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TalkBack Live

Eat, Drink and be Wary? Author of 'Kitchen Confidential' Reveals Restaurant Secrets

Aired July 6, 2000 - 3:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: How often do you eat out? How fresh is that fish you order for dinner? Are you sure the bread hasn't been served before? And exactly what kind of meat do you get if you want your steak well done? Chef Anthony Bourdain's tell-all "Kitchen Confidential" dishes the dirt on chef shenanigans, as well as the ways restaurants buy, prepare and serve food.

What you are about to learn probably won't keep you home, but it could make you think twice the next time you walk into a restaurant.

Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE.

So many questions and so little time: is the kitchen clean? is the food fresh? should you eat the oyster? or pass on the sushi? what is the chef doing in the kitchen exactly? and why is my dinner taking so long?

Eating out can be an adventure, rife with its own intrigue, dangers and pleasures, at least that what chef Anthony Bourdain might have you believe in his new book, "Kitchen Confidential."

Anthony is currently executive chef at New York's brassiere Les Halles restaurant, and he is our guest today.

Anthony, welcome to the program.

ANTHONY BOURDAIN, AUTHOR, "KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL": Hi.

BATTISTA: I have to tell you I thought this book is incredibly entertaining, as well as revealing, but you do dive quite a bit into the under belly of the restaurant business, shall we say, the sex and the wildlife and the drugs even. I mean, what is that all about, is it the pressure of the industry?

BOURDAIN: Well, when I first got into the business, most chefs in America and cooks were part-time roofers and house painters, it wasn't really a career option, and of course, that's changed tremendously over time. But for better or worse, the very things that attracted me to the business were the lifestyle, and sort of some of the less attractive aspects of the business.

It was the child's dream of running a pirate crew, and that drew me in. And the love of food and the more classical aspects, and the techniques, that I think came later.

BATTISTA: So you add all of that to all of that pressure that's going on in that hot kitchen, right?

BOURDAIN: It is a very high pressure occupation, yes.

BATTISTA: Tell us just a little bit about that, because you go into that extensively too in the book, how the whole line operates in the kitchen, that was pretty fascinating.

BOURDAIN: Well , you have to deliver an entire table full of food, at the same time. Each station, a saute station, a grill station, the cold station, all of them have to come up with their various items at exactly the same time, and they have to keep doing it over and over and over at a very fast pace. So -- and of course chefs and cooks, you are never to be late. It is just a cardinal rule. Everything must be on time.

It is another reason why chefs are so cranky is that they really don't understand the outside world. Things that are considered normal behavior in the outside world would be absolutely verbotten in the kitchen. You know, to show up late, to come up late on a table, to have an excuse, these are unthinkable.

BATTISTA: I was going to say, so what you are telling me is that you guys are really very interdependent on each other, you need loyalty from the guys who work for you. So I'm curious what possessed you to write a book that would reveal some of the secrets of the industry?

BOURDAIN: Well, to tell you the truth, I really wasn't looking to frighten people away from eating in restaurants. I don't even really want to change the business. I'm not advocating changing the business much, certainly the level of cleanliness, and performance in most kitchens in America is much better than it's been ever in the past.

But I do admit that, in seeking to entertain my fellow chefs and cooks, and people who worked in the business, and are familiar with it, I did enjoy goosing the general public a little bit.

BATTISTA: OK. Well, let's take a look at some of those revelations, and we are going to quote from the book, and you can tell us a little bit more about that: "I never order fish on Monday unless I am eating at Le Bernerdin -- a four-star restaurant where I know they are buying their fish directly from the source. I know how old most seafood is on Monday -- about four to five days old."

How fresh is the food that we are getting in restaurants?

BOURDAIN: Perhaps I overstate the case a little. But I would say that it is true that, especially in major cities, you are less likely to get a fresh piece of fish on a Monday than you are on a Tuesday. The market is closed on Saturday and Sunday, and unless it is a very good restaurant that gets their fish directly off boats or from docks or they have small purveyors who bring it to them fresh every day, a lot of cost-conscious chefs are going to want to unload what they have left over from the weekend. Are they going to give you poisonous fish that's going to make you sick? Not likely, but you're on safer ground and certainly happier ground on Tuesday.

BATTISTA: So how fresh is your fish if you live in Canton, Ohio?

BOURDAIN: You know, I don't know. It's -- not too many large bodies of water out there, are there?

BATTISTA: All right, we're not going there. OK, let's talk about brunch for a minute. "Brunch menus are an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights, or for the scraps generated in the normal course of business."

BOURDAIN: Well, I'm sure there are plenty of people making just wonderful, fresh brunches, but like a lot of cooks and a lot of chefs, we take a dim view of brunch in general. We like to consider ourselves sensitive artists, and don't like cooking eggs. It brings us back to our humble beginnings, as in short-order. And yes, a lot of people, you know, merchandise. They make a seafood fritatta, or seafood salad vinaigrette out of the odd bits and scraps; nothing nasty or poisonous; but, you know, from my point of view, stuff that I don't like very much.

And I'm not a fan of hollandaise. I've seen a lot of bad behavior with hollandaise sauce all the time.

BATTISTA: Oh, yes, let's keep going with that one. We've got a quote on that one too. It's says, about hollandaise sauce: "...not for me. Bacteria loves hollandaise. Nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order. Most likely the stuff on your eggs was made hours ago and held on station." And what's the problem with holding it on station?

BOURDAIN: Well, you have to keep it at a comfortable temperature, so that it won't break. It is tricky stuff. If you -- hollandaise seems to, like a horse, seems to sense fear, in that you can make it successfully a million times, but when you have to make it quickly in the middle of a rush, it will suddenly fail you. As a result, lazy cooks everywhere like to make one batch, hold it and use it as long as they can. And there's also the problem that a lot of -- let's, shall we say, less good restaurants melt down their used table butter, sift out the bread crumbs and use that clarified butter for their hollandaise.

Again, it might not kill you, but might not thrill you either.

BATTISTA: OK, moving along here: mussels; you have an issue with mussels. "I don't eat mussels in a restaurant unless I know the chef personally or have seen with my own eyes how they store and hold their mussels for service."

BOURDAIN: Again, having worked with, you know -- over time, in my past -- and I'm sure this is true of many cooks -- we have all worked in restaurants, not very good ones, where lazy cooks -- mussels are very easy to cook. They're a fast item to cook on the line. And unfortunately, you know, a lot of less good restaurants don't hold and store their mussels correctly. And, you know, there's a lot of bluster and sweeping hyperbole in this book. I don't want to terrify people away from mussels. I've been poisoned by them once at a very good restaurant. But, yes...

BATTISTA: And you wouldn't want to repeat that.

BOURDAIN: I wouldn't want to go through it again.

BATTISTA: Yes. You mentioned a few moments ago that you did not, you know, chefs do not like to prepare brunch. What other things do chefs not like to make? I mean, are their dishes or...

BOURDAIN: I can't speak for all chefs. But, you know, we like, for instance, if we create a special, we like it if the customer orders it the way we designed it. I've asked a lot, though, if chefs take revenge on customers who send food back and things like that. And, you know, I would like to reassure everybody that I haven't even heard of anybody spitting in food or deliberately sabotaging food in like 25 years.

You know, it's become a profession now where people are pretty conscientious and want to be chefs in five years. And you'd be blackballed in the industry if you did something like that.

BATTISTA: Oh, yes, let's hope so. Are you offended when somebody sends something back, though?

BOURDAIN: Well, no -- listen, if they catch me dead to rights, if I've overcooked something, no, I'm not. We did it wrong, we send it out. And even if we cooked it right, and they want it refired for some reason, no, I don't mind. But if somebody does asks me to massacre a perfectly good peace of lovely, number one sushi-quality tuna, and ask me to cook it well done, I will do it, but it hurts me. It causes me physical pain.

BATTISTA: Let's talk about bread, about the fact that bread seems to be recycled at just about every and any restaurant if it has not been used.

BOURDAIN: Well, if it looks good, you oftentimes at the mercy of your busboy. If it's a busy night, and your bread basket is undisturbed, many restaurants will send it right back out on the floor. I think that's a fair statement.

BATTISTA: So we just have to live -- we have to take the risk that it hasn't been...

BOURDAIN: I've got to tell you, that doesn't put me off bread at all. They're certainly, you know, less bacteria on that bread than there is in the back of a taxi or in a subway, or basically, walking down the street, so...

BATTISTA: That's true.

BOURDAIN: People have really been horrified by that particular assertion. I've got to say I was surprised by that.

BATTISTA: All right, another "b" word that helps you judge a restaurant is bathrooms, right?

BOURDAIN: Well, I think it is a good indicator. If you walk into a restaurant and their bathroom, which they let you see, looks like it hasn't been cleaned in two or three days, you can only imagine what their prep kitchen looks like which -- you know, prep kitchens are difficult to clean. Bathrooms are easy to clean. If they don't care enough to clean the front of the house, you can only expect the worst about the back.

BATTISTA: And that, you know, we were talking about that upstairs because that -- what you say makes absolute sense, but at the same time, I've been in some absolute dive restaurants in my life that serve, you know, like a rib shack, or something like that, they serve absolutely great food, but, you know, their bathrooms are just horrible.

BOURDAIN: Yeah, I've done exactly the same thing. You know, environment counts for a lot. If I'm getting a fabulous meal, but I know I am going for something low rent and atmospheric, you know why not? As I mentioned in the book, a rib shack in the Caribbean, where you see a piece of lobster on the grill, you know it's been there for an hour and a half, it doesn't matter. You know, there is sand between your toes, you are drinking Red Stripes, it is the local stuff. Take a chance, have fun, live.

BATTISTA: Before we take a break here, the "London Evening Standard" compared you to Benedict Arnold and Alger Hiss. Are you persona non grata around New York these days? I mean, will you ever eat lunch in that town again?

BOURDAIN: Well, I'm sure plenty of people are angry with me, but I will tell you that reaction in the industry among chefs has been overwhelming. I mean, mail, calls, people wanting to buy me dinner. I think chefs and cooks, and anyone who has worked in the restaurant business are appreciative that, if nothing else, I'm talking about a business that, in terms they are familiar with, and in a way that's unvarnished. And apparently it's going over very, very well with my fellow chefs and cookies.

BATTISTA: All right, let's take a quick break at this time. And as we do, we invite you to take part in our TALKBACK LIVE on-line viewer vote at CNN.com/Talkback. And today's quirky question is: Would you east recycled bread?

Up next, what do chefs orders when they go out? Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Almost half of all adults patronized a restaurant on a typical day in 1998: 21 percent of U.S. households used some form of takeout or delivery each day that year.

Let me take some questions from the audience. Tom, go ahead.

TOM: Hi. I would like to know, in the old days, when chicken was around for a little while, they would soak it in salt water, and for quite a while, and then use it. Is that type of thing going on today?

BOURDAIN: I haven't seen that, I just haven't seen it.

BATTISTA: What would they have done that for? is that for taste? or maybe to have killed bacteria?

BOURDAIN: To cure it, to retard spoilage, to kill bacteria, a nasty practice that I've heard of, but, boy, it's been years and years, and I haven't seen it.

BATTISTA: I did it with my Thanksgiving turkey one year, though. I mean, I put it in a bucket with kosher salt, and everything. It actually was very good.

Bill, a question.

BILL: From breakfast to dinner, say you order, you know, bacon, sausages, vegetables, mashed potatoes, will they take that and put it back on somebody else's plate?

BOURDAIN: Boy, that's really horrible. I haven't heard of that going on even at bad restaurants, no.

BATTISTA: OK, that is good to know. Ed is on the phone from Ohio. Ed, go ahead.

ED: Yes, I just wanted to say that I am reading chef Anthony's book right now, and it is one of the most entertaining nonfiction books I have read in quite some time. My question is: I have a son who is 19 years old, who is interested in perhaps becoming a chef, and I wondered what he would recommend to my son in the way of courses, or perhaps even work experiences for someone who is interested in a restaurant career?

BOURDAIN: Well, I think it's very, very helpful to attend a cooking school, especially a good one, like French Culinary Institute or the Culinary Institute of America are both excellent schools that have really raised the level of professionalism in the country. And of course, that helps resume building and to, you know, establish basic knowledge.

But I think, most importantly, I would advise him strongly to work as a dishwasher for six months in a busy restaurant. That will help him decide whether or not he really wants to be in the restaurant business and, if he does go into the restaurant business, that will be invaluable experience later on.

BATTISTA: And go without a social life for at least a couple months to get used to that; right?

BOURDAIN: We go without be a social life for your entire career. BATTISTA: Right, but I have to say get him used to it. Let me ask you another question because the book does have some good advice in it, too. What is the best and the worst nights to eat out?

BOURDAIN: Well, again, remember this is a chef talking, and it's not anybody else, but I think, in large cities, I suggest going out Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday nights for a variety of reasons, you know the stuff is fresh, pretty much everywhere. They are not as busy, I mean, everyone is putting their best foot forward straight through the week, Fridays and Saturdays as well, but Fridays and Saturdays are not only busier, but there is a sneaky hidden assumption among chefs and cooks that the people who eat Friday and Saturday are not going to be regulars. They are people who are coming in, maybe seeing a show, they are going to eat in your restaurant once, and then they are gone. Whereas Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, there is this feeling that it is the home team, the regulars, or people who could become regulars. So you are almost guaranteed to get the best foot forward, and the goodwill of the kitchen is on your side on those days. And it is less busy, you can enjoy yourself at a more relaxed pace, presumably.

BATTISTA: True. Jerry, question or comment here in the audience.

JERRY: Yes, I have a comment. I'm one of those that does like recycled bread. Now, Dorma (ph), my cousin here from California, made recycled bread pudding yesterday, and it was delicious. So we eat recycled bread at our house.

BOURDAIN: Good for you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the most recycled food besides bread and vegetables that you would make vegetable soup out of?

BOURDAIN: Well, by recycling, you know, I think what we were talking about earlier is food that has actually been out in the dining room, comes back into the kitchen, and is then served or used again. I mean, no one is making vegetable soup that I know of out of vegetables that have already been served to customers, touched or not.

I was saying, however, that undisturbed baskets of bread might well be used again. I would think bread would be the number-one item, that is the most frequent thing. Anything else I wouldn't want to give you a general rule of thumb about that.

BATTISTA: We had an e-mail here that wondered if they recycled drinks, but...

BOURDAIN: Oh, boy, what a horrible thought.

BATTISTA: What does she mean? Like they take half a Manhattan and pour it into a full one, or maybe she means water. I don't know, maybe she means recycle...

BOURDAIN: That would scare me.

BATTISTA: Maybe she means recycled water that hasn't been drunk, that's always put on the table. Maybe she means that.

BOURDAIN: Never seen it.

BATTISTA: I've never seen that neither. OK, and one more in the audience here -- Neal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neal from California.

NEAL: Yes, hi.

I'd like to know why chefs are so temperamental?

BOURDAIN: Because, OK, many of us are chaotic dysfunctional people, like myself, who live very organized, hyper-organized, driven, fast-paced lives, and you know, a lot of the people in the business, maybe outside of the kitchen doors live one way, but inside it is a rigid, century-old, military hierarchy, where it is yes, sir, move forward type of an operation, where pressure is enormous, the expectations are very high, and you leave the kitchen expecting the world to operate like your kitchen, and it doesn't. The world does not operate like a well-greased machine, as any good kitchen does, and that makes us angry, and bitter and filled with all sorts of evil thoughts.

(LAUGHTER)

BATTISTA: You've got to work through that.

BATTISTA: We've got to take another break. When we come back, what does it take to become a master chef. We've heard a little bit about that from Anthony, and we'll continue talking about that with the legendary one. Jacques Pepin will join us right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: All right. Joining us now is master chef Jacques Pepin, host of "Jacques Pepin's Kitchen." He has written 19 cookbooks and is featured in a two-hour PBS special called "Jacques Pepin," celebrating his 50 years in the kitchen.

And we're delighted to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

JACQUES PEPIN, MASTER CHEF: I'm delighted to be with you.

BATTISTA: What do you think of some of the point in Anthony's book? Are you mad at him?

PEPIN: Absolutely not, no. What you brought about before, recycling bread, or butter, or not eating fish on Monday or that type of thing, is probably some salient and controversial point in the book, which is what people usually bring about. Maybe what should be said is that the book, first, is very well written, and there's many, many more positive aspects to the book than negative ones, having the excitement of being a chef, the commitment to being a chef, that type of thing, you know, should probably be emphasized. BATTISTA: I want talk about several of those things. Let me ask you first, though, in your mind, what is the best way to judge a restaurant and/or a meal?

PEPIN: Well, I have to agree with Anthony on many points. I have said that all my life, you know, When I go to the restaurant, first your nose, you know. You smell it. There is a certain smell in the restaurant. Like in a kitchen when you come in the morning, you want to smell fresh coffee, people are well dressed; you don't want to smell the grease from the night before. Likewise in the dining room. Then you look at the feet of the table, if they are dirty, then you go to the john, you know, to the toilet, to see the condition of it. That give you a pretty clear indication of the way the kitchen is.

Another time you sit down and you have 125 different type of dish in the restaurant that you know you have two people in the kitchen. You know most of the things are frozen, so you're going to start ordering very defensively. And by the time you ask the waitress, "What's Good?" And she's chewing gum and looking above your head, and she says, "Everything is good," that's when you get up and run.

(LAUGHTER)

BATTISTA: Oh no, OK. How has a chef's life in this business changed over the last 50 years that you've been in the business?

PEPIN: Well, quite a lot. I mean, my experience was not the same as Anthony, because I was -- I left home 51 years ago now and home at a restaurant where my mother was the chef. I was 13 years old and at that time, I tell you, my brother and I used to go to the market 6:30, 7:00 before we went to school, along the river.

My mother had a small restaurant. You had to really look at her (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But she would walk to the market, which was like a mile, and buy on their way back all the stuff, often at the end of the market, which we are going not to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), like a case of mushroom, or tomato, which were already very stuffed, and she asked to buy very defensively this way to be able to make it. So the buying was very important.

There was a great deal of respect for the food. And when you talk about recycling bread and all of that, you know, you have to make a difference between using leftover stuff that people have munched on, or when you talk about reusing things which you have leftover and transporting and transforming them into other dish, which is the sign of a very good cook actually.

BATTISTA: It seems to me it is more glamorous now, and I'm curious as to how the two of you, how both of you feel about that, particularly the explosion in television chefs and the celebrity status? I mean, is that same respect for the food still there?

PEPIN: Yes, absolutely more so. I don't think that people have written -- people tell me people don't cook anymore. You go to supermarket now -- when I came to America, there two type of salad. There was iceberg and romaine, and now you have 20 different sides of grain. You have shallot. You have lentil, oriental vegetables, which did not exists before. If no one cooking in America, I mean, what they are doing with the stuff in the supermarket. Do they have a dump truck at the end of the week to empty?

(LAUGHTER)

PEPIN: No, people are cooking, people are interested in food, but 25 years ago, the chef was someone in a black hole that you call, and a mother would have had a child becoming a doctor, a lawyer, anything like that, certainly not a chef. It was considered fairly uninspired and lowly, you know, a kind of low position in life. All of a sudden, we are genius now. That's great. I don't know what happened.

BATTISTA: Anthony, how do you feel about the changes, particularly in the last 10 years with the Food Network and all these celebrity chefs?

BOURDAIN: Well, I can understand that people would find -- this cult of celebrity chefs I'm sure is annoying to many, but it has been nothing but good for the dining public. You know as Jacques said, you know, look at the variety in quality of seafood that we can get now.

I mean, people are so much more adventurous as far as what they are willing to eat and try, and that desire has driven the markets to catch up, and so the variety of produce and seafood and just, you know, good stuff that we as chefs are able to get and get in good quality and serve, it has been nothing but good for the industry, for both chefs and for the dining public.

So, you know, I understand it is annoying, my -- even my fry cook is talking about getting a publicist now -- but it's been a good thing.

BATTISTA: Well, you don't have to name names -- I mean, you can if you want, but you don't have to. I mean, does everybody that gets a show on the Food Network, or reaches that status, do they deserve it?

BOURDAIN: I think anyone -- I mean, I may not be fond of some of the shows on TV Food Network, but I would say that anyone who gets their own show there has probably come up the hard way, put in their dues, spent their time behind the line, run their own kitchen and richly deserves, you know, whatever is coming to them. You know, I guess that's what I would like to say about that.

BATTISTA: OK, we'll -- I'll let you off the hook. All right, we'll take another break...

BOURDAIN: Thanks.

BATTISTA: ... and then we'll take more questions from the audience, and we'll also talk to "New York Times" food columnist Florence Fabricant. Do critics see things that we don't? We'll talk about that after the news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: All right, joining us now is the food columnist for "The New York Times," Florence Fabricant. She has just finished her fifth cook book, entitled "The Great Potato Book."

And, Florence, thank you for joining us as well.

FLORENCE FABRICANT, FOOD COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": My pleasure.

BATTISTA: What was your reaction to the book, and I am kind of guessing that as a critic there wasn't too much of -- in there that was a surprise to you?

FABRICANT: Well, I think there were some items and points that were overstated, the ones that attract a lot of attention, this idea of the recycling. But, that aside, I think that the book was fairly accurate, those kitchens are pressure-cookers.

BATTISTA: In your mind, what is it that we need to know before we go out or order a meal?

FABRICANT: Well, I think you have to have a good idea of what food costs. You shop, you see how prices have gone up, and you have to also understand the labor that goes into certain dishes.

There is a lot more involved in a dish with an elaborate sauce and garnish than there is cooking a steak.

BATTISTA: You know, someone of your status in New York can make or break a restaurant?

FABRICANT: I don't believe that.

BATTISTA: Really?

FABRICANT: No.

BATTISTA: But you know than the chef and the owner hangs on what you, you know, might print the next day. And so, do you consider all of that? or are you just judging the food?

FABRICANT: Well, I am not a restaurant critic anymore. I did do restaurant criticism. I write about news in the business. But the reality is that there are a lot of excellent restaurants that don't make it for reasons other than a review: the partners don't get along; somebody stealing in the kitchen.

On the other hand, there are what are called teflons, restaurants that do not have particularly good food, but succeed and thrive year after year.

The important thing in dining out, I think is, when you are a regular, and you get to know a restaurant's strengths and weaknesses. And you like certain dishes and those are the dishes you order. You like certain tables, you like certain waiters, and so you get good service, and you are comfortable, and you are treated better than if you are a total stranger.

BATTISTA: Yeah, you also get a table when there is a two-hour wait.

FABRICANT: Exactly, that is true.

BATTISTA: Because you are their bread and butter so of speak.

Edith (ph) is hanging on the phone. Edith is in New York.

EDITH: Yes.

BATTISTA: You are reading the book, as I understand it, Edith?

EDITH: Yeah, I read the book and I think that it was wonderful. Not only for the information that I learned, but the writing style, which was absolutely terrific. But I have say I love swordfish and the book terrified me. I went to my local fish market, and I asked if it was true, and they say, yes, they cut around those parasitic worms. So I want to know, can I eat swordfish again, or do I put my faith in God every time I order it?

FABRICANT: Have you seen "The Perfect Storm"?

BATTISTA: Yes, exactly, that kind of put me off swordfish, I have to say, a little.

Anthony, we are not getting your mike. Let me have Jacques address that while we fix your microphone there.

Jacques, should we eat sword fish?

Have we lost all of this. There we go.

PEPIN: Each time you breathe you, probably swallow zillions of bacteria. And some people say I am not going to eat raw fish, I am not going to eat anything. Basically, you know, the way we cook fish now, which up to about 80 degree internal temperature, whether you eat it raw or cooked doesn't really make that much difference. I don't worry about those things. I have been 50 years in the kitchen, and I have never really gotten sick in the restaurant. So I suppose that it can happen. But I am not going to spoil my day. I am going to have dinner with my wife tonight and enjoy it.

BATTISTA: Anthony, go ahead. We have your mike fixed.

BOURDAIN: I agree with that absolutely. I eat a lot of sushi, a lot of raw shellfish. I think one shouldn't feel bad about not eating swordfish because there are fewer and fewer of them, and it would be nice to let them re-populate. And the worm won't hurt -- won't kill you, they won't hurt you, they are just kind of gross, aren't they?

BATTISTA: Yeah, let's not even go. April had a comment/question kind of. Go ahead, April.

APRIL: I wanted to ask. You talked earlier about how the explosion of celebrity chefs have created, you know, better restaurants, finer food, access -- consumers' access to better food. And at the same time, you have a lot of chains that have evolved from that creation of celebrity chefs and so forth, like Wolfgang Puck's restaurants. And in doing so, I think you lose character of a city, a city is no longer defined by this great restaurant you should go to, because every city almost, like an Atlanta, a Denver, L.A., they all have a Wolfgang Puck...

BATTISTA: Yeah, we are all becoming monogamous. It is all the same kind of restaurant.

APRIL: Exactly, and our cities are beginning to look the same.

BATTISTA: Let me have Florence comment on that first.

FABRICANT: Well, I think that you have to look at regional cuisine in this country as a disappearing asset. You talk to people who love barbecue in the south, and to find an authentic old-fashioned barbecue place is not easy, and the similarity for menu to menu and from city to city, I think is a real problem.

And there are a lot of hot, new chefs who latch on to trendy ingredients -- everyone is doing Asian fusion and that kind of thing -- and have not had a chance to develop a cuisine of their own. And I think I'd like to see more of that happening. I decry the regional loss that we get by everybody doing the same thing.

BATTISTA: Anthony?

BOURDAIN: I agree with that absolutely. It's a tragedy that, you know, the place with the personal imprint of the chef, owner, the neighborhood, the local market, that the trend seems to be away from that. It's a terrible thing. And I would love to see that reversed.

BATTISTA: Let me take a break, and then I will go to Ursula's question when we come back.

Menu prices are expected to increase 2.8 percent in 2000. The gain in 1999 was 2.9 percent. Menu price inflation is expected to remain above the nation's overall inflation rate for the fourth consecutive year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: On a typical day this year, the restaurant industry in the U.S. will post average sales in excess of one billion dollars. Sales are forecast to rise five percent this year, and make up four percent of the gross domestic product. More than eight percent of those employed in the U.S. work in the restaurant industry.

All right, we are back. And Ursula, who has Ursula's Cooking School here in Atlanta has a question.

URSULA: I would like to know if Anthony peels his mushrooms. I am talking about the mushroom -- what you call in Europe champinyong (ph), or we call it a champinyong -- you can them simple mushrooms. And I convinced all my students that they are so much better when they are peeled and scraped the little membranes out, because they grow in horse manure. And I don't know, I never -- they tell me always: Is it sterilized? I never have seen anywhere sterilized.

BATTISTA: All right, Anthony and Jacques, to peel or not to peel?

BOURDAIN: I don't.

PEPIN: I don't peel. They don't grow, you know horse manure, they grow from the horse manure up, you know.

URSULA: You told me this one time, Jacques, that you told me you don't even peel the strawberries. And I had asked you if you peel the bananas; because we were here in Atlanta in our cooking school association meeting. And when I asked you in front of about 500 people, everybody felt sorry for me. And I said, "No, I feel sorry for a French guy who does not peel mushrooms." And here sits a lady next to me and she said immediately, "I peel mine." Yes, and I am so proud of her.

PEPIN: No, we don't peel mushrooms. You wash the mushroom. You wash the mushroom when you're ready to use it. Then there is no reason to peel it. In addition to that, most of the stem has been removed already.

BATTISTA: I don't peel mine either. Yes, all right, Anthony, Dawn in New York says: "I am dating a chef who has the typical hectic schedule. Is a relationship even possible with someone in the business?" It's sounding like Dawn is a little frustrated.

BOURDAIN: I sympathize. I don't know what to tell you. It is sort of mission impossible. I mean, we always work Friday, Saturday nights. We work holidays. We work 12, 14 hours a day. You know, we have a lot of adrenaline running through our systems when we get out of work. Yes, you have got a tough job ahead of you there.

BATTISTA: Edith in New Hampshire -- no, it's Shirley (ph), who is in New Hampshire, is on the phone with us. Shirley, go ahead.

SHIRLEY: Hi, I just love your show. I have a question for Anthony. I have a son who is a graduate from the Culinary Arts Institute in Hyde Park, New York -- and he had to get to work so he couldn't watch your whole show -- but his question to you is, how do you get good health?

BOURDAIN: How do you get good health?

BATTISTA: You talk about that a lot, though, in the book, Anthony.

BOURDAIN: Yes. Over time -- I always, when I recruit cooks, I always feel like Lee Marvin in the first part of "The Dirty Dozen." You know, I'm sort of scouring prisons, the mental institutions. But, in fact, I come to rely on a core group of people who I have worked with over the years. And I generally hire from that pool, either one of these original dirty dozen or somebody who has been referred by them. So it's either friend of friends -- I generally don't hire people who I either don't know, or who I don't know somebody who knows them. I try to try to keep it in the family in that respect.

And, you know, I have been in the business 28 years, so I have developed a pretty long, a pretty full rolodex of people I can reach out to.

BATTISTA: Florence, I wanted to ask you a followup question when we were talking about chain restaurants there and the advent of those, which has not been great, I don't think, for the restaurant business. But where do you think the future of the restaurant business is heading?

FABRICANT: I think you're going to see more standardization. I think, in America, you are going to see, at the top end, improvements, better restaurants. And I hope that we will see restaurant service catch up to the level of restaurant cooking, because service has really lagged behind.

BATTISTA: That's in every industry in this country, we might add, that lack of customer service.

All right, we have to take one more break. We will be back with more questions, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: All right, Nikki (ph) from New York has a question.

NIKKI: Yes, hi, you addressed the issue of raw seafood, but I was wondering about raw beef, because steak tartar is one of my favorite dishes and I am oftentimes very scared to order it in restaurants, even high-quality restaurants.

BATTISTA: Anthony?

BOURDAIN: There is an element of risk as there is in all really good stuff to eat. We make a particularly good one at my place, so the last thing I want to do is advise you to not eat steak tartar. I eat it too and love it.

BATTISTA: OK, and I have one last question: What do you guys eat when you are at home, or when you go out? I mean, do you ever eat like Velveeta, or Spam, or anything like that, or -- I mean, are your taste buds just so up there -- what do you eat, or want to eat?

BOURDAIN: I eat very simple food, you know, steak frit, sushi, oysters, and yes, I do eat junk food, particularly on my day off. I am very, very lazy.

BATTISTA: And, Jacques, you too.

PEPIN: I'm a glutton. Just put it in front of me, I eat it.

BATTISTA: All right, well, Jacques Pepin, thank you very much for joining us.

PEPIN: Thank you.

BATTISTA: Florence Fabricant, appreciate your time as well. And, Anthony, thank you very much, the book is very entertaining, appreciate it.

BOURDAIN: Thank you.

BATTISTA: We will see you again tomorrow for more TALKBACK LIVE.

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