My favorite part of the local Friday news is when the restaurant ratings from area restaurants are revealed in all their disgusting glory. Who knew that the sanitation grades operated on a 10-point scale? Therefore, it was no surprise to me that I enjoyed Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Kitchen Confidential is Bourdain’s memoir of his life as a chef and as he details his often sordid, drug-filled past, he also reveals the mystery of what goes on in a kitchen (less magic and often gross) as well as how the restaurant industry works. For example, never, ever eat fish in a restaurant on a Monday.
Bourdain is caustic and does not suffer fools–including himself. He is his own worst critic, detailing his many failures, his arrogance, and why he isn’t as successful and respected as other chefs (because of the lure of money: he was paid too much too soon). He even goes so far to compare his own career path with a chef whom he admires as what he should have aspired to be, pointing out where their paths and motivations diverged. His drug use is not sugar coated, and I wondered–as he himself does–how he is still living. This book was published in 2000, well before he became a fixture on the Travel Channel.
I like Anthony Bourdain. He is wild and irreverent, yet he loves food. He respects food. Even though I was dismayed by the lack of attention he paid to his career early on and the drug use, how can you not find something redeeming in someone whose love affair with food began as a child on a visit to France? Bourdain’s writing is wonderful, and he does a great job of detailing his downward spiral through the many restaurants in which he worked and years of drug use and then his salvation and work at Les Halles. Only he would never, ever use the word salvation. He’s far too dry for that. He’s amazingly self-reflective, a trait I believe is in short supply. He ends the book stable, mature and sober.
However, the book is not simply a memoir. It is a sly peek into the restaurant world. Bourdain wryly tells you the tools you need to make your food look professional as well as how to translate the dirty lingo used in kitchens. He identifies the types of restaurant owners and how to identify when a restaurant is beginning to fail. It’s a very gossipy book in the best way.
After reading the book, I wondered if Bourdain was too hard on himself and what he identifies as his many, many failures. What’s clear is that he is a great cook, a great chef with definite opinions and a basic love of good food. He has given us a peek into professional kitchens, restaurants and best of all, himself.