231 of 244 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2000
In this book, Anthony Bourdain, executive chef at New York's Brasserie Les Halles, takes us on a wild ride through that city's food supply industry that includes surprises such as heavy drinking, drugs, debauchery, Mafiosi and assorted seedy personalities.
It is clear that Bourdain enjoys a true passion for both food and cooking, a passion he inherited from the French side of his family. He tells us he decided to become a chef during a trip to southwestern France when he was only ten years of age and it is a decision he stuck to, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America.
Kitchen Confidential is a surprisingly well-written account of what life is really like in the commercial kitchens of the United States; "the dark recesses of the restaurant underbelly." In describing these dark recesses, Bourdain refreshingly casts as many stones at himself as he does at others. In fact, he is brutally honest. There is nothing as tiresome as a "tell-all" book in which the author relentlessly paints himself as the unwitting victim. Bourdain, to his enormous credit, avoids this trap. Maybe he writes so convincingly about drugs and alcohol because drugs and alcohol have run their course through his veins as well as those of others.
The rather raunchy "pirate ship" stories contained in this fascinating but testosterone-rich book help to bring it vividly to life and add tremendous credibility. The book does tend to discourage any would-be female chefs who might read it, but that's not Bourdain's fault; he is simply telling it like it is and telling it hilariously as well.
In an entire chapter devoted to one of the lively and crude characters that populate this book, Bourdain describes a man named Adam: "Adam Real-Last-Name-Unknown, the psychotic bread-baker, alone in his small, filthy Upper West Side apartment, his eyes two different sizes after a 36-hour coke and liquor jag, white crust accumulated at the corners of his mouth, a two-day growh of whiskers--standing there in a shirt and no pants among the porno mags, the empty Chinese takeout containers, as the Spice channel flickers silently on the TV, throwing blue light on a can of Dinty Moore beef stew by an unmade bed." Apparently Bourdain made just as many mistakes at the beginning of his career as did Adam, but the book however, doesn't always paint and bleak picture.
Another chapter entitled "The Life of Bryan," talks about renowned chef Scott Bryan, a man, who, according to Bourdain, made all the right decisions. Bourdain describes Bryan's shining, immaculate kitchen, his well-organized and efficient staff. It's respectful homage, but somehow, we feel that Bourdain, himself, will never be quite as organized as is Bryan, for Bourdain is just too much of the rebel, the original, the maverick.
Kitchen Confidential can be informative as well as wickedly funny. Bourdain is hilarious as he tells us what to order in restaurants and when. For instance, we learn never to eat fish on Mondays, to avoid Sunday brunches and never to order any sort of meat well-done. And, if we ever see a sign that says, "Discount Sushi," we will, if we are smart, run the other way as fast as we possibly can.
Kitchen Confidential isn't undying literature but it's so funny and so well-written that no one should care. It made me hungry for Bourdain's black sea bass crusted in sel de Bretagne with frites. It also made me order his novel, Bone in the Throat. If it is only half as funny and wickedly well-written as is Kitchen Confidential it will certainly be a treat.
176 of 195 people found the following review helpful
on April 26, 2005
This is a fascinating, alternately hilarious and appalling account of one chef's career in the restaurant buisness. Bourdain, now the Executive Chef at Les Halles in New York, regales the reader with a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchens of "gourmet" restaurants he has worked and the characters he has known. To call his account (and his fellow workers) "colorful" is an understatement.
There is much to like in this book. Occasional insights into why ordering fish on Monday is not such a good idea (it's left over from Thursday's delivery) and the logistics of running a major restaurant are fascinating. Also, the anecdotes about management style and successful vs. unsuccessful restaurants make for interesting reading. Bourdain demolishes the mystique of cooking as an art to be mastered by only a few. From his perspective, cooking is a craft that can be learned through grit, endurance, and hard knocks. As he points out, the mainstays of his and many other kitchens are immigrants from Ecuador, Mexico, Bengal and elsewhere who are taught how to recreate consistently and under pressure dishes as directed by the chef. Restaurant work is not easy, and only the strong survive. It's a war out there--and the kitchen is the combat zone.
That said, "Kitchen Confidential" is an uneven book that should have had a good editing. The individual chapters have the feel of freestanding pieces, and some of their content is repetitious. Much of the jargon and some of the details of how a kitchen is organized aren't explained until late in the book, even though he's been referring to them from the beginning.. By the time he finally does explain the slang and the esoteric details, the astute reader has already figured it out.
My major complaint about the book, however, is that the book seems to be as much about the author and his excesses as about the places he's worked. Bourdain was a heavy-duty heroin addict and coke sniffer during the 70s and 80s, and he conjures up the craziness of the period with zest. He's always worked in kitchens where the culture was testosterone-drenched and the language beyond macho. Although I didn't find the coarseness particularly shocking considering the primarily male crew and the amount of pressure under which they work, it did get a little wearisome after awhile. Towards the end of the book, Bourdain gives examples of chefs and kitchens with entirely different ways of doing things. As he himself admits, his testosterone-drenched kitchens may be as much an offshoot of his own personality and experiences as restaurant culture itself. In the end, Bourdain comes across as a kind of kooky romantic--the kitchen staff is his family, albeit a dysfunctional one, and he loves their quirks and idiosyncrasies, even (and maybe especially) when they veer off into the criminal.
Overall, I can't say I disliked this book--in fact I enjoyed parts of it immensely--but Bourdain's "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" attitude began to lose its appeal toward the end. This is quick, revealing and at times funny read, but take it with a grain of salt (fleur de sel of course). 3.75 stars.
228 of 255 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2000
Oh, you are really going to enjoy this book...while you're reading it, that is. Then afterwards you'll be torn between the memories of the hilarious antics Bourdain describes in his book...and memories of the disgusting things that go on every day in restaurant kitchens. Believe it or not, it IS worth reading! (And take it from a former restaurant manager, it is, unfortuately, true - the after-hours shenanigans, especially!)
Bourdain has put together a truly gonzo collection of restaurant tales that aren't all depraved...but, like his restaurateur/chef subjects, most of them are! Kudos to him for a book that is this honest while being this hysterical. If you have the, um, stomach for it, this is a book you'll remember fondly. Well worth digesting!
46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2000
The first 253 pages of "Kitchen Confidential" would certainly give one pause before ever choosing to dine out again. Author-Chef Anthony Bourdain describes the professional kitchen as a collection of drunks, derelicts and drug addicts the likes with which you would never want to have a close encounter. And as chef de cuisine of Brasserie Les Halles in New York, you'd certainly think he'd know. But on page 254, Bourdain begins to show the other side of the street by describing the kitchen of chef Scott Bryan at Veritas, an upscale restaurant down the street from Les Halles. In this comparison the ultimate lessons are revealed, and what had been up to that point just an amusing 'tell all' book, becomes something considerably more. We learn that Bourdain's world is one of his own choosing, and other chefs at other restaurants can be very different. While Bourdain was propelled thru his early years by drugs and alcohol, Bryan was more serious. While Bourdain reached for the top right out of school and ultimately fell on his face, Bryan carefully refined his craft by working in the kitchens of one expert chef after another. For Bourdain it's about the pace of life leading a hectic restaurant kitchen; for Bryan it's all about the food. The lessons come together in the penultimate chapter entitled "So You Want to Be a Chef?", which spells out the rules for kitchen success as clearly and as vividly and any would-be chef would want. This chapter along with Michael Ruhlman's "The Making of a Chef" (ISPN 0805061738) should be required reading before any student begins Day 1 at culinary school. The rest of us might just want to chose our restaurants more carefully. Oh, yes...and avoid the fish on a Monday.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2001
As a seasoned veteren of the culinary trenches, one thing comes clear from reading the on-line reviews for this book: The people who didn't like it are completely clueless when it comes to restaurants and food! Yes, Chef Bourdain is arrogant, self serving, and foul mouthed, but that type of personality is simply a byproduct of the cooking industry. Massive egos, high stress, and horrific working conditions are par for the course.
Whatever faults the author and the book may have, this is a knee-slappingly funny account of what really goes on in kitchens, and anybody who wants to be a chef should be forced to read this book before attending cooking school. Those of you benighted souls who have no interest in fine cuisine and four-star restaurants probably won't understand the truth and humor that underly Chef Bourdain's cutting prose.
92 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2000
I don't think you're going to regret reading this book. But when you're done, you might find yourself wondering what exactly you just read. Just be aware beforehand that it's much more about the author than it is about cooking or restaurants.
I was surprised at the incredible coarseness of the book, but I thought, OK, that's real life in the restaurant world, if you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen so to speak. But then towards the end he shows you that actually that's NOT how it is all through the restaurant world. Forget the last couple hundred pages.
So maybe he's just a jerk. Do I feel good about giving my money away to some jerk? But then again, he'll gladly TELL you he's a jerk. That's almost his point. Isn't the view of a crude, wild, hedonistic lifestyle that most of us would never live but still find fascinating why we buy these memoirs in the first place?
I found myself saying, "Wow, what an SOB (turn page) I can't stand this jerk (turn page)..." And that's not necessarily a bad thing, although it did leave me wondering whether I could really say I "liked" the book. What bothered me more was the poor structure of the book and the almost total lack of editing. Really weird things, like commas constantly popped up at random in the middle of, sentences. Like that. It grew more than a little annoying. And it was almost the last chapter before he actually defined all the cooking terms and the slang he had been using for hundreds of pages. People showed up whose significance he didn't explain until a number of chapters later.
So he's annoying, in many ways the book is annoying, but it's a fun and wild ride that will definitely give you something to talk about with your friends.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2008
As you might expect if you're a fan of "A Cook's Tour" and "No Reservations," Bourdain's writing style is brisk, flip, ironic, and (perhaps self-consciously) hip. "Kitchen Confidential" reads like an extended episode in which Bourdain takes you on a tour of his life. To his credit, he doesn't give a kitchen-god/rock-star revisionist version, doesn't glamorize the drugs and the squalor. Bourdain portrays his career as a coked-up stumble from one misjudgment to the next, and seems as surprised as anyone at his eventual success. "Kitchen Confidential" is no vanity piece. But reading the chapter "A Day in the Life" gives a glimpse of the enormity and Byzantine complexity of a chef's job, and makes you appreciate how much Bourdain had to master before most of us ever heard of him. Bourdain clearly loves food (and barely controlled chaos), and this chef can write. Is "Kitchen Confidential" a great work of autobiography, will Bourdain appear on a grad-school syllabus next to Benjamin Franklin, Anais Nin, and John Stuart Mill? Of course not. But if you already know you like Anthony Bourdain, you'll enjoy this book.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 20, 2001
You'll learn some kitchen slang, a lot of new obscenities, a couple of cooking tips. You've already learned all the restaurant survival tips, like "don't order fish on Monday," from reading the reviews.
The main draw here is Anthony Bourdain his own bad, raunchy self. He is Not A Nice Person. I wouldn't want to be him, or even particularly close to him. I'm not sure I even want to eat his food - maybe I know a little too much about his kitchen for comfort. But: man, he tells a good story. Some parts of the story drag, as the various doomed restaurants of his early career start blending together. That costs him a star in my rating. Otherwise, it's an exciting, morbidly fascinating view into Bourdain's life as a sensualist, and the "dysfunctional family" of his kitchen.
I "read" this book as an audiobook from audible.com, which I highly recommend. Bourdain himself does the reading, adding life and dimension to this character study. Also, it gets you past the unfortunate editorial flaws mentioned in a previous review.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
This book recapitulates the life of Anthony Bourdain, a New York City chef. Bourdain describes how he decided to become a chef, and his training, from washing dishes for a Provincetown surf-and-turf, to studying at the Culinary Institute of America, to boot camp with Bigfoot, an unnamed New York City restaurateur from whom he learned how to survive in the big leagues. He introduces us to the backrooms of a busy restaurant kitchen, where we meet the people who prepare the fabulous food, learn about their tools and slang, and begin to get an inkling about the daily responsibilities of a head chef.
Thanks to his French heritage, Bourdain had learned to appreciate superb food as a youngster, and his parents had the resources to send him to any college he chose. Bourdain, however, likes to live on the edge, and his desire to live life to the fullest and push the limits soon led to multiple drug dependencies and heavy alcohol usage that kept steady employment difficult to maintain for a time. Remarkably, though not detailed exactly how in this book, Bourdain managed to beat his addictions, and has gone on to become not only a talented executive chef, but also a successful novelist and writer in his spare time. How anyone could even find spare time in a chef's life as he describes it is unfathomable- -Bourdain obviously thrives on stress and challenges.
The pace of the book is relentless- -it's one of those volumes that you can race through in a single day, not allowing anyone to interrupt you. Bourdain's language is not for everyone though- -he accurately records the words that are said behind the kitchen doors, so if you are squeamish about sex or take offense easily, this book is not for you.
This book confirms the importance of knowing who is cooking your food. After all, food is something you put inside your body, so it is a real act of trust to consume something that someone else has prepared. It's remarkable that many people are quite content to let total strangers prepare their food. Why would anyone frequent fast food restaurants where most of the cooks are teenagers with no talent or interest in food preparation, doing it all for minimum wage? At least in kitchens like Bourdain's, although some of the cooks may be oversexed drug addicts with filthy mouths, only those who can consistently achieve high cooking standards manage to stay on. Bourdain also reminds us to use our heads when placing our orders. After all, when you tell the waiter what you want, the food isn't just going to appear on the plate out of thin air when the cook snaps his fingers. If the fish market isn't open on the weekend, then Monday isn't a great day for ordering fish. Today's luncheon special may indeed contain leftovers from last night's menu. Some items take longer than others to prepare- -hence shouldn't be ordered at five minutes before closing. This book provides a fascinating perspective on what it's like to study at the CIA, how an executive chef spends his time, and what may be happening behind those closed doors at your favorite restaurant.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2000
This is a hilarious book that is all too true. I was, until recently, a career switcher who spent several years working the line at some of New York's top two and three-star restuarants (which I will not name). Bourdain got it down exactly right. High level cooking is a roughneck trade and not at all what serious home cooks might expect. Those readers who doubt the truth of this book -- or the dangers of ordering fish at a two star restaurant -- and think it just an exception from the glamorized and sanitized world of the Food Network are blinding themselves to the truth. And the truth is, through all of it, that those who stay are insane in a great way, fanatics who work relentlessly at their craft because there is simply no other way.