Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. Updated Edition 312 pp)
Anthony Bourdain, born in 1956, attended Vassar College and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He has worked as a cook and chef in many institutions strewn across the New York City map. Bourdain contributes articles to the Times, New York Times, Observer, the Face, Scotland on Sunday, and Food Arts Magazine. An addition to Kitchen Confidential, he has written two crime novels – Gone Bamboo and Bone in the Throat. Bourdain was the executive chef at Brassiere Les Halles and is currently the host of the Travel Channel program: Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Bourdain resides in New York City.
Reading a book is fun. If not, why would so many people do it? Am I right? In all seriousness, reading provides people with simple and complex pleasures. One person might become enamored with an illustrative setting; another may empathize with the struggles of a protagonist. In non-fiction literature, a certain power exists in the interaction between writer and reader. In other words, it is as if reading a book transforms the countless pages of text into a lively conversation. Kitchen Confidential exudes a conversational sense that I am in fact sitting down in a greasy spoon with Anthony Bourdain, discussing his life in the culinary business.
And what a life it is. If you believe that the restaurant kitchen is a simple and clean paradise, I cannot stress enough that you ought to avoid this book. Bourdain is loud, rude, and honest about his experiences in his industry. The hands preparing your food have a story and your probably do not want to know it.
Bourdain’s straight-forward storytelling displays his magnetic personality. His stories simultaneously exalt and demonize the kitchen as if it was ethereal and evil. Bourdain convinces me that my restaurant visits should never conclude in the ordering chicken or fish on a Monday; he reveals that my carefully cooked dish passed through the hands of undocumented immigrants; he also divulges the dark secret about my perfectly cooked sourdough bread: it was crafted by the hands of a drug addict. “Never fear,” he hypothetically declares! Your meal tastes great! Plus, Bourdain controls his kitchen like a demanding demigod – although nowhere near as perfect.
Concerning his operation, Bourdain proudly proclaims,
“But God protects fools and drunks, and we were certainly both foolish and drunk much of the time” (51).
Revisionist History or You Didn’t Think I’d Try Another Pun Did You?
Despite his raw and gritty style, Bourdain’s tome is inconsistent. The book feels like an autobiography as it flows in chronological order, but the writing lacks description when it moves from era to era. I found myself at times imagining Bourdain in a specific era and suddenly he mentions using a cell phone or laptop. The images created in my head around his story begin to feel false as I edit them into the correct era.
However, Kitchen Confidential provides an informative view into an industry typically concealed behind the walls of customer service. If you wish to maintain the illusory perception that the chef stands behind the curtains focusing on the finishing touches of your blandly ordered meal, I guarantee this book is not for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy No Reservations , wish to sit down with Bourdain at a greasy spoon, and are prepared for his verbal onslaught, I recommend this book.