From the Introduction
From the time I was old enough to make decisions about such things, my life has been defined by The Food.
I write it that way because that’s how I think of it: as the object of an existential quest, to be pursued at the expense of just about anything else. In the name of The Food, at one time or another, I’ve worked for nothing in faraway lands where I didn’t speak the language, lived in meager and unsanitary quarters, commuted to and from work at times and in places that would make any mother fear for her son’s safety, and slept on a banquette or the floor in my own restaurant for days on end.
Why would I, or anyone, voluntarily do such things? It might be difficult for those not blessed and burdened by such attachments to understand, but at some level, cooking is an art that relies on the marriage of craft and inspiration. Craft is the easy part: anybody armed with the requisite aptitude and discipline can master the technical part of cooking, though it might take years. Inspiration, on the other hand, is like a demanding lover who flits in and out of your life as she pleases, insisting that you be available for her arrival and ready to act on a moment’s notice, lest the opportunity pass you by.
Then, of course, there’s the cruel joke perpetrated on chefs by the cosmos. It’s not enough to have one perfect idea; it must be realized dozens of times each day, at great expense, with most of the work carried out by people who don’t have the benefit of living in your head. There are no Emily Dickinsons in the cooking trade, no chefs who toil anonymously and independently in their family attics, leaving their work to future generations to discover and appreciate. On a daily basis, chefs need a well-equipped place in which to work, cooks to prepare our food, and guests to pay for the privilege of eating it. If you’ve ever wondered why so many chefs are known to terrorize their staffs, or behave like alcoholics after a night on the line, or burn out and fade away at tragically young ages, much of the answer can be found in the pressures created by that unholy trinity.
Does all of that sound unhealthy? It can be. But in my experience, the highs justify the lows. I discovered The Food as a painfully shy, unhappy boy, and it gave shape and meaning to my life. Hailing from a single-parent household, it offered me an alternate home in which to pass my days and nights. Without a specific ambition, it provided something to strive for; as a child never given to words, it gifted me with a vocabulary of flavors, colors, and textures with which to address and engage the world.
It also became the lens through which I see my life. Where some people have photo albums and journals, I have The Food. The ingredients and techniques I have worked with, and the way they come together in my dishes, are nothing less than snapshots of my life—not only of the kitchens in which I’ve worked and the influences I took from them, but also of where I was living and what I was thinking and feeling at any given time.
In these pages, I share a bit of my story, along with some dishes that mark the stops along the way—all with the hope that they might give a sense of what it’s like to become and to be a chef. I’m too young to consider this a memoir. And there are not enough recipes to qualify it as a cookbook. Think of it, then, as a literary tasting menu, a representation of one chef’s life so far, summed up—as all chefs inevitably are—by the dishes cooked and eaten along the way.
Excerpted from To the Bone by Paul Liebrandt and Andrew Friedman. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Liebrandt and Andrew Friedman. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.