Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

I remember catching episodes of No Reservations on the Travel Channel and thinking, "Wow. Anthony Bourdain is a dick! I sure like him." But if people see him as cocky, it sure seems that he's earned it.

The more I learned about food and cooking over the years, the more I wanted to read Kitchen Confidential. Anthony Bourdain is a "celebrity chef" now, due to this book (originally published in 2000 and reissued in 2007 with a prologue), but after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he toiled in kitchens all over the world for years before scoring several "big breaks."

Kitchen Confidential follows Bourdain from his start of his career in a restaurant on the New England waterfront, to his current position at executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in NYC.

Along the way, the reader is treated to stories and anecdotes of what really goes on behind the kitchen doors in restaurants - from no-star eateries to Michelin-rated establishments. Many stories are hilarious and self-deprecating, others make me nervous to eat out at all.

For example, never order fish on Mondays, never order a nice cut of meat "well done," and never stiff your server. Trust me.

Bourdain acknowledges the many, many mistakes that line his career path, and the reader is privy to his descent into alcoholism, drug use, and other addictions. He's not alone in the restaurant world, apparently, and the lives that chefs lead are definitely not your typical nine-to-fives.

My favorite parts of Kitchen Confidential are those when Bourdain gets technical - explaining how and why professional kitchens are designed, how the sous chef and line cooks operate and set up his/her station.

Actually "his/her" is misleading. Very few women are found in kitchens, due to the rampant misogyny and crassness. Those who can handle it are legends.

Bourdain loves his choice of career, and it's obvious. He is writing, first and foremost, for the people in the industry - the ones who will "get it." It's a love letter of sorts. Laced with cocaine.

(Kitchen Confidential was a short-lived television series starring Bradley Cooper. It's actually quite good, but FOX pulled the plug after 13 episodes. Full episodes are available at

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