Beef cheek ravioli from Babbo might be beautiful on the plate and heavenly to the tongue, but what goes on behind the scenes—from step one to finished dish—is rarely as pretty. In Restaurant Man, Restaurateur Joe Bastianich paints a refreshingly honest picture of what it takes for a restaurant to not just create an impeccable dining experience, but also turn a decent profit.
In a raw and colorful style that rivals Anthony Bourdain, Bastianich breaks down the illusion that the restaurant business is a simple or clean affair. Case in point, a few useful (and then some) tidbits: waiters can be “overeducated, artistically deprived, bitter people”; busboys are the “blood of the restaurant”; dealing with purveyors and fishmongers can rival the intensity of hand-to-hand combat; new openings mean bill-juggling to avoid getting the lights turned off; oh, and the essence of a successful restaurant man is being a very “cheap f*ck.”
But matter of fact is Bastianich’s style. He grew up in the kitchens of his family’s restaurants in Queens and Manhattan and learned his restaurant how-to’s from the original restaurant man, his father Felice. Although Bastianich tried to distance himself from the business (his detour included studying Foucault, hanging out with Dead Heads at Boston College, and spending a post-grad year on the trading floor of Merrill Lynch), it seems he couldn’t deny his heritage or his destiny. And with each new venture, Bastianich and his partners, mother Lidia and Mario Batali, have followed that destiny to new frontiers: Becco was the birthplace of the affordable wine program; Babbo was the start of downtown modern Italian food; Del Posto became the first four-star Italian restaurant in the United States; and Eataly is the city’s first multi-faceted Italian culinary experience.
Especially for a memoir/business manual, Restaurant Man is an entertaining read, a blend of heartfelt family history, practical advice, and insider stories (including overhearing Bill Clinton’s off-color jokes at Del Posto and taking luxurious “research trips” to Italy). And while the book might make you wary of diving into the restaurant industry, it will also make you envious of those brave enough to forge their own paths through the culinary world.