The Chef and Author of All or Nothing Talks Addiction in the World of Professional Cooking, Running Multiple Kitchens, and Work Ethic
Photographs by Evan Sung
It’s been a busy year for chef Jesse Schenker. His West Village jewel box Recette recently turned five years old, last spring he debuted The Gander in Chelsea, and fall saw the publication of his first book, All or Nothing: One Chef’s Appetite for the Extreme. The book is a staggeringly revealing, first-person account of Schenker’s years-long tussle with addiction, one which saw him toggle between pro kitchens and the streets, rehab, and jail. It also, not incidentally, recounts his culinary development, and the steps that led to his success in the high-stakes world of New York City restaurants and in his personal life (he’s happily married with two young children). We recently sat down with him at The Gander to discuss the book, addiction and the pro kitchen, and how he’s adjusting to life with two restaurants.
Friedman: The kind of stuff you talk about in this book, in this very revealing way, a lot of people don’t want to talk about. They certainly don’t want to talk about themselves doing it or having done it. At the same time, it’s often what publishers want from people. You clearly had no problem doing it. But it didn’t seem crass or commercial to me. I don’t know if it’s the right word, but to me it has the tone of almost a confessional ‑‑ it’s very soul‑bearing. It seemed to me that you must have wanted to do it. But I’m wondering why. Was it for yourself? Did you think it would help other people?
Schenker: A hundred percent. Both. Ultimately, for me, the first thing that I thought of, and I still think of to this day, and I’m going to quote it. I’m not going to get into the whole AA literature, but “you can’t keep what you have unless you give it away.” That’s the truth.
Friedman: Which means what to you?
Schenker: Which means I need to show people… Ultimately I was an anxious kid. I self‑medicated, so I got hooked on drugs because I was trying to numb my feelings… You know the saying, “I’m going out of my mind?” You’re not going out of your mind, you’re actually going in your mind….