Anthony Bourdain Called This Bread Basket Rule An Open Secret

In his decades as a celebrity chef and globe-trotting food journalist, the late Anthony Bourdain gave many great pieces of advice on dining. One of his most famous was a tip in a 1999 New Yorker column about avoiding fish at most restaurants, due to the likelihood of it being improperly refrigerated or not very fresh. He's also weighed in on other, occasionally risky foods: mussels, for example, which he only eats if he "knows the chef personally...[and] has seen how they store and hold their mussels for service" (via Kitchen Confidential). A lesser-known piece of Bourdainian advice, though, concerns a more basic and common food item: the complimentary bread basket. "But what could possibly go wrong with a bread basket?" you ask.

You'd be surprised. For the record, Bourdain does not claim to be a master in the art of baking. "Pastry chefs and bakers know how to do something that I could never do," he confessed to Dominique Ansel in a 2017 exchange (via Food & Wine). But you don't need to be a professional baker to understand why, as Bourdain suggests, eating the complimentary bread at restaurants isn't always a great idea.

An interesting form of recycling

Chances are, the complimentary bread at your table was –– not long ago –– the complimentary bread at someone else's table. Yes, you read that right: most bread baskets are filled with recycled bread. So says Bourdain in his 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential (via Moneyversed). According to the prolific chef, reuse of complimentary bread isn't just an occasional occurrence, but a "an open secret — and a fairly standard practice — in the industry." It's not difficult to imagine why. "When it's busy, and [the] busboy is crumbing tables, emptying ashtrays, refilling water glasses, making espresso and cappuccino, hustling dirty dishes to the dishwasher –– and he sees a basket full of untouched bread –– most times he's going to use it. This is a fact of life," Bourdain explains.

Don't get bent out of shape, though — your chances of getting sick from reused table bread are slim. Bourdain himself isn't fazed by the practice, and openly admits to partaking of restaurant bread, per Moneyversed. As Culinary Lore points out, most outbreaks of illness at restaurants (about 70 percent) come from the staff, not the patrons. If there's anyone you should be worried about coming into contact with your bread, it's the person who brought it to you! As Culinary Lore goes on to explain, bread doesn't even make it onto the CDC's list of likeliest sources of contamination in a restaurant –– you'd be better off worrying about poultry or beef.