Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Playing with Fire: Whining & Dining on the Gold Coast

Playing with Fire: Whining & Dining on the Gold Coast

By: Thomas G. Schaudel

Publisher: Legwork Team Publishing

408 pages

Although this isn’t a BBQ book per se, it is well worth a look by anyone interested in the world of restaurants and catering. To allay the fears of those who are only interested in BBQ related books, there is at least one story that you will find of interest involving a near conflagration at a vineyard.

When reading about Playing with Fire you are going to notice comparisons to Kitchen Confidential. Those comparisons are apt, both in the content and in the authors. Where Kitchen Confidential stands at the doorway helping the reader peek into the kitchen, Playing with Fire turns the reader around 180 degrees and presents a view of the customers as seen through the eyes of a restaurateur.

I don’t want to pursue the comparisons much further, but like Bourdain, Chef Schaudel is a natural raconteur. It is evident that if he decided to hang up his spatula, he could find a second career as a writer. Where Bourdain is acerbic with a sharp wit, Tom Schaudel is good natured and exhibits a zen like acceptance of the bizarre and often outrageous behavior of his customers.

The book is a compilation of vignettes, most about three pages in length. Over the course of his long and rather illustrious career as a restaurateur on Long Island, Chef Schaudel has seen behavior in his dining rooms, bars and restrooms that is as shocking as it is humorous. He conveys these stories with humor and a bit of hyperbole, often leaving the reader to wonder how Schaudel managed to refrain from physical violence when confronted by social barbarism.

Whether it is a woman who uses a birdcage from the ladies room as a disguise to make it past her cuckolded husband who is eating in the same restaurant as his wife and her paramour or the pack of octogenarian kleptomaniacs who consider the theft of a menu holder to be a signal victory, the book is replete with examples of behavior that would make Attila the Hun blush.

I thoroughly enjoyed Playing with Fire and hope that we don’t have quite as long of a wait for the next book by Schaudel. If my recommendation isn’t enough for you, how is this for an eclectic fan base? The opening testimonial is by guitar legend Steve Vai and the foreword is from author Nelson DeMille.


~post signature