of a chef would have written a different book but there still would have been some strong similarities. The chef often gets the attention regardless of gender. The difference would have been the description of the chef. The female chefs I have encountered think about the nurturing act of feeding their diners while most male chefs are more concerned with production and competition. Female chefs obviously are interested in these aspects too but their priorities are less aggressive.
It is hard for anyone to own a restaurant. But owning a restaurant and having children seems harder on women. One of the most popular seminars at the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs conference this fall was for personal chefs. Many of the women who attended were interested in finding jobs within the field that allowed them to continue their careers and dedicate time to their families.
BT: There's a hilarious section towards the end where you have a laugh at foodies and chef envy. Why do you think we romanticize food and the act of cooking?
CF: I'm not too sure about the reasons why food has risen to such greatness especially when you consider where it ends up in twelve hours. For some cooking seems to be a nostalgic lost craft that reminds us of simpler times when our grandmothers used to bake bread and can jam. My grandmother made bread (and a great Jello mold) but that doesn't make me want to spend hours of my life searching for the perfect yeast starter. For others, food is a sign of status. The upper middle class might not be able to afford a yacht but a trip to one of the top restaurants in the country is within reach, affords the diner some level of sophistication, and allows for bragging during dinner parties. It doesn't really matter what the reason is as long as people continue to enjoy food and dining out.
BT: While the culinary world has had public faces like Julia Child and Wolfgang Puck in the past, the growing popularity of Food Network has brought about a new culinary star system. Now we see Emeril with his own (thankfully cancelled) sitcom, the Naked Chef and Nigella Lawson broadcast from England, and Ming Tsai and Rocco DiSpirito touted as sexy chefs in People. What do you think of the rise of the celebrity chef? How has it affected the restaurant business?
CF: Thank god for Emeril! He takes a lot of slack from the restaurant community but he doesn't get any credit for bringing food to the masses. Emeril has helped to stir an interest in foods that most diners have never encountered and are now willing to try. Restaurants can be intimidating for people who only eat out two or three times a year. Going to a fancy restaurant and taking a gamble on a $24 dish that has foreign ingredients can be overwhelming. When people learn what proscuitto is from Emeril they feel more confident ordering it. Celebrity chefs have raised the public's awareness for restaurants from a way to fill their stomachs to a full dining experience of atmosphere, wine, and culinary experimentation. The only downside has been the response of students at culinary schools who graduate thinking that they will have at least four restaurants, three cookbooks, and a TV show within five years of their careers.
BT: You were an English major in college; did you ever want to write?
CF: I was an English major but by the time I finished college I was convinced that I couldn't write. My style was much less structured than the college professors required and I still wasn't sure about how to use the comma. I didn't think there would be writing in my future.
BT: What next? Are you thinking about writing another book?
CF: Don't want to be an one-hit wonder. Yes, I am thinking about something else.
BT: If you didn't have Metro Bis anymore, what would you be doing? Would you ever own another restaurant?
CF: I can't imagine doing anything else. I love it here. If I wasn't at Metro Bis I would have another restaurant. This is the most rewarding career because I am constantly challenged and learning in the office, on the floor, down in Express, and in the kitchen.-- interview by Kelley Kawano
|Photo credit: Bill Bettencourt|