Curmudgeonly chef Kenny Shopsin talked about his book, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin (Knopf), between shifts at his New York restaurant, Shopsin’s General Store.
PW: You talk about “the art of staying small” and say you have no desire to oversee a Shopsin’s restaurant empire or endorse a line of cookware. So why’d you write a book?
KS: [Knopf] asked me, and I needed the money. I’ve since thought that that was a rather rash decision on my part. The very things that I believe in are going to be in jeopardy. It seems as if I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. But sometimes moving ahead in life is doing something you don’t want to do.
PW: How’s the publicity going?
KS: I’m not really crazy about talking to you. [Once I start getting publicity,] I’m going to be in here with some yahoo from Detroit who comes in and says, “Where’s that guy that curses a lot?” I’m going to fucking kill him.
PW: Don’t you think it’ll be nice to have the finished book as a record of your life’s work, though?
KS: Yeah, but you know, it doesn’t exist as me. I was just reading this James Lord biography of Giacometti, where he says it’s impossible for someone who’s painting his [motions to a customer] face to actually get his face on the canvass. You can get something that’s kinda, sorta, but not really, you know. That’s kind of what the book is like. It’s kinda sorta me, but not really.
PW: Will you stay in the restaurant biz, now that you’re a big-time author?
KS: Everything I do here, I do for me. Otherwise I could make a lot of money doing something for somebody else. As you get older and you look back out over the tundra of your life, the things that stick up, they aren’t money. It’s when your mother actually needed your help, or, I don’t know, good meals, sex on the beach—whatever! So what magazine are you with again?
PW:Publishers Weekly. It’s a magazine about book publishing and bookselling.
KS: Oh. They brought what’s his name in here last week. Len Riggio. He said, “Hi, my name is Len. I own Barnes & Noble’s [sic]. How come you keep sending people to my bathroom?” I said, “What? It’s nicer than Starbucks!” And so he looks at me in front of [my publisher] and he says to me, “You want me to put [your book] on one of those little counters in the front of the store, or you want me to put it on some shelf somewhere?” I said, “You’re a real cocksucker, to ask me in front of my publisher what do I want. What am I supposed to say? Put it underneath, don’t sell it?”
See the review at www.publishersweekly.com/eatme