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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly - A Review

Kitchen Confidential is the book that catapulted Anthony Bourdain into the world of popular acclaim. It is the book that enabled him to become a television show host which ironically meant that he is no longer a chef. Considering the book is all about life as a chef, it’s a bit strange Bourdain is no longer one.

The book showcases the author’s love for food and the first part of the book revolves around the realization that ‘food is important’. The first time he ate an oyster is described as a seminal event in his life and in the author’s opinion, is when he took his first steps towards becoming a man.
That love for the best ingredients also shows up in the book as a series of warnings. He famously warns against eating fish on Monday since the fish has been around all weekend. He also tells of some of the cooking practices in the restaurants he has worked in, such as steak being cooked hours before and only re-warmed with sauce before actually going to a customer.

A large portion of the book deals with being a chef in a busy restaurant. Bourdain portrays this as one of the most stressful jobs you can have. His descriptions of working in a busy kitchen are enough to scare away the casual cooks who think they can be chefs. But Bourdain isn’t discouraging people from attempting to enter the world of professional cooking. He expresses his love for the camaraderie of the kitchen and describes it as a world of misfits, where everyone has a place. More practically, he lists a code of behavior should one still wish to be a chef.

The appeal of the book is what had made Bourdain a successful television host. He has his own style of humor which is present in everything he says. His brand of crude language and overt sexual references add a particular flavor which also seems to be the only correct way to describe what it’s like working in a New York kitchen.

The book can read like an expose because of all the hidden details it gives. But it isn’t an expose in the traditional sense. Bourdain isn’t dissatisfied with the chef’s life and is trying to blow the whistle. He says himself that he is trying to be accurate but he likes the way a chef’s life is. He prefers it the way it is.

Bourdain has filled the book with anecdotes. While he sometimes gets overly sentimental about the people he has met and worked with, in general the stories are revealing and usually extremely funny. Bourdain is always truthful, telling without holds about his addictions to drugs and how he still came to work high or drunk. The amount of alcohol and drug use by chefs, according to Bourdain, is far higher than you would expect from high level professionals.

There’s a reason this book made Anthony Bourdain a star. It’s because it is that good. No one else had written a book like this before Kitchen Confidential and it became a best seller because it was something everyone could relate to and everyone wanted to read. The life of chef has never seemed exciting until Bourdain invited us all in for a viewing.   

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