Here’s a story I found while cleaning up my files:

A few years back I was asked to give a speech, in Las Vegas, for 350 chefs, during Super Bowl week. Now, January isn’t a very busy month for us, and going to Vegas had its appeal. But what really intrigued me was the chance to speak to 350 of my peers. Heady stuff. I agreed to do it.

There was, however, a catch. I also had to oversee the luncheon, and serve a dish featuring turkey. No problem. I’ll do the boned leg and thigh, stuffed with Edwards’ Virginia Ham and Shiitakes. That, with our awesome stone ground grits and some candied ginger carrots should rock their world. It’s a lot of work, but they promised that the hotel would provide plenty of staff to help.

The deal was that I would talk from 10:00 a.m. until 12:00 noon, and then put out the lunch (with plenty of help, remember?). Well, it turned out that the hotel, which I shall not name (rhymes with Leo), didn’t provide any cooks to help except for one very hard working exception (thanks Mora). Something about a staff shortage. Never mind, you learn to expect these inconveniences. By coincidence, my mentor, and good friend, Jean-Louis Palladin, has a restaurant in the Rio. His chef, Michael, was more than happy to help me bone and stuff turkey legs, for 20 hours, non-stop! (Apologize to your wife again for me, will you Michael?)

When I finally got to my room, at midnight, my wife gave me the message that my speech was rescheduled. I was now supposed to give a 45 minute talk, during lunch! No way! I was promised two hours! Besides, who would put out lunch??

“Don’t worry,” I was told. “You’ll have plenty of help.”

The next morning I had a friendly chat with the organizers, and they agreed to give me 1hour to talk, maybe a little more. But the hotel would have to dish up the lunch we cooked.

I started my talk at 11:45, and boy, was I funny. I mean, really, really funny. I talked about the good old days with Jean-Louis (whom I lovingly refer to as ‘the asshole’) and Guenter Seeger. I talked about the years of unbridled screaming in Jean-Louis’ kitchen, and the frightening precision, and cleanliness, of Guenter’s kitchen. I talked about naked chefs, holding their blender. I talked about the turkey dish I was demonstrating and serving, and how I ‘invented’ it for Julia Child’s TV show. There’s nothing like speaking to a ballroom full of chefs, in Las Vegas, and having them laugh hysterically at your stories. God, was I funny. Or so I thought.

It seems that one older couple took offense to my language, and said so to the organizer. For christ’s sake, it’s LAS VEGAS! If you can’t use the ‘f’ word here, where can you use it? And besides, I got a standing ovation. They flooded the stage, took pictures and asked for my autograph. Now I know how Elvis must have felt, except he was fatter and on drugs.

Anyway, the sponsor of the conference, an itty bitty, little, insignificant publication called ‘Chef’ took issue with my speech. (By the way, I’m no longer bitter.) The editor, Brent Frei, went so far as to write his editorial in the April issue on ‘yours truly’. He announced that he was twice appalled. The first thing was the speech itself: “I was taught that a chef is not to use the f-word in public, nor swear at all, really, nor should he or she make disparaging remarks about other chefs, even in jest”. (Did he just say that chefs don’t swear?)

As for the ‘f’ word, I offer no apologies. It’s just a word, and by elevating it to the unspeakable you make it more than it really is. It has its place, and that place is Las Vegas. As for the disparaging remarks, I spent five miserable years getting screamed at by Jean-Louis. The kind of screaming that you will never, ever hear in your lifetime. Times ten. Referring to him as an asshole is my minuscule revenge, and it’s done with much love and respect.

The second thing that appalled Mr. Frei was the attendees’ response:

“When I got back home to Chicago, a deluge of mail praised Jimmy’s presentation as one of the best, if not the best, event at our conference. The writers loved everything he had to say, and as I recall, he had most of the attendees rolling with laughter. Virtually everyone who commented on Jimmy’s presentation requested we ask him back next year.”

Go figure.


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