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'Cooking Well Is First': An Essay That Went Nowhere

So a while back, you may recall, I entered this contest Anthony Bourdain and the publishers of his latest book, ‘Medium Raw,’ put on.  Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Medium Raw’ Challenge was a contest that involved writing a 500-word essay on “what it means to cook well.”  The winner of the contest would receive $10,000 and be published in the paperback edition of ‘Medium Raw.’ Fame, fortune and a significant life change.  Other than that, nothing much.

Another Book I Won't Be In

Another Book I Won't Be In

Well…I lost.  I didn’t even get in the final 10.  The publishers picked their favorite 10 (out of what would be 1,949 entries), then Bourdain himself was to pick the big winner.  Here’s a link to the actual winner, ‘Late Nights’ by Michael P.

Even though the result wasn’t what I was looking for, I’m still proud of, and stand behind, what I wrote.  I know that’s what most losers say, but I say it honestly.  But, far beyond the personal pride of what I wrote, words can’t describe how grateful I am for the extraordinary amount of support I received throughout the voting process.  Many of you went above and beyond to get the word out, and I’m sure I’ll never be able to express the appreciation I have to each person individually the way that I wish I could.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  It really meant the world to me.

Looking back, in the vein of hindsight being 20/20, perhaps I should have taken the essay way out.  I probably should have went so far off topic, only to bring it back home at the last possible second so I could stand out.  It takes some weird shit to stand out among 1,949 essays, I suppose.  Oh well.  No regrets.

I don’t know if the people of ‘Medium Raw’ will be taking down the other essays or closing down the website, so I’ve decided to publish my entry, as is, on

Here’s my loser of an essay, ‘Cooking Well Is First’:

The winding path to First Food and Bar is a path I’ve traveled many times over the last year.  Unlike most of the restaurants in Las Vegas, you aren’t greeted with some bullshit facade copied from a distant land or some unknown designer’s obnoxious wet dream turned reality. At First Food and Bar, you’re greeted with floor-to-ceiling windows into the kitchen; the crew of tatted up, bandana-wearing misfits cooking their asses off, working a well-deserved center stage performance.

As I gaze across the always being tweaked menu, one of our usual servers, Cesar, comes to the table, reaching for a handshake.  He asks, “Dude, you try the new chicken fingers yet?”  With eyes lighting up as I say no, Cesar responds, “Oh damn! I’m bringing you out an order!”

They come to the table artfully suspended in the air via some little metal widget as if they were being staged for a Museum of Modern Art that Vegas doesn’t have.  With my first bite of the succulent, marinated in buttermilk ranch chicken breast, I find myself sitting at my old kitchen table.  I’m 14 years old. My Mom is alive and working her magic at the stove, my Dad just got home from work.  “Mikey’s Chicken,” it was called at my house growing up as it was my favorite thing my Mom made.  I could eat that shit by the truckload.  Sophisticated craftsmanship, yet with memory-flooding familiarity. In a fucking chicken finger. Who knew?

Next up were the new Gyros Eggrolls. One bite of these well-crafted nuggets and I’m transported once again; this time to a Korean joint across town that First’s Executive Chef, Sam DeMarco, took me and The Wife to a few weeks back.  Sammy was telling us about a recent trip to Greece, how their Ouzo tasted different than our Ouzo; how the crisp flavors, vibrant colors and fresh ingredients sung to his heart.  Here’s that song, now in Las Vegas. On this plate.

With us already basking in the glow from a multiple foodgasm outing, Sous Chef Rob comes to the table.  He hips us to a new dessert, a Key Lime Tart that First’s Pastry Chef, Craig, knocks out of the park.  You know someone has passion for cooking when they get fired up over Key Lime Tarts.  Chef Rob went on at length how Key Limes are only in season for two months and this is the real deal, none of that canned or powdered bullshit.  Believe me, you could taste it.  No bullshit.

The crew at First Food and Bar cooks with pride, passion and care.  They draw from their experiences, incessantly strive to be better and are dedicated to using only the finest ingredients available.  They wear their pride on their sleeve, out in the open for all the world to see.  Their cooking transports you to the best moments of your life and creates new best moments all at the same time.

The crew at First Food and Bar cooks well.

Mike Dobranski is a professional musician, amateur blogger, eater of good food, poker junkie, master of the inappropriate comment and bad husband to a wonderful wife.

Follow Mike and Tasting Las Vegas on Twitter at @TastingLasVegas

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2 comments to ‘Cooking Well Is First’: An Essay That Went Nowhere

  • I didn’t enter, but I was pretty disappointed with the winner. Leave it to Tony to pick some random essay that only got three votes.

  • Pseudonym

    I entered and could not believe the disappointing essay that won. Both of our essays are much better than the one that was chosen. Makes me smell a rat somewhere, sorry. I expected more from Tony.

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