June 21, 2014

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was first published in 2000. He wrote it for fellow cooks and those in the restaurant biz. Bourdain wrote it to "sound like [he was] talking, at say ... ten o'clock on a Saturday night, after a busy dinner rush, [him] and a few cooks hanging around the kitchen, knocking back a few beers and talking shit." This is exactly what it sounds like. It was a surprise to Bourdain when the book was more widely read by the general public and then, of course, criticized for being a blustery piece of tell-all expose. It is blustery, and Bourdain freely admits this, but that was not the intent nor the audience. Bourdain tells it like it is. He pulls no punches and you get a good look at what really happens in the cooking world.

Bourdain has a rough and biting sense of humor, but he doesn't use that humor to tear others down and is often self-deprecating. I like it. He reflects on what it takes to be successful in the cooking world. You've got to have a sense of humor about it or you won't survive.

Bourdain talks tough, but he is a hopeless romantic. Just read the "Mission to Tokyo" chapter to see some of this. A lot of Bourdain's bluster is a macho New York cover and partly what has allowed him to survive in a tough world. I do look forward to reading his more recent book, Medium Raw to see if the older Bourdain confronts his younger blustery self.

One of the characteristics which I admire is Bourdain's apparent ability to take people as they are, recognizing that we are all a bit of a mess but still worthy of respect. He is a curious person, interested in the world and people around him, always up for new experiences (sometimes to his detriment), and willing to take responsibility for his thrill seeking behaviors.

I read Kitchen Confidential out loud to my husband. Bourdain's writing style matches his voice (if you watch his TV series, Parts Unknown, you'll know what I mean). Many of the chapters can be read as stand alone articles, yet there is a cohesive story told through the whole.

I would recommend this book to those curious about Bourdain, and to those who have worked in the restaurant business or are interested in it and want an inside look. Those who are considering a career as a chef might want to read it to get a sense of what they are likely to experience; the chapter titled, "A Day in the Life" gives an inside look that will scare your pants off! He also offers a chapter with advice for those who do choose to pursue this career path.

I loved this book. It has been accused of being an expose. It has been described as both memoir and documentary. I think it is a love story. It is a wonderful homage to a business and life that has been both brutal and ultimately fulfilling.

Video version of my review: http://youtu.be/ekMg9hLWbKc


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