I enjoy Anthony Bourdain. He’s not your typical celebrity chef, and lately has somewhat gone off the radar of the television star chefs. His show, “No Reservations”, was a favorite, and I particularly enjoyed the journal-like musings at the end of each show. He doesn’t pull punches, he tells it like it is (for him, anyway), and if he doesn’t like you, you will be sucker punched over and over with his biting wit. He’s also a CIA trained chef, who ran the kitchen at a restaurant that was a hallmark in New York City for many years.
“Kitchen Confidential” is his first memoir that traces his life in (as he calls it) the culinary underbelly. It begins with him as a young child, on vacation with his family in France, and his first exposure to an oyster. It was, as he tells it, the moment when he first fell in love with food. He began his culinary adventures in Provincetown, MA, at seafood and pizza joints. He went to school at Vassar, where he mainly did drugs and goofed off. All the while, he kept his summer jobs in the restaurants. Eventually, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America to get his formal culinary training. He worked in many restaurant kitchens, small and large, most notably Les Halles in New York City where he was executive chef for many years.
Bourdain, in typical fashion, doesn’t sugar coat his experiences growing up the world of restaurant work. He talks freely about the drugs, the sex, and the often horrid working conditions. The kitchen help that would come and go on a regular basis. The ones you knew you could trust, and the ones you just stayed away from. Good owners, who wanted to run a restaurant that was both profitable and good. Bad ones, who just wanted to bleed as much profit from the business as possible and move on. He also doesn’t back off on his own part in that world: the drug addiction, the alcohol, the all-night binges.
In many ways, this is not a pleasant book. Some of it may leave a reader completely unwilling to eat in even the best-rated restaurant ever again. But it is also honest and compelling. It’s a world that those of us on the restaurant floor side of the kitchen door never see. And maybe, don’t want to. It is also eye-opening and a fascinating read. And, all throughout, it is all Anthony Bourdain.
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