Book Review: Kitchen Confidential By Anthony Bourdain (2000)

Originally published UnitedMonkee, 8/11/11

I’m kind of obsessed with Anthony Bourdain. On Monday I realized that I had spent more time watching his show (five different episodes of No Reservationsstill my current favorite show–were on, including the new one) and reading his chef memoir Kitchen Confidential than I did with my wife. The worst part about that is that I’m sure it would completely creep the dude out. Heck, it creeps me out a little.

I started off enjoying Bourdain’s TV persona as a world weary traveler who actually really likes traveling and then wanted to learn more about him and also check out his experiences as a chef. I didn’t really know much about Kitchen Confidential other than the fact that it spawned the Fox sitcom I quite enjoyed both when it was on the first time and again recently. Turns out the book’s no nonsense, brutally honest account of Bourdain’s time in kitchens all over New York not only caused a stir among the cooking world but also gained all kinds of attention from the general public. I had no idea about any of this at the time because I was, 17, in high school and didn’t care about cooking at all.

I care about cooking now. A lot, even. I love cooking for my family, wish I had more time and space to really mess around and was even thinking about maybe, possibly doing something in the industry in the future. I’m not so sure anymore after reading KC. Bourdain’s account of working in restaurants, starting out in the 70s through the 90s, is pretty rough. He compares the groups of cooks behind the scenes making your food as a pirate crew and it sounds about as debaucherous. Aside from all the grab ass and drug use in the kitchen, the point that Bourdain makes over and over again is how absolutely dedicated you have to be to really make it in the biz. It’s not that I lack the motivation, dedication or dislike the idea of working my way up, but I feel like I’m too old at this point and will be even older by the time our daughter will be ready to go to school. I guess I’ll just keep having fun in our tiny galley kitchen before moving up to something bigger at our eventual house.

I’m also impressed by Bourdain’s writing skills. I assumed he wrote a lot of his on-screen dialog on TV, but this guy murders every page (that’s a good thing). Words, often profane and crude ones, flow out of him with such ease that it actually depresses me as a hopeful writer. He writes like he talks to the point that I was reading the book in his voice instead of mine. That’s how I write in my head, but somehow things get wonky when I start putting them on paper or typing them out.

Lately I’ve been really getting into people like Bourdain who worked hard, got their hands dirty and wound up doing something pretty amazing that a lot of people enjoy immensely. Bourdain fits the bill, obviously, but so do podcaster and comedian Marc Maron whose podcast is currently a favorite, filmmaker and podcast empire-builder Kevin Smith and baker/TV personality Duff Goldman. These guys all saw something they wanted, went after it and have turned that into wealth and celebrity. They worked hard and are reaping the rewards now. It’s nice to see that in the world still.

Anyway, I think anyone interested in cooking, rock and roll, self-made people and bad asses doing bad ass things will dig this book. I tore through it and I’m a pretty slow reader. I want to read the rest of his books and buy his cook book now to learn some French cooking. But, again, this is starting to feel a little stalkerish. I swear, I don’t have a problem.

Advertisements