Gordon, the fat guy, and the skinny douche

Two years ago, when Master Chef started up on teevee, I took note of the three judges. Gordon Ramsay, everybody knows. Graham Elliot? Never heard of him, but when they indicated that he has at least one Michelin star, I knew that he was a credible judge. But the third guy? Never heard of him. His name is Joe Bastianich, and it turned out that he’s not a chef, but a restaurateur. Well…OK. I’d rather a chef do the judging, but a guy who has been running a number of very successful, high-profile restaurants in New York City? Fair enough.

It quickly became clear, in that first season, that while everyone expected Ramsay to be the big jerk of the squad (the Simon Cowell of the cooking shows, I suppose), based on his vitriolic persona as established on Hell’s Kitchen, it was actually Bastianich who most often brought the blunt rudeness. When he tastes a dish, he keeps his face a mask as he chews and swallows; then he fixes the cook with an icy stare before slowly turning and going back to his seat. And while there were moments when Ramsay would rip a dish to shreds, it was Bastianich who established his bona fides as the colossal prick of the group, occasionally going so far as to pick up a contestant’s dish, walk it to the nearest trash can, and spike it therein. Ouch.

The problem was that the blunt jerk of the group needs to be kind of fun to watch in action, and Bastianich didn’t really come off that way. It wasn’t enjoyable watching him rip on people, for the most part, and it just made him come off as, well, a big douche. It struck me that they toned him down a bit in the second season, and now that we’re in the third, they’ve almost turned Joe Bastianich into a real human being. He still engages in the garbage-can antics once in a while, but now, it’s really clear that a dish deserves it. (One contestant served up scallops that were individually wrapped in something so as to make a tiny little basket for each one; after having Ramsay rip the idea, Bastianich grabbed the plate, took it to the can, and tossed it whilst saying, “The scallop basket goes in the garbage basket.” Ouch, indeed.)

Most interestingly, Bastianich has really showed a lot more emotion this season than in previous years. His reaction to Monti‘s crab-meat wrapped Scotch egg was affectingly warm, and right off the bat in the first episode, you got a sense that he was going to open up a bit this year, when he tasted an Asian cook’s steamed dumplings, started to step back to do his icy stare, and then just smirked and said to the guy, “You know they’re good.”

So anyway: if the Joe Bastianich of Season One of Master Chef had written his new book, Restaurant Man, I probably wouldn’t have read it. Luckily it’s out as the Joe Bastianich of Season Three is on teevee, so I can read it without thinking, “Hey, it’s a book by that douche on the show who isn’t even a chef!” But fans of the show should take note: if you’re looking at this book on the basis of Bastianich’s work on Master Chef, you may be disappointed, because the show is never even mentioned in the book.

What’s it about, then? Well, to boil it down, it’s basically Kitchen Confidential written from the standpoint of the person who owns the restaurant and pays the bills.

The comparison to Anthony Bourdain’s book seems to me an apt one, because Bastianich does at times seem to be striving for the kind of tone that Bourdain struck, with the same sense of peeling back the curtain, and using a lot of foul-mouthery to do it. Bastianich isn’t the writer that Bourdain is, but so what? He has still turned in an interesting and engaging book about another facet of the restaurant world. Other books, such as Bourdain’s, detail the culinary side of things, and Bastianich is certainly keyed in to that aspect of things. But his focus has to be on something else: making the whole thing profitable.

Here is how the book begins:

Here’s everything you need to know to open a restaurant.

Your margins are three times your cost on everything. Some things you make more, some things you make less. You have loss leaders on the menu – veal chops and steak might cost you 50 percent of the ticket price on the menu. Pasta and salad you can run closer to 15, just as long as everything works out to 30 percent.

Bells and whistles like appetizers and desserts bring down the cost. Desserts are almost pure profit. Wine by the glass is usually marked up four times, although we don’t always do that. At Babbo we get about three times cost for a quartino, or sometimes even two times, so our wine cost is 30 to 50 percent.

Thirty percent of your monthly take is going to be your food and wine cost. Thirty percent is going to be labor, 20 percent is miscellaneous, including the rent, and 20 percent is your profit. Your rent per month should be your gross take on your slowest day.

And that’s it. Restaurant math is easy. If you need to gross ten grand in a day, then it’s about having two hundred people coming in and spending fifty bucks apiece. And within that $10,000, you should have $3,333 going to the cost of goods sold, $3,333 going to labor to execute that, and 20 percent miscellaneous, including linens and insurance and bug spray and anything else. That leaves 20 percent profit. Like I said, it’s very simple. There are a lot of more complex models, but this is the basic way of doing it.

Anything you give away for free is bad. Linen is the number-one evil, because it is expensive and no one pays for it. Same with bread and butter. You don’t mind paying fifteen bucks for a veal chop you sell for thirty dollars, but paying a dollar and a quarter for a tablecloth and thirty-five cents for each napkin that someone gets dirty before they even have their first drink is a drag.

In a typical Manhattan fine-dining restaurant, between 10 and 20 percent profit is an acceptable margin. Twenty percent if you’re a stud, 10 percent if you’re just doing okay. But every little thing will eat into your margin. A spoon that goes into the garbage is coming out of your pocket. A pot of coffee no one drinks costs you money. How close the chef cuts the fish to the bone will make a big difference. In this business, to make money you have to save money.

My dad taught me that. He was a restaurant man. That’s what he called it: “Restaurant Man”.

That’s Bastianich’s style: he’s very direct, almost blunt, and while he’s rigorous about quality, he is so with a never-relenting focus on profitability. If you want to know what the cooks are thinking about, read Bourdain; if you want to know what the owner is thinking about, read Bastianich.

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3 Responses to Gordon, the fat guy, and the skinny douche

  1. Unknown says:

    You forgot about how Graham looks at his forkload and then shoves it in his pie-hole, and then looks up at the sky, trying to make us believe that he is the most serious food taster in history. WHAT A FRIGGIN' DOUCHENOZZLE!!!!

  2. Unknown says:

    lmao I googled 'who is the douche on master chef' and this came up. I hate this dude.

  3. Unknown says:

    lmao. I googled "Who is the douche on master chef" and this came up haha

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