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‘Skip Sunday brunch buffets’ and other lessons from Anthony Bourdain

An author in Connecticut named Dan Waters, who happens to be my cousin, is the guy who has put some of the best books I’ve ever read in my hands.

He introduced me to David Foster Wallace (“A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again”), William Finnegan (“Barbarian Days”), and Steve Hely (“How I Became a Famous Novelist”).

But the best and most memorable of the books he suggested was Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” Although I read it a long time ago, and browsed it only occasionally before my copy vanished forever when I passed it along myself, several lessons from that book shaped the way I approach eating and fine dining to this day. I’d suspect “Kitchen Confidential” had a big influence on the culinary habits of many others.

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Rare is the time I sit down in a restaurant and do not think of some of the key points. The news of Bourdain’s death Friday made me reflect on them as well.

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These may not be exact, but this is how I remember them:

 Don’t order anything well done: Chefs despise it when a steak or filet is ordered well done because they believe if that’s how someone wants it, they don’t know much about eating. It also means you’re likely to get an inferior piece of meat. In fact, the big thing I remember is many chefs have a bin labeled “save for well” where they store the worst cuts.

 Don’t order fish on Sundays or especially Mondays: While Bourdain subsequently backed off this — the original thinking was kitchens stocked up on fish on Thursdays or Fridays but not on weekends — I have a hard time getting past it. I just don’t do it.

 Skip Sunday brunch buffets: In many kitchens, the A team works Friday and Saturday nights because that’s prime time. So it’s the B team, probably recycling the leftovers, who are serving up brunch.

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 Be wary of discount sushi: I can’t remember the exact story Bourdain told here, something about New York City street joints that advertised “discount sushi.” The takeaway was always think twice about what you might be getting at a place like this.

 Talk to the people who prepare your food: I used to go to Shaw’s Market in Dorchester and get a sushi tray for lunch sometimes. I often chatted with the chefs behind the counter as I made a choice. Once, one of them put aside any fears I had about “discount sushi” when he told me his night job was at a fine Japanese restaurant downtown.

 Don’t add salt until you taste your food: The first and last things into the pan in most kitchens are butter and salt. Chefs want it to taste good right from the jump. Respect that.

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The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
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The Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention
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The Trevor Helpline
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Follow Matt Pepin on Twitter at @mattpep15.