Picks and Pans Review: Don't Try This at Home

updated 10/24/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

edited by Kimberly Witherspoon and Andrew Friedman

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For Scott Conant, it was the day hundreds of eels escaped their vats and thrashed through the kitchen during lunch service. For Dan Barber, it was being held in a headlock during a lecture from David Bouley. And for Anthony Bourdain, author of the raucous Kitchen Confidential (which spawned the new sitcom), it was the New Year's Eve when he cooked at a club where the kitchen was hideously chaotic: After hours without food, drunken customers began to attack the waitstaff as "twenty-three heavily muscled gorillas" working as security guards tried to hold them back.

With its crushing hours, bruising competition and hyperdeveloped egos, the world of haute cuisine is rife with drama. The 40 chefs who contributed to this collection of intimate, often hilarious essays about their culinary catastrophes cop to being adrenaline junkies; even if they don't exactly court disaster, they take pride in turning desperate situations into perverse triumphs. Floods, maggoty pheasants, a thousand spoiled lobsters? These authors have learned to fake it. Candid and self-deprecating, they take the reader backstage to see how they create, under fire, the illusion of perfection. In the end, Don't Try This at Home is as uplifting as it is amusing; it's a reminder that—in real life as in the kitchen—guts are as important as genius.


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