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Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly Paperback – May 8, 2001
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"Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)" by David Sedaris
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Most diners believe that their sublime sliver of seared foie gras, topped with an ethereal buckwheat blini and a drizzle of piquant huckleberry sauce, was created by a culinary artist of the highest order, a sensitive, highly refined executive chef. The truth is more brutal. More likely, writes Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential, that elegant three-star concoction is the collaborative effort of a team of "wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths," in all likelihood pierced or tattooed and incapable of uttering a sentence without an expletive or a foreign phrase. Such is the muscular view of the culinary trenches from one who's been groveling in them, with obvious sadomasochistic pleasure, for more than 20 years. CIA-trained Bourdain, currently the executive chef of the celebrated Les Halles, wrote two culinary mysteries before his first (and infamous) New Yorker essay launched this frank confessional about the lusty and larcenous real lives of cooks and restaurateurs. He is obscenely eloquent, unapologetically opinionated, and a damn fine storyteller--a Jack Kerouac of the kitchen. Those without the stomach for this kind of joyride should note his opening caveat: "There will be horror stories. Heavy drinking, drugs, screwing in the dry-goods area, unappetizing industry-wide practices. Talking about why you probably shouldn't order fish on a Monday, why those who favor well-done get the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel, and why seafood frittata is not a wise brunch selection.... But I'm simply not going to deceive anybody about the life as I've seen it." --Sumi Hahn
From Publishers Weekly
Chef at New York's Les Halles and author of Bone in the Throat, Bourdain pulls no punches in this memoir of his years in the restaurant business. His fast-lane personality and glee in recounting sophomoric kitchen pranks might be unbearable were it not for two things: Bourdain is as unsparingly acerbic with himself as he is with others, and he exhibits a sincere and profound love of good food. The latter was born on a family trip to France when young Bourdain tasted his first oyster, and his love has only grown since. He has attended culinary school, fallen prey to a drug habit and even established a restaurant in Tokyo, discovering along the way that the crazy, dirty, sometimes frightening world of the restaurant kitchen sustains him. Bourdain is no presentable TV version of a chef; he talks tough and dirty. His advice to aspiring chefs: "Show up at work on time six months in a row and we'll talk about red curry paste and lemon grass. Until then, I have four words for you: 'Shut the fuck up.' " He disdains vegetarians, warns against ordering food well done and cautions that restaurant brunches are a crapshoot. Gossipy chapters discuss the many restaurants where Bourdain has worked, while a single chapter on how to cook like a professional at home exhorts readers to buy a few simple gadgets, such as a metal ring for tall food. Most of the book, however, deals with Bourdain's own maturation as a chef, and the culmination, a litany describing the many scars and oddities that he has developed on his hands, is surprisingly beautiful. He'd probably hate to hear it, but Bourdain has a tender side, and when it peeks through his rough exterior and the wall of four-letter words he constructs, it elevates this book to something more than blustery memoir. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Everything he says about the business is spot-on and, once you read his book, which is written in the coarse language of a professional kitchen which adds color and authenticity, you will never look at a menu or see a restaurant the same way again.
I liked the muscular way he writes about food and I fully share his view that prissy concoctions of food with way too many ingredients that only stroke a chef's vanity have nothing to do with first class cooking. As he rightly points out, great cooking, as always, involves only the finest and freshest ingredients presented to their greatest advantage where less is more. As any artist will tell you, if you mix up all the colors of the pallet, the result will always be a muddy black.
The very best chapter, however, is about his going to Japan for the first time and seeing the famous Tokyo fish market which I remember seeing in the 1970's and feeling exactly the same way about. I also remember my first visit to Japan as the same hallucinatory experience which delighted every sense especially the quirky drinking habits of "salary men" or office workers after the day's work is done.
I suggest that you read the book and then visit his great restaurants...or the other way around. Both are a worthwhile experience.
This book takes the reader on a series of rides, most notably through the kitchens of gourmet and not-so-gourmet restaurants, and Bourdain's career. That's the meat of the book and those stories are told especially well. His accounts of restaurants where he has worked give an interesting insight into what makes a successful restaurant. And, his accounts of the logistics in a kitchen is quite revealing. And that's what's noteworthy about this book: it reveals the workings of a restaurant in an unprecedented fashion. And with his wry wit, it's even entertaining.
If the book had stopped there, it would have been quite a satisfying read. It would also be quite short. And thus, there are filler chapters. There's a chapter about a crazy friend of Bourdain's. More filler was needed, so there is also a chapter about a crazy friend of a friend. It also hurts the book that it is so episodic. It's almost like it's a collection of magazine articles that are only loosely linked. And there are many accounts of the depravity of the people who work in kitchens. A couple of dozen pages on that topic probably would have been enough, but he goes on endlessly. It's rather difficult to stay awake during the chapter which is entirely about scatological language in the kitchen.
No matter how long the boring diversions into depravity last, the book does manage to come back to food though. And Bourdain's passion for the sensual aspects of gourmet are clear. However, one chapter recounts a typical Bourdain day working in his restaurant. One can't help but be appalled by how horrible he makes it sound. It's mostly frantic cooking of the same thing he has cooked a million times before in ghastly heat, suffering innumerable injuries, punctuated by periods largely spent screaming at people. The quiet times of the day, aside from food bookkeeping, seem to deal mostly with watching over employees to make sure they don't slack off or steal, or catching up on gossip to root out subversive minions. I kept waiting for a "But..." to explain that there was some compensating reward that makes the 18 hours of suffering all worthwhile. Amazingly, no "But..." ever came, so you're left wondering: why on earth is he doing this for a living? He explains early on the nature of his passion for food, but it's extremely difficult to find any connection between that passion and his occupation.
In any case, Kitchen Confidential holds an important place in the pantheon of non-fiction. It really did blast open the kitchen doors to expose a world previously unknown to the reading audience. Unfortunately, it's weighed down by page after page of filler to achieve the appropriate length for a book.