An award-winning chef reveals his addictions.
Schenker, owner of Recette, in New York’s West Village, and the newly opened The Gander, loved to cook even as a child. Hyperactive and rebellious, working in his family’s kitchen alongside his beloved grandmother offered him “an outlet for all of the emotions that were too uncomfortable for me to really feel.” But cooking did not save him from drugs: marijuana first and then opiates, heroin and crack. “If you use crack,” he writes, “it will eventually own you. I found it so addictive that I dreamed about getting high while I slept.” Schenker became expert at lying, stealing and manipulating his distraught parents. When a psychologist warned his parents that his marijuana use was “a harbinger of bad things to come,” his protests and tears convinced them that it was just a phase. “No one was better at faking remorse than me,” he writes. “I learned that I could get away with anything.” As he plummeted into addiction—once even stealing his mother’s Rolex for drug money—he held down a succession of jobs as a cook. After he hit bottom and his parents finally cut him off, he landed in jail, soon getting himself assigned to the kitchen. Jail, halfway houses and Alcoholics Anonymous inspired his mantra: “Your serenity is in direct proportion to your acceptance.” For several years, he worked in local restaurants and then was hired by Gordon Ramsay, whose kitchen was run “like a military operation.” Schenker longed to go out on his own, and Recette Private Dining was his first venture, serving a 10-course tasting menu for a small group of diners. A real restaurant soon followed. His manic striving for success, however, led to his substituting one addiction for another, as he became an obsessive workaholic, suffering extreme anxiety and panic attacks.
Schenker’s candid memoir chronicles the painful journey of a man striving for both culinary perfection and inner peace.