At the end of September Jesse Schenker, the chef behind Recette, The Gander, will publish his memoir, All or Nothing: One Chef's Appetite for the Extreme. In it he chronicles his younger years in Florida, where, as a high school dropout he got involved in hard drugs (specifically heroin and crack), and his more recent struggle with severe anxiety. According to a synopsis on Amazon, the story includes a drug overdose, gunshots, an arrest, and panic attacks, among other dramatic moments. Below read an excerpt from the memoir, which comes out September 30, plus watch the promo video, which features mug shots and Schenker's description of hitting a joint for the first time.
Introduction, from Jesse Schenker's All or Nothing
A few months after Recette had opened, I'd started to feel bogged down by the monotony of cooking the same food day after day, handling the exact same ingredients and meticulously preparing identical plates one after the other. Every time I went out to dinner I was inspired by something I ate, but I knew that it wouldn't work to change Recette's menu too often. Inspired by Tom Colicchio's "Tom Tuesdays," I came up with the idea of "Mondays with Jesse." Once a month I closed down the restaurant and let my imagination run free, coming up with an elaborate tasting menu that allowed me to flex my culinary muscles. I would never put ingredients that I wasn't intimately familiar with, like the traditional Japanese ones, on the regular menu, but Mondays with Jesse gave me license to experiment with new flavors, combinations, and even entire cuisines.
These tasting menus always consisted of ten courses, but as soon as I started experimenting with the Japanese menu my imagination ran wilder than ever before. Every time we thought we had the menu finalized I kept adding more courses…
Even as my staff asked, "Are you crazy? Why are we doing so many courses?" I kept pushing further. Simply cooking twenty-seven courses wasn't enough for me. I found new ways to make the entire experience more extreme by buying elaborate chopsticks, researching traditional Japanese vessels and cookware, and coming up with yet more dishes to serve.
We had only two weeks to develop each of the recipes from scratch. I wanted to make a chawanmushi, a traditional egg custard that normally consists of dashi and egg and has the consistency of a light crème brûlée. We folded lobster puree in with the eggs, which turned them bright red, and then served the chawanmushi with raw diced lobster meat tossed with sesame and cilantro on top. The color was striking, and it tasted like an explosion of lobster and egg.
In Recette's tiny kitchen I could sense that everyone was on edge. On some level I knew that I was making them nervous as I laid out dozens of tiny note cards so we could keep track of each course. But I couldn't rein it in. I moved a thin slice of raw fish a millimeter to the left on the hot rock that seared it; I tightened the kelp envelope surrounding the sliced mackerel so the diners' senses would be overwhelmed by the smell and taste of the sea when opening it.
My mind was spinning with too many thoughts at once. My hand shook slightly as I pulled the tasting spoon from the back pocket of my jeans, a simple movement burned so clearly into my muscle memory that for the briefest of moments I forgot where I was.
There had been a spoon in my back pocket for as long as I could remember, but the spoon's intended use had changed so completely that even I was caught off guard at times. Once I had carried a spoon to cook drugs on the streets of Florida, and now it was there to prepare haute cuisine for Manhattan's foodie elite. This was a transformation I could not have imagined taking place over a span of eight years. But as I snapped to my senses and dipped the spoon into the dank-ass broth the truth hit me that I was just as addicted as ever—it was only the substance that had changed.
This excerpt is published with the permission of Harper Collins. All rights reserved.
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