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Bone in the throat, p.1
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       Bone in the Throat, p.1

           Anthony Bourdain
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Bone in the Throat





  Anthony Bourdain

  To Nancy

  . . . Mise-en-place is also

  a state of mind. Someone

  who has truly grasped the

  concept is able to keep

  many tasks in mind

  simultaneously, weighing and

  assigning each its proper

  value and priority. This

  assures that the chef has

  anticipated and prepared

  for every situation that

  could logically occur

  during a service period.

  — The New Professional Chef

  by the Culinary Institute of America

  (Fifth Edition)

















































  A Note on the Author

  By the Same Author


  Thanks to: Gordon Howard, David Rosenthal, Tad Floridis, Beth Pearson . . . and the testimony of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano.





  THAT A DEAD body should be found washed up on the beach was not so unusual. Sandy Hook had had more than its share of floaters over the years. Hog-tied union officials in advanced stages of decomposition, crab-eaten torsos, discarded pets, missing children, drug dealers in oil drums; they came down with the current. Carried out of New York Harbor, down the Jersey coast, they filled with gas and popped to the surface before coming in with the tide.

  Dr. Russel Breen, the Sandy Hook medical examiner, called away from his breakfast at the Tips for Tops Luncheonette, took one look at the latest, saw the duct tape around the wrists and ankles, the ligature marks under the chin, the welts indicating blunt force trauma, and the bullet holes in the back of the head, and declared him a city boy.

  "No way he's local," he said. Another present from the Big Apple, he thought. He took X rays of the dead man's teeth (what was left of them) and some photographs (front and side view) and faxed them to the city.

  He couldn't get any prints. The skin fell away from the fingers en masse. The hair was long gone, and the face, or what was left of it, was distorted beyond hope of recognition. The mans belly, swollen by the gas, had an umbilical hernia; the navel extruded like a turkey thermometer. When Dr. Breen turned his attention to the man's mouth, running a gloved finger around inside the cavity, he wondered at first if somebody had built a fire in there. The tongue was charred, and there were bits of red and brown paper embedded in the palate. Most of the teeth were gone, and the cheeks, blackened and torn, hung in spongy strips over the ears, as if somebody had tried to pull the mans face inside out and failed. Dr. Breen felt a hard object lodged in the throat and went after it with a hemostat.

  "Son of a bitch," he said, holding it up to the light, "it's a cherry bomb. Guy got a mouthful a' damn cherry bombs. "

  Satisfied that the deceased had been shot, beaten, and garroted, and that an attempt had been made to blow up his head, Dr. Breen had him loaded onto a squeaking gurney and taken off to the cooler. Then he went back to Tips for Tops for the rest of his breakfast. He would wait for the inevitable delegation from New York before going any further. Maybe they could get some prints using chemical solvent to dry the fingertips. Maybe they could make an ID with the few remaining teeth. Someone would be down from New York, of that he was sure. In the meantime, he'd get some breakfast.

  What was unusual was the size of the New York contingent that arrived a few hours later. Most times, a floater drew two, maybe three city detectives; once in a great while, there was even a forensics hotshot. This time was different. This was an invasion. They couldn't fit, all of them, in Dr. Breen's tiny office. There were guys in suits from the U.S. Attorney's office, FBI men in dark blue windbreakers, detectives in blue jeans and warm-up jackets, and others in slacks and polo shirts, as if they'd been pulled off the golf course. There was even a sallow-complected trio of pathologists, from Washington, no less, who arrived in a helicopter. It was all very strange.

  Usually, the two or three detectives who came down to view the latest dead wise guy would swagger around the coroner's office cracking jokes, trying to shock the locals with their indifference. They'd snicker over the remains, eager to demonstrate how "this ain't nothin, we see this alla time." They'd refer to a floater as "Poppin Fresh" or, if the subject was dismembered, as "Kibbles 'n Bits," or, if found in a drum, "Lunch Meat."

  Not this group. They were sullen and humorless; they seemed resentful about something. Instead of the usual good-natured banter, they bickered among themselves; unspoken recriminations seemed to hang in the air, occasionally flaring up into loud, shouted disagreements. Then there was a scuffle out in the hallway: A stocky FBI man took a poke at somebody from the U.S. Attorneys office; a couple of local uniforms had to separate them. An Assistant U.S. Attorney ended up needing stitches; the FBI man was hustled onto the helicopter and sent back to Washington.

  After the scuffle, they all stood out in the hall, glaring at each other, the FBI men sneering at the detectives and making rude comments under their breath. A few feet away, the detectives scowled silently back at them. The AUSAs formed their own little group by the water fountain, FBI men and detectives taunting them from their separate corners.

  A reporter from the local paper showed up, only to find herself confronted by the whole group, which was suddenly, if momentarily, united in their hostility. One menacing detective snarled something indescribably obscene in her ear, and she retreated in tears.

  Once the reporter had gone, they continued with their dark, accusatory looks. They shook their heads. They smoked their cigarettes. They fretted over the perceived repercussions from this latest arrival on Sandy Hook's beach. Clearly, they knew who it was. And they weren't happy about it.

  Dr. Breen thought they looked. . . well, guilty.


  Two-hundred-and-eighty-pound Salvatore Pitera, in a powder-blue jogging suit and tinted aviator glasses, stepped out of Franks Original Pizza onto Spring Street. He had a slice of pizza in one hand, too hot to eat, and he was blowing on it as he waddled through street traffic.

  At the corner of Elizabeth Street, he passed the social club. A group of old men sat out front, in tattered easy chairs, drinking espresso.

  "Hey, Wig! Sally Wig!" one of the men called out to him. The old men laughed. One man, the oldest, in a dark jacket and unbuttoned white dress shirt, put down his demitasse. "Hey, Sally, what you walking so funny for? You got the pi
les or something?"

  "I don't want to get any fuckin' pizza on my shoes," Sally said.

  "Hey, Wig," said another espresso drinker. "Looking good."

  The old men laughed. Sally kept walking west, his face all red now, jaw clenched, both eyes on his new Bally running shoes. When he was out of sight of the old men, he reached up to feel if his hair was on right.

  THREE YOUNG MEN in spattered white chef's jackets and black-and-white-checked pants stood out front of the Dreadnaught Grill. The chef, the tallest one, was pale and thin, with long brown hair that curled out from under his chef's hat. He held a copy of Larousse Gastronomique and was turning the pages furiously. He wore the hat high on his forehead and pulled straight back like a skullcap. A cigarette dangled from his mouth.

  "Beurre blanc, beurre blanc, beurre blanc," he was saying. Reading over his shoulder was Tommy. Darker, and not as tall as the chef, his hair stood up straight and spiky like a young Trotsky's. He had a faded blue bandanna draped over his shoulder. Two kitchen towels hung from his apron strings, one on each side, and he wore black, food-encrusted combat boots. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other impatiently while the chef turned the pages.

  Ricky, younger than the other two, with thinning blond hair, stood at the chef's other shoulder, cleaning his fingernails with a paring knife. He gnawed on a plastic swizzle stick.

  "I'm telling you right now," said the chef, "There is no, repeat, no cream in a real beurre blanc. Zero dairy . . . Got it? . . . Look—" He found the page in Larousse. "You see any mention of cream in there? No . . . You put cream in there, it ain't beurre blanc."

  Tommy, his sous-chef, turned away from the book, saying, "Glad I didn't take the bet." He reached in his front chest pocket, fished out a Marlboro, and lit it. "So what the hell we been serving then?"

  "I dunno what it is," said the chef. "It's cheating is what it is . . . And I'm telling you right now, both of you—I come in and find you or Ricky sneakin' cream in there again, you'll be peeling fuckin' shallots and bearding mussels for the next fuckin' month."

  "That's how we made it at Giro's," said Ricky, lamely "Keeps it from breaking."

  "I don't care how they do it at Giro's," said the chef. "Giro's is a fuckin' slop house. I want it done this way . . . Like it says in the book. The right way. And strain it. I'm not asking for you to run it through a goddamn cheesecloth, for Chrissakes . . . just pass it through a fine sieve. I don't want little bits a fucking shallot in there. Yesterday, I come in and Tommy here's got a beurre sitting out like . . . like fuckin' tartar sauce, it's got so many shallots in it. And cold . . . Shit was sitting up like a rock. You put that on a piece of fish, it's gonna slide right off on your lap like a scoop of ice cream."

  "Alright," said Tommy. "I got it . . . No more dairy in the beurre. I guess this means I gotta stop puttin' corn starch in the demiglace?"

  The chef turned and gave him a dirty look. "Go suck a turd, Tommy."

  Ricky pushed some long blond hair out of his eyes and put the paring knife in his jacket pocket. He started to peel a gray, rust-colored Band-Aid off his left thumb. "Chef Uncovers Another Crime Against Food. Perpetrator Unmasked. Dining Public Grateful. Case Closed."

  "That thumb doesn't look so good," said the chef.

  "It's coming along," said Ricky, holding up a swollen, pink digit neatly bisected by a jagged wound. He rolled up the old Band-Aid into a little ball and flicked it into the street. He reached into his breast pocket for two new ones. "These things are a fuckin' pain to unwrap," he said.

  The chef helped him to rewrap the wound. "Just don't leave any Band-Aids in the food," he said. Then he turned and disappeared down the steps into the clatter and hiss of the basement kitchen.

  "He's cranky today," said Tommy. "What's his problem?"

  "What do you think?" said Ricky with a smirk.

  "He's been riding my ass all day," said Tommy.

  "We never shoulda got him that book."

  "No shit."

  "It wasn't me," said Ricky. "It wasn't me that told him."

  "About the beurre?"

  "It wasn't me that ratted you out."

  "I know," said Tommy. "It's okay, man . . . It was probably somebody on the floor. He wouldn't a noticed himself. Stephanie considers herself some kinda gourmet lately. . . She probably said something. Probably read something in the Wednesday food section, came in Thursday and tried to impress the chef with her vast knowledge . . ."

  "She impresses me with her vast posterior."

  Tommy shrugged, took a last pull on his cigarette, and flicked it into the street. "Let his sauce break on him halfway through dinner service a couple of times . . . He'll be right back at us to put a little cream in. He's just bustin balls."

  Ricky raised his chin slightly. "Look who's comin' down the street."

  "Oh shit," said Tommy. He looked up to see Sally, halfway down the block, tossing a piece of uneaten pizza crust into a trash can. He grimaced, "It's fuckin' embarrassing, man. Just look at that fuckin' guy. . . He looks like a cross between Sonny Bono and Hermann Goring."

  Ricky straightened up and moved away from Tommy.

  "I think I'll leave you alone with your uncle, bro'," he said. "I've got something in the oven."

  Sally approached Tommy with a broad grin stretched across his face from jowl to jowl. "Hey, chef," he said, "cookin' anything I like?"

  "I'm not the chef," said Tommy. "I'm the sous-chef. I told you before."

  Sally wrapped two beefy arms around Tommy and gave him a hug and a half-slap on the cheek. "Whassat mean? You make the soups or somethin'?"

  "No, it means I'm the second chef—the under chef. Like the under boss. You know what that is, right, Sally?"

  "You got a fresh fuckin' mouth," said Sally. "So what are you and your little friends cookin' down there today?"

  "Absolutely nothing you like," said Tommy.

  "No veal chop? No pasta? How about sausages? I thought this supposed to be some kinda fancy French restaurant. You don't got any fuckin' sausages?"

  "This is a seafood place . . . Mediterranean seafood. French Mediterranean seafood. We do mostly fish," said Tommy.

  "How about squid?" asked Sally. "That's seafood. You got any squid in there?"

  "No squid," said Tommy.

  "You should try some of that squid they got next door. You ever try the Count's squid? He serves some nice squid. That squid is beautiful," said Sally.

  "Foreskins in afterbirth is what it is," said Tommy.

  "It's good," insisted Sally.

  "That shit is fuckin' vile," said Tommy. "I'm ashamed I ever ate there."

  "It's good."

  "It's not good. It's not even fresh! They buy it frozen," said Tommy.

  "He told me it's fresh," said Sally.

  "The fuck it is," said Tommy. "I'm tellin' you . . . they buy it frozen. I see the deliveries comin' in. They buy like six tons a that shit at a clip."

  Sally held up his palm. "You just don't appreciate good Italian food. Anyways, we can agree to disagree. I don't want to get into it with you. You never knew how to fuckin' eat. I shouldn't be surprised."

  "Whatever," said Tommy. He lit another cigarette. "What, you here to see Harvey?"

  "Yeah, is he here?"

  Tommy nodded. "He got in an hour ago. He's in the office, sweating the weather. He calls the weather service every ten minutes. Like they're gonna change the forecast, he calls back."

  "Business not so good?" asked Sally.

  Tommy shrugged. "Ask him yourself."


  Sally found harvey looking out the window of his cluttered office. Harvey was a man of medium height with dark curly hair graying slightly around the sideburns and receding from a high forehead. He had bushy black eyebrows and horn-rimmed glasses. He was very tan. Harvey's desk was stacked with bills and invoices and bundles of dinner checks. On the wall, next to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendar, two schedules, and a diploma stating that Harvey was certified to prac
tice dentistry in the state of New York, hung a photograph of him in his white smock, smiling, with his arm around a plump, blond dental assistant.

  "Hey, Harve," said Sally.

  "Sally, what do you hear about the weather? Last time I heard they said it might be nice," said Harvey.

  "I heard rain," said Sally. "They were playing the radio at Frank's."

  "Why does it have to rain every weekend?" said Harvey. "Every fucking weekend now. I've never heard such shit."

  "Yeah, well—"

  Harvey turned and eased himself into an oversize swivel chair. He let out a long sigh. "Sally, I got nothing for you this week. I'm sorry. I'm dying here. It took everything just to make payroll this week. It's getting so the kids here run to the fuckin bank Thursday to cash their checks before they fuckin' bounce."

  Sally moved closer to the desk and looked down at Harvey. "You know this makes three weeks. You're three weeks behind here. I mean, where are we going?"

  "I don't know what to say. I don't know what to tell you. It's the fuckin' weather. I'm getting killed." Harvey leaned forward and flipped through a Page-a-Day calendar. "I just need a couple of good weekends—a couple of good Friday, Saturday nights, maybe a couple of brunches. I can get right with everybody no problem. I just don't have it right now."

  "That's no good," said Sally. "That's no good at all. Some people are going to be real sad I come back there again with no money from you. It looks bad."

  "I'm sorry. Really," said Harvey "Three times I come down here," said Sally.

  "I know, I know," said Harvey, "I'm doing the best I can."

  "I just can't have this," said Sally. "You got me?"

  "I'm doing everything I can," said Harvey.

  Sally shook his head. "I cant walk back there again and be coming up empty with you."

  "I'm doing everything I can," insisted Harvey. "I get my meat from the man. My poultry, my fish There he tells me. Where to get my dairy. I got to get my linen and it doesn't even come back clean. And the garbage. These guys who come for the garbage—"

  "That's not us," said Sally, pointing a thick finger at Harvey. "That's not us—the garbage. That's somebody else. You don't talk to them like you talk to me. They're friends but not friends like we're friends. You just let them haul your trash for you and then you pay them on time. You don't do no more than that with them. Somebody from them comes around and says they want to do something else with you and you come tell me. Right?"

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