May 4, 2007 -- Many of us today know "shock jock chef" Anthony Bourdain from his hit show on the Travel Channel, "No Reservations." But Bourdain first gained national notoriety in 2000 when he wrote his acerbic, tell-all book, "Kitchen Confidential." One of his revelations? "I never order fish on Monday."
Bourdain explained that "The fish markets are closed on Saturday and Sunday. Your fish purveyor might deliver on Saturday, but it's stuff they got in on Friday."
For many diners the advice stuck. But are they true words to live by?
Fish wholesalers around the country, such as New York's Wild Edibles, take orders from hundreds of restaurants in a given week. Within hours they can package a restaurant's wish list and deliver it straight to the restaurant's kitchen. So if anyone knows how to get fresh fish, it's these guys. And Wild Edibles' director of retail operations, Steve Schafer, confirmed what Bourdain has been saying for years.
Be Wary of Special Sauce
"If I want to be guaranteed that I'm getting the freshest, most delicious piece of seafood, it's not gonna be on Sunday that I'm gonna order it. And there's even a chance that Monday could be that day," said Schafer. Yet Schafer does point out that restaurants can, indeed, get fresh fish on Monday. It's just up to you, the Monday diner, to ask if your poached salmon was delivered that day, or if you're instead getting the carryover from what was delivered Friday.
The rules for what days of the week to order fish don't necessarily apply to other foods because fish is much more perishable than anything else. Also, many types of fish cannot be frozen the way meat and chicken can. Since waste cannot be tolerated in restaurants, especially when profit margins are so slim, chefs must think ahead about how they'll use up their leftovers when the crowds of diners subside after Saturday night.
"In keeping with classic French principles of use everything, waste nothing," said Bourdain, "now he [the chef] is thinking about taking what was a special on Saturday and turning it into maybe a frittata or a seafood salad. Something with a suspiciously strong or acidy sauce."
'Start 'Em on Mondays'
"Fine," all you readers are thinking. You'll just order salad or steak on Mondays. But there's another dark force that might give you pause the next time you decide to eat out on a Monday.
Ex-waiters John Collins and Nigel Pickhardt also wrote a book on restaurant operations, called "How to Burn Down the House."
"Everybody from the purveyor to the restaurant owner to the wait staff -- Monday is the day that the rookies work. And it can be reflected in their service, it can be reflected in the food, it can be reflected in the whole operation," said Collins.
Pickhardt said that "You don't throw a greenhorn manager on the floor on a Friday night in a busy restaurant. Neither do you do a waiter or a bartender. You start 'em slow. You start 'em on the Mondays."
But back to the fish. Bourdain does point out some exceptions to the rule.
Bourdain said he's not concerned about the quality of Monday fish in restaurants in such coastal cities as San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, New York -- that have "fish-centric" menus. But, he points out if the restaurant is a "big place that's all over the map," it suggests to him that "the chef's insecure, not sure what they do well -- not saying it's gonna kill you, not saying it's gonna hurt you. I'm just saying it [fish] is not their best game."
So now that we know the facts about how restaurants sometimes operate on Mondays, Bourdain has a last word on America's latest culinary obsession: sushi. Namely, Japanese restaurants that advertise half-price sushi on Monday.
"Half-price sushi? Distress-sale fish?," Bourdain asked, "I mean, why am I selling it to you for half price? That just can't be a good thing, can it?"