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Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly Hardcover – May 22, 2000
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The New York Times bestselling memoir from Anthony Bourdain, the host of Parts Unknown.
Kitchen Confidential reveals what Bourdain calls "twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine."
Last summer, The New Yorker published Chef Bourdain's shocking, "Don't Eat Before Reading This." Bourdain spared no one's appetite when he told all about what happens behind the kitchen door. Bourdain uses the same "take-no-prisoners" attitude in his deliciously funny and shockingly delectable book, sure to delight gourmands and philistines alike. From Bourdain's first oyster in the Gironde, to his lowly position as dishwasher in a honky tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown (where he witnesses for the first time the real delights of being a chef); from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, to drug dealers in the east village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain's tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable.
Kitchen Confidential will make your mouth water while your belly aches with laughter. You'll beg the chef for more, please.
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From the Publisher
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Bloomsbury USA; First Edition first Printing (May 22, 2000)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 158234082X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1582340821
- Item Weight : 1.3 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2021
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Kitchen Confidential is well written and it maintained my interest even though I’m not into cooking. Anyone who is will certainly get much from it, but I was drawn mostly from having watched Mr. Bourdain on TV and connecting with his love of travel and of good food. Because his book is more about the larger issues of life than cooking, it touched me on an existential level much as a movie about baseball would that is about more than baseball (e.g., Field of Dreams).
Mr. Bourdain begins his story by recounting his encounters with good food as a child. Tasting vichyssoise and a raw oyster for the first time, struck him as experiences beyond just eating. They were examples of highs that could be reached by an ardent thrill-seeker. They also laid the groundwork that made his landing a job as restaurant dishwasher an inciting incident that he pursued to eventually become a line cook and later a chef.
I was really struck with the level of testosterone-driven, debauchery and near-criminality he describes in the restaurant kitchen. It’s more like what I would expect on a construction site. Actually, there may be similarities.
Several of the book’s chapters are devoted to characters Mr. Bourdain encountered in his restaurant career. These tended to be drug addicts, thieves, hedonists, and criminals, though many had a passion, or just the sheer aptitude, for either cooking or working in a professional kitchen. As contradictory as that sounds, it seems as if such environments are persistently common in the restaurant world. At least that’s what Mr. Bourdain avers and I take him as an authority.
This kitchen “underbelly” was attractive to Mr. Bourdain, and he describes it as one he understood and in which he thrived. It led him to some bad decisions and some bad addictions. He is very candid about the loose lifestyle that left him with a heroin addiction. Even so, it is clear that his love of the culinary arts kept him going, and that it drives many of those workers who might skip out on rent payments but are able to produce the most divine of, say, baked breads.
Indeed, in describing his life when he had reached the level of chef and kitchen commander, Mr. Bourdain gives us a compelling and intense vision of what that life is like. In fact, he almost goes too far in describing a typical day for him. Basically, he worked from before-sunup to after midnight to keep his kitchen running. He describes mind-numbing activity, dealing with the problems and personnel threatening his mission to get good food to customers, juggling a thousand variables. His description carries long (”A Day in the Life”), but being the good author he was, his description served to highlight points he makes later.
Seeing things, even his own life, from a higher perspective, he was able to appreciate and admire someone who did things differently from him and still achieve success (”The Life of Bryan”). Also, towards the end of the book, he further nails his love of sensation and travel—experiencing the exotic— that led to his second, televised, career (”Mission to Tokyo”).
Anthony Bourdain’s literary and video work is not for everyone, but for many, including me, he remains an inspiration. In Kitchen Confidential we see, not only his love for culinary art, but his love for creativity (he often said that he considered himself a storyteller).
Despite all the debauchery, bad attitudes, bad decisions, and chasing highs, he was a lover of life and squeezed every sensational drop from it. An excellent writer, he was able to step back from his own life and observe it, pulling lessons from its episodes. Kitchen Confidential was the watershed of Mr. Bourdain’s life, marking the end of his chef career and the beginning of his traveler-personality career. At the book’s close, though, he didn’t seem to anticipating that second act. It is to our good fortune and inspiration that there was one.
Who should read this book?
This is not a book about how to cook, how to get a job as a chef, how to get the most when ordering in a restuarant, or even what it's really like to work in a professional kitchen, although the book touches on each of this topics. This is really a book about what it's like to be Anthony Bourdain, who happens to have used cooking to pull himself from an abyss of drug use and hand-to-mouth living to become the executive chef at Les Halles in New York.
Bourdain talks frankly and doesn't give a rat's patoot (not how he would have put it) about who he might offend by doing so. His web site even gives a recipe but warns against the possibility of hot liquid coming out of a blender because it hurts like a <12-letter word>. He openly disdains celebrity chefs who work only in a three-walled kitchen in front of the cameras, with their own line of prepared seasonings, preferring to admire those who bust their ass serving hundreds of meals a night, night after night. He doesn't name names but you know he's thinking of Lagasse.
This book does weed out wannabe chefs. I have had a few cooking classes at a French-operated cooking school and have daydreamed of cooking as a second career. This book pretty much cured me of that notion (which is true of many hobbyists in any field who discover that going pro takes all the fun out of it). The good ones work hard; in Bourdain's case it seems like he is either in the kitchen or thinking about it over 60 hours a week, every week.
Bourdain redeems himself in the final chapters when he contrasts his own experiences and leadership style against that of an admired colleague, showing us that despite the history depicted in the foregoing pages you don't have to have a kitchen full of shouting trash-talking, tatooed, sex-starved, fraternal macho men to turn out great food.
The book closes with a vivid description of Bourdain's trip to Tokyo, especially one particular meal. He is certainly an adventurous eater. His web site has a video taken during a trip abroad where he eats--stop here if you have a delicate stomach, or are a member of PETA--the heart of a cobra, freshly cut from the serpent and still beating.
A friend of mine owns a restaurant, and I was talking to the chef a couple of weeks ago and mentioned this book. She has read it three times and says it's fairly much dead on. She has worked with a few big names in the DC area and the management styles of many well-known chefs would get them called in on the carpet by HR if they behaved that way at a Fortune 500 company.
Do not draw the generalization that every restuarant is like the ones where Bourdain has worked--but I'll bet some are worse.
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Set out in menu terms, we are taken on a journey from starter to desserts and coffee through the life of a child who discovers a love for food to a seasoned chef in the heart of New York City. There is nothing too indecent to be described by Bourdain, whether it’s why not to eat a Monday fish special in a restaurant, to the drug-addled life of a mercenary chef. This is a large part of the appeal. We are not seeing the dreamy make-believe world of TV cooking here, we are being shown a glimpse behind the curtain of what it really means to earn your stripes in a professional kitchen.
The only real fault I could find is that there is a fair bit of jumping around on the ‘menu’. What starts as a fairly easy to follow chronological tale of becoming a chef suddenly and without warning starts to take detours. Now I’m not saying the detours are unwelcome but they certainly feel out of place. Things like a day in the life of a chef and the equipment that is worth buying for a home cook are spotted in the middle of otherwise fairly anecdotal parts of the book, but I can’t help but feel may have been more cleverly grouped together or served more as a palate cleanser between menu items.
This is essential reading for those who love an episode of Kitchen Nightmares or who work in the profession, even just for those who love a good tale of debauchery told through neo-gonzo journalism. If you want a true, honest account of what it’s like to work in the world of professional cuisine, you really need look no further than Kitchen Confidential.
The book fires along at great pace through his life starting from a brief look at his childhood and some of his formulative inspirations, interspersed with foodie bits, all the way through his early cooking years in Provincetown and what became a very chequered career filled with full on substance fuelled misadventures. Dealing with life on the fringes he stumbles from one mad job\situation to the next as he struggles with his inner demons and various addictions. Carving up a reputation as a force to be reckoned with he crashes his way through the new york culinary scene leaving a trail of destruction in his wake think Fear And Loathing and your on the right tracks.
What I find most appealing about this book is how he comes across as having a lot of depth of personality and is able throughout to be reflective, understanding on a deeper level his potential, regularly defacing his own bad behaviour showing growth and understanding of his flaws despite being hopelessly bound by them as many of us are, (speaking personally). He is great at describing time and place making this reader feel and sense the energy of the life. He meets some fascinating, darkly charming characters with lots of funny, wicked moments and tales. Even though I have no doubht he made a lot of mistakes and upset a few people on route. I didnt have him down as a bad or malicious person at any stage, he did what was necessary to survive in a difficult business and survive he did with gusto! This versatility is perhaps one of his greatest strengths, his ability to adapt and keep rolling on. I found him also to show a deeper understanding of the human condition, what makes us all tick or motivations and drives, out of this awareness comes a kindness and sense of humility that I found appealing in his character. All in all a very entertaining book!
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I absolutely love it. Such a shame he left us so soon. He was an incredibly resilient individual full of life and energy!