When Anthony Bourdain‘s book “Kitchen Confidential” came out in
2005 2000 (thanks, Alex_B!), it was made crystal clear that America’s top kitchens were staffed by insane and simultaneously deeply passionate “fuck art, let’s cook” punks behind what was supposed to be a culture catering to sophisticates. It’s always been like that; we just got a taste of a longstanding tradition. One year later, on the corner of Divisadero and Hayes a restaurant opened called NOPA, profoundly changing both the neighborhood’s culture and SF’s food culture, inside and out.
But even though gentrification sneers ran rampant — largely thanks to real estate agents renaming the neighborhood after the high-end restaurant in an effort to de-ghettoize the ‘hood — the restaurant (my former laundromat; once a bank) kept the neighborhood roots tight. You don’t need to look at the stunning mural of Divisadero in time capsule form, complete with The Church of John Coltraine, gracing an entire wall. You only need to look into the kitchen.
That’s where they keep it real. Look no further than NOPA’s sous chef, Richie Nakano — with a growing Twitter following, ongoing documentation of the rank, raw, humorous and sublime behind the counter scenes liveblogged to his Flickr photostream, his linecook415 blog with its cult following, and a brand new podcast. Yes, the food at NOPA will make you feel like you were rode hard and put away wet (and coming back for more) but Nakano and the absolutely driven, obsessed NOPA staff have enough passion and grit to blow “Kitchen Confidential” off the map.
Tonight, Richie Nakano will be telling a story at “Porch Light: Kitchen Confidential” at the Verdi Club and it’s about to sell out (details are below), but I was lucky enough to get Nakano to put down the knife for a minute and answer a few questions. You’ll quickly see why the linecook415 blog isn’t just addictive; it’s got its foot oh so lovingly on the throat of food culture in San Francisco.
Violet Blue: When did you know you HAD to cook?
Richie Nakano: I had been working front of house in restaurants for a long time, and it suited me. I liked working at night, and being around such a strange mix of people. Serving tables never did much for me though, and I was cooking a lot on my own, with friends. So I took a risk and it ended up working out.
Violet Blue: What did you think of Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” the first time you read it, and have your feelings about the book changed since then?
Richie Nakano: The first time I read it, it impacted me heavily. To me it felt like a textbook on how to act and survive in a kitchen. I read it again last year, and I still enjoy it, but there are so many things that Bourdain says like it’s kitchen law. I think the industry has evolved a lot since he wrote that. For a more current look at what’s going on, people should read “Heat” by Bill Buford or “Reach of a Chef” by Micheal Ruhlman.
Violet Blue: Are you going to eat your pet bunny rabbit?
Richie Nakano: Sometimes I want to when she chews on power cords, but no. She’s far too cute, and tiny, to cook. She has been fed an all organic diet though, so I think she would taste good.
Violet Blue: Why did you go slaughter a pig, and what did you do with it afterward?
Richie Nakano: As a chef all your meat usually comes to you in neat vacuum sealed bags. I felt like it was an important thing for me to see and understand, so I went. We took our pigs back and did a special pork dinner at NOPA — and we used everything. The idea of wasting any part of that, or any animal now is unimaginable.
Violet Blue: What keeps you going back to the kitchen every night?
Richie Nakano: So many things. The people, the gratification that serving guests gives you, and the rush you get from a busy night. I have a hard time imagining what I would do if I didn’t spend 13 hours a day in that kitchen. Besides, I’m bad at sitting still.
“Porch Light: Kitchen Confidential” is on Monday, April 20 at the Verdi Club (2424 Mariposa Street, San Francisco). Stories will be told by : historian/waiter Ron Henggeler, playwright/bartender Diane Karagienakos, animator/former restaurant owner Scott Kravitz, NOPA sous chef and blogger Richie Nakano, Firefly waiter and musician Kristin Sobditch, Delfina owner/chef Craig Stoll, plus an appearance by Astrology Cookbook author Stephanie Rosenbaum.
Tickets available at the door or in advance at brownpapertickets.com — $12 (Friends of the San Francisco Public Library at the $50 and above level receive half-off tickets, limit two per show) Ages 21 and up.View image