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John Tesar and Anthony Bourdain: The Connection
Read an excerpt about Jimmy Sears in Tony's groundbreaking book 'Kitchen Confidential.'
On Wednesday night's Top Chef, John Tesar, who's proud to brag about his most-hated status, opens up about another nickname he earned: He's Jimmy Sears in Anthony Bourdain's notorious restaurant world manifesto, Kitchen Confidential. In KC, Bourdain brags about Jimmy (see: John's) culinary prowess, saying that he is a master in the kitchen, but not so much when it came to punctuality or life management.
So, we synced up with the fine people at Ecco / HarperCollins in order to run the following excerpt from Kitchen Confidential, which was just rereleased with a new Insider's Edition, complete with handwritten notes from Tony looking back on the book that started it all. Behold, the introduction of Jimmy Sears:
I met Steven at the Supper Club. It was 1993, my return to the “bigs.” I’d been working for Bigfoot at his West Village saloon, comfortable but in career limbo. I took a few weeks off to kick back in the Caribbean, and when I returned, I found a down-on-his-luck Jimmy Sears in Bigfoot’s kitchen. Bigfoot had been eating dinner at the Gotham recently and had experienced some kind of culinary epiphany. Suddenly, he wanted a real chef, and Sears, whose restaurant in the Hamptons had just gone under, was sleeping on floors around Manhattan, dodging creditors and ex-girlfriends, and in general going through a rough patch—prime time for a Bigfoot recruiting effort. Jimmy was a brilliant cook. He’d come up with Brendan Walsh at Arizona 206, and the food he turned out in his brief time working the Bigfoot mines was so good, I’d stay after my shift was over, sit at the bar and order dinner and pay for it. Seeing what Jimmy could do in the kitchen really inspired me; I’d been slinging hash for way too long, and tasting a real demi-glace again, eating new, exciting food, seeing new presentations, made me remember what I’d enjoyed about food in the first place. I worked hard for Jimmy, and after knocking out a few thousand meals, going skiing together a few times, we’d become pals, and we determined that when Jimmy and Bigfoot’s relationship came to an end, as it inevitably would, I’d keep an eye on the talented Mr. Sears, maybe come along for the ride when he made his next move.
That clash of wills was not long in coming. A few months later, Jimmy’s period of saloon exile was over; he landed the exec chef gig at the Supper Club, a huge restaurant/nightclub/disco on West 47th Street, and began hiring cooks. I was one of the first to get the call. It was a plum job to be executive chef at the Supper Club. Hell, it was a plum job doing anything at the Supper Club. Perk-o-delic. The main dining room sat about two hundred, with private banquettes and booths along the walls, a dance floor and a stage from which a twelve-piece orchestra played forties swing music. There was an upstairs mezzanine—a holdover from the club’s previous incarnation as a Broadway theater—which sat another hundred and fifty or so, with a second bar, and off to the side, also on the second floor, was a smaller venue, a cabaret-cum–VIP lounge called the Blue Room, which sat another eighty. It was a pretty swank place, what they used to call a “rug joint” back in the thirties and forties—a big, glitzy operation with plenty of cracks to fall through, a place where you could easily picture a young Burt Lancaster (just out of the joint) returning to find a young Kirk Douglas (the club owner) counting the night’s take in one of the private banquettes. Dinner and dancing to swing music went on from five to eleven, after which the smoke machines would start belching chocolate-smelling fumes, the laser intellabeams would kick into action, the mirror ball would begin turning, a DJ would take over and the Supper Club would become (for a while) the hottest dance club in town.
Every night there was a different crowd with a different promoter: Chicks with Dicks Night featured towering transvestites and preops tottering around on high heels to house and techno; Soul Kitchen featured predisco seventies funk, with early blaxploitation films playing silently on the big screen and forty-ouncers and chicken wings for sale; Giant Step had acid jazz and fusion; Café Con Leche nights had salsa nueva and Latin funk; Funkmaster Flex attracted a hip-hop crowd; Noel Ashman attracted Eurotrash and the face-lifted, well-dressed crowd . . . you never knew, there was every variety of nightlife madness as each night people lined up down the street and around the corner onto Eighth Avenue, waiting to get past our metal detectors and our thirteen burly security goons so they could rip up our bathrooms, crowd around our three bars, smoke weed, snort coke and copulate like bunnies in every nook and cranny of our cavernous pleasure palace.
Jimmy brought me in as an overpaid garde-manger man—120 smacks a night to plate salads and squirt whipped cream on desserts. But Jimmy was not, at that time, an organizational mastermind. I am. Jimmy spent much of his time roller-blading around the city, schmoozing; he had a second job, cooking for Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola; he was secretly working out a deal for his triumphant return to the Hamptons; and of course he was poking everything in a skirt. By the time he’d swing by the Supper Club, little things like ordering, scheduling, rotating food and organizing menus were afterthoughts. I quickly found that doing it myself was easier than waiting for Jimmy to show up and do it for us, and in no time at all I was running the nuts-and-bolts end of the kitchen: making sure that we had the food, the prep, the bodies and information needed to crank out the enormous volume of parties, buffets, hors d’oeuvres and regular menu items the business required. Jimmy’s food, as always, was magnificent, but Jimmy himself seldom seemed to be around. After a few months, I was de facto sous-chef, or kitchen manager—the guy everyone came to to find out what the hell was going on—and when I came back after another brief vacation in the Caribbean, Jimmy, though still nominally the chef, was secretly and simultaneously employed as the chef at the Inn at Quogue out in the Hamptons, and Steven Tempel was working in the Supper Club kitchen. I guess it was a historic moment.
He showed up looking for a sauté position, his even more degenerate friend Adam Real-Last-Name-Unknown in tow. I had a few weeks to watch these two in action before Sears slipped off to the Hamptons and his even more reduced “summer schedule,” and I begged, pleaded and implored him not to saddle me with these two coke-snorting, thieving, fire-starting, whoring, boozing and troublemaking miscreants. Jimmy ignored my entreaties.