Fried: How Steve Lerach (barely) survived restaurant life
Lerach's strength is his straightforward, deadpan style, which he uses to narrate his career trajectory and those of the characters he encounters: the IRA-entangled executive chef, the gay Vietnam vet server, the knife-fighting dishwashers, etc. I was somewhat distracted by the book's choppy structure, which intersperses Lerach's lively story with chapters that read like they were pulled from an academic paper (apparently the book sprang from Lerach's master's thesis on the history of restaurants) and snippets from the other characters that might have been more successful had they simply been integrated into Lerach's narration. Midway through, I found myself skipping the historic chapters to find out what would happen next to Lerach, like I had the shetel scenes in JSF's Everything is Illuminated.
Overall, though, it's fun to read about Lerach's Minnesotan version of Bourdain-style restaurant antics, like buying walleye out of the trunk of an aged Oldsmobile from two guys from the Red Lake reservation. My favorite section may be the story of the Happy Hour War of 1984, in which, Lerach, then heading the kitchen at Schiek's, describes what happens when his boss attempts to attract the bourgening yuppie scene via a singles night with free hors d'oeuvres:
The place was jam-packed with desparate, ravenous, inebriated, terminally horny revelers. The halfway houses and trailers parks were empied that night as every lonely gnome who could scrape up bus fare descended on the hapless restaurant. Losers and leaches, hookers and harelips, widows and wetbrains gyrated in the airless bar and dining room. Wedding rings slipped into pockets and newfound lovers slipped into stairwells to seek clumsy consummation. The bar was so crowded that the patrons couldn't head-butt their way into it, and the cocktail waitresses left in despair when they couldn't penetrate the penetration-minded throng.
Steve Lerach will be reading and signing at:
Common Good Books in St. Paul on Thursday September 25th at 7:30 p.m.
and Magers & Quinn in Uptown Minneapolis on Monday October 6th at 7:30 p.m.