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Anthony Bourdain. (Photo: Flickr).

The O’Toole Chronicles: How to treat the dishwasher

By Kevin O'Toole, September 21 2021 12:01 am

Recently, while at the Jersey Shore with my family, I took some time to watch a few episodes of the noted TV series that featured the late Anthony Bourdain – No Reservations. I have always loved watching Bourdain as I have found him to be informative, collegial, interesting, and yes, sometimes even irreverent.

To me, watching the No Reservations shows was more than watching a run-of-the-mill food show. These shows allow the viewer to see what other parts of the world look like. The show usually affords a backdrop of not only cool scenery; it usually includes local residents in their natural environment and Anthony found a way to humanize those around him.

Whether it be in Mozambique, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Peru, Vienna, Haiti, Hokkaido or some far flung village along the Amazon River, Anthony had this ability of showing the best of usually untraveled or unfamiliar areas. He would spend time with a local family or group while they went about their day and take part in their daily food rituals. Where else can you get a peek inside the extraordinary lives of someone thousands of miles away in an environment that is usually so dissimilar to our own?

Most of us will never have this experience in our lives, let alone make a career out of it.

One particular episode really caught my attention, and while it may not have been the primary point of the show, it left an indelible impression upon me. The stop in Roses, Spain (Season 7, Ep 12) was not a typical one, yet it drove home an important lesson.

In this particular episode, Anthony Bourdain decided to visit one of the highest rated restaurants in the world, El Bulli, and he brought along his good friend, Jose Andres, who is one of the most famous and charitable chefs in the world. It should be noted that El Bulli was ranked by Restaurant Magazine as the number one restaurant in the entire world in 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2009.

First, a little history: El Bulli opened in 1964 and the Adria family worked hard to put their creation on the map. They strove to be dramatically creative and scientifically inventive and it worked. Their reputation grew and soon everyone in Europe was talking about this little slice of culinary heaven.

Modern day: On the day of the filming of this particular episode, the restaurant was operating for the very last time. Their amazing run was ending, and the cameras were there to witness El Bulli’s gastromincal greatness one last time. Head chef and owner, Ferran Adria, was holding court over his Three Michelin Star restaurant as he oversaw the vast and impressive production of uber creative food (think Alinea in Chicago). This day, like every other, before beginning service for the well-traveled and well-heeled clientele, Chef Ferran fed all the staff and as he did, he sat among his employees as the award-winning meals were served.

This, however, was a special day, and Chef Ferran turned to fellow chefs Bourdain and Andres, and essentially said – you will be judged in life on how you treat the staff, including the dishwasher.

What a statement.

I do not need to stand on a proverbial soapbox to drive this simple message home. While some of us tend to be caught up in the trappings of titles and privileges, it is vitally important to remember that we are all equal and those in charge, or in a position of authority, need to use that privilege, as well as its accompanying responsibility, to make others feel as they are our equals based upon our actions.

If we were interviewed on this show and posed any of the following questions:

How do you treat the dishwasher? The person who takes out the garbage? Your landscaper? Subordinates? Staffers?

What would be your answer?

Those of us who grew up working class and worked menial and/or manual labor jobs can more readily identify with the working class. If asked, the harder jobs in my life that gave me perspective would have to be landscaper, furniture mover, laborer, sander for dry wallers (finish with 220 grit), gas station attendant, and maintenance crew are just a few humbling jobs that immediately come to mind.

Last point, when we interview lawyers for an opportunity with our law firm, the two managing partners always mark, and sometimes punctuate, the interview with a declarative statement that under no circumstances is it acceptable to talk down to other employees. As a matter of fact, we highlight that the mail room team and legal assistants are all or more important than any of us lawyers — the truth is that they most times work harder, know more, and any law firm’s success is based largely on the professionalism and hard work of the non-lawyers.

Most of the time we are all guilty of being consumed by our own lives that we forget to take a moment and appreciate those who do the things we don’t have to, but what if we didn’t?

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