Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain describes what it must be like in "Marcel Land."

on Jan 19, 2011

Simply speaking, a "chef" is a cook who leads. I am approached by many proud parents who proclaim that their sons or daughters are "chefs" -- and then go on to describe someone who cooks well. That is a very good thing. To cook well, with pride, and with a genuine concern or even love for the people for whom one is cooking puts one automatically on the side of the angels. It does not make you a chef. A chef is a leader of cooks. Period. 

Years ago, I ran a large and too-busy kitchen in Manhattan. My sous-chef, an old associate who I'd brought along and promoted to help me with delegation and management of nearly fifty cooks, all of them new hires, came to me one day and stated what had already become painfully apparent. "They don't listen to me. They don't respect me. Tell them to listen to me." I told him what every leader, manager, or employer must surely come to know: That nothing I could do -- or was even willing to do -- would gain him respect that he had not himself earned. This is a lesson that one would hope Marcel might someday take to heart. Sadly, I see no evidence to date -- even after the shambles of Restaurant "Etch" -- that he ever will.

But let's begin at the beginning. I'm very proud of the QuickFire Challenge this week -- as I helped design it. And very proud that I had the opportunity to introduce the world to the remarkable Justo Thomas, the legendary fish butcher at Le Bernardin, on whom I spent a chapter in my book, Medium Raw. Each day, Justo butchers anywhere from 700-1,000 pounds of fish from on the bone to three-star Michelin quality, chillingly equal-sized  portions. He is a proud, deadly serious perfectionist and professional, and it was an honor to spend time with him. It was also a singular delight to show the sometimes cocky cheftestants a truly amazing craftsman. When Justo goes away on vacation, it takes three of Le Bernardin's excellent sous-chefs all day, a full shift, working together, to do what he is able to accomplish brilliantly in about four hours! Intimidating.

As I mentioned on the show, this was a rare challenge where everyone knew immediately, exactly how well -- or how poorly -- they performed. You either can -- or can't -- cut fish well. There's simply no debate. So we learned very quickly, and without any doubt, that Marcel, Dale, Richard, and Mike can cut fish. Marcel in particular is very good at it. 

Carla struggled to even finish. Fabio took a chunk out of his thumb. Tiffany did not do well. And Antonia, shockingly, Dahmer-ized  her two sea creatures. They looked like they'd been gnawed on by raccoons overnight.