Chefs in NYC

About a month ago, I took my somewhat willing fourteen-year-old daughter, who’s an aspiring writer, to a book signing at Barnes & Noble (Union Square).  I had been looking forward to this event for some time:  Tony Bourdain (Host of Travel Channel’s No Reservations and author of Kitchen Confidentiala favorite of mine) was to introduce and interview Gabrielle Hamilton, who’s the owner/Chef of PRUNE—a thirty-seat restaurant in the East Village and author of a new memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter:  The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.  And I was going to introduce my daughter to the world of real-life writers via a pair of New York City Chefs. FUN.

Now Gracie, my daughter, wasn’t as thrilled as I was to hear what Gabrielle and Tony had to say; she felt these Chefs had nothing to do with her life.  “But Gracie, they do—just listen to them.  They never planned on becoming Chefs, which is why I like the two of them. You can learn a lot from them—their journey—that they’ve turned into books.  And they are writers, just as you’re a writer.  Writers do learn to write from other writers.  Plus, Tony is really funny!”

“Fine, I’ll go.”

And Go, we did!   Walking-in the front doors of B&N that evening with Gabrielle’s book greeting everyone, splashing red all over that front table created a buzz in Gracie’s mind; taking the escalator up to the top floor, hearing noises from the eager crowd about to meet and hear this Chef turned author pumped an excitement in my little Gracie, too.

“Mom, do you think this will be me one day?  People will come to buy my books and hear me speak about them?”

“Yes, Gracie. I do.”

Let me just say, I felt like a real silent hero that night, escorting my girl to her first NYC book-signing, even though Gracie will never tell her dear-thirty-something-old Mum that that night made an impression on her.  But, I know it did.  (Oh, how I love our little NYC moments!)

After the event, Gracie with stars-in-her-eyes, which only a mother can see, was back to her sarcastic-teen-aged-self:

“Mom, you’re so cheesy, and honestly, I don’t know why you like the two of them, soooooo much.”  Big roll of her baby-blue eyes, and then added, “You’re far from a Chef.  Real Estate has nothing to do with cooking!”

Actually, it kind of does and it’s another reason I like Bourdain’s, and now, Hamilton’s story.

Here’s the skinny on real estate agents:

When you’re a kid, you don’t tell your family, “When I grow-up, I want to be a real estate agent!”  That just doesn’t happen.  And in my case, I spent my adolescence training to become an opera singer and did just that—a real Mezzo-Soprano for hire, for awhile.  But then, I had to choose a different path—one I inadvertently found when I became Gracie’s mother…in real estate.

In general, the choice to become a real estate agent comes much, much later in one’s life.  The decision usually occurs after you’ve slaved away unsuccessfully in a couple of other professions, realizing that you’re not fulfilled or you don’t fit-in in those other worlds or life threw you a professional curve-ball.  To some—the public, we’re basically outcasts who really didn’t make-it in other jobs and still want to make a big wad of cash—and we want to feel important because of it.   If you read any agent’s bio, you will see this to be true.  Near the end of an agent’s bio-page, you’ll see a list of their past experiences in fields such as acting, fashion, banking, and so on—all of which make them a “special-fit” for being your real estate advocate!

We’re just misfits, in a way, who are trying to make some dough.

Together we’re a fun and wacky group of people outside of a deal, just like those in the restaurant biz.  I’ve had a lot of good times meeting agents here in NYC and I’ve had a lot of laughs.  I like agents.  Actually, for the most part, I love them and all of their baggage of eccentricities—for this I kind of fit-in with them.  But put us in a room to discuss real estate or work on a deal together, and you will quickly realize you’ve created a disaster.  It’s like putting a bunch of chefs in one kitchen to prepare one meal—styles and egos clash. There’s just too many cooks in the kitchen.  Each agent thinks they’re the Chef du jour.  When the truth of the matter is that we’re all waiters and waitresses who serve the customer.  Instead of a menu of food for our clients to order from, we provide a list of apartments and we show them.  They pick their favorite and we serve them a new home—with the keys as the sweet finish to the meal and then, we pick up our tip—fat commission checks.  No matter how an agent wants to spin how important our job is, the fact is:  We serve.  That’s it.   And sometimes we—agents need a slice of humble pie…

For foodies: PRUNE is located at 54 East 1st St.
For bookies (Yes, I just made-up a word), who may or may not be foodies, I highly recommend KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL and BLOOD, BONES & BUTTER.  Two great memoirs, but with two different approaches about food, life and honesty in NYC and beyond…


  1. Oh, what a great mom! I grew up in New York City as well and part of what makes me, well me, was my mother taking us all over the city to interesting events like that. And I heart Anthony. I used to go to Les Halles all, the time and greatly enjoyed watching him standing outside the kitchen door smoking.

  2. Darcy, Thanks for sharing here! I’m such a Bourdain fan that I went back to B&N (w/o my daughter) in May for his book signing of Medium Raw. How cool that you used to go to Les Halles when he was there–and witness his smoking outside the kitchen door!

  3. I know. The funniest thing is he is my everywhere man. For some reason, he is that guy, that I see over and over again in the streets of NYC. No matter what neighborhood i’m in. It’s a good thing I hadn’t read Kitchen Confidential back in my Les Halles days with him as the chef!

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