Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Chef Anthony Bourdain tops many a recommended reading list on my favorite food weblogs. So when I noticed it on the book list at Audible.com, narrated by the author himself, I snatched it up. It does not disappoint. Kitchen Confidential is a rollicking, crude, hysterical, and sobering account of life behind those kitchen doors at the best restaurants in New York City. Bourdain pulls no punches in his storytelling, honestly copping to his early career addictions with drugs and alcohol. Of note is his revelation of why he is not the best chef – that early on he went for the money instead of apprenticing himself at lower pay to the real masters. This book has tips on cooking like a chef – what knives to buy, kitchen equipment really needed, insights on why more restaurants fail than succeed, and presents Bordain’s code of values and behavior that will help you succeed should you choose the professional culinary life.
Beyond the practical chef and cooking stuff, Bourdain is a master storyteller. Note that there is a lot of crude language and overt sexuality in the book. Apparently, that’s what the life is like behind the scenes in most NY restaurants. Reading this book I was reminded of one particular waitressing job I had in college. The cook at this restaurant was a loud, crude, overbearing character who made it clear to me from day one that he was king of the kitchen and he didn’t have much use for me. A naive 20 year old, I didn’t know what to make of him; I didn’t last a week. Waitressing my way through college I had worked in many places, but none with such a tyrannical boorish chef. I thought that place was an outlier, but after reading this, maybe not!
Early on in Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain describes the incident that made him determined to be a chef. Chopping vegetables in a Provincetown restaurant for a wedding party celebration, Bourdain watched as the bride of the party came back into the kitchen and had a few words with the chef. The chef disappeared with the bride to the back of the restaurant and proceeded to “do” her against some garbage bins while the entire kitchen crew looked on from the window. Bourdain’s stories descend from there – interactions with “Italian fraternal organizations”, what it’s like to collaborate with a team of “wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths,” and Bourdain’s self-descructive drug problems. Over time Bourdain cleans up his act, gets over his arrogance, and gets to work.
A note about the audiobook. Bourdain does an excellent job narrating his stories. He really is a great storyteller. His mimicry of various characters shouldn’t be missed.