on June 5, 2001
This book had gotten good press and I am interested in the subject, but I had seen the author on television and didn't like him much, so I waited for the paperback. I'm really glad I didn't buy the hardcover. What a disappointment! And for those reviewers who say anyone who doesn't like the book is ignorant of the restaurant business -- No, thank you very much for telling me what I know and think (and what would I like for breakfast today, hmm?) -- perhaps we JUST DON'T LIKE THE BOOK!
The stories and language are self-consciously profane, and the writing is generally without merit. The author is by turns arrogant and whining. The author despises his customers, calling them (at best) rubes, while all of his employers are imbeciles and all of his employees and co-workers are criminals, drug addicts and degenerates. Mr. Bourdain is a talented writer. He can make characters come to life. But he is a remarkably unsympathetic narrator, and a disorganized thinker: the chapters jump from topic to topic sometimes without any reasoning at all; in the beginning the author tells us that no one should enter the restaurant business, but then he gives a lot of advice on how to enter the restaurant business; he says that everyone in the restaurant business is a loser of one kind or another, but then has a chapter about a couple of exceptionally good chefs. There is an interesting chapter at the end about a trip the author took to Japan, and a few good pages about tools and ingredients a serious amateur chef might want, but these should have been articles, not a book. There is little organization and no cohesion, and the book could have used a good editor. *That* is why I do not like this book. I wanted to like the book. I just didn't.
After I read a good book, I keep it; after I read a mediocre book, I give it away. This book is going in the trash.
on August 19, 2000
I was very disappointed in this book. I had hoped for a wealth of insider insight on the restaurant business for the aspiring chef and the average diner alike. What I got was a profane (though occasionally funny) story of one chef's meandering career path.
There is really only one chapter that contains insight that can be considered practical, and even that is flawed in some ways (the author recommends an alternative brand of knife to the expensive german brands, but upon shopping I found the alternative brand to be even more expensive). His comments on dining are sensible (midweek diners get the best service, the best chefs don't work on Sunday), but provide limited insight to most thinking diners (you probably already know this).
The only readers who I would recommend this book to are aspiring chefs who might benefit from the author's candid, sordid depiction of life as a chef -- I don't know that it's representative of all or even most chefs (even the author acknowledges this as he describes the very different career path of one of his colleague chefs), but it would certainly encourage most aspiring chefs to give their career plans a reality check.
on August 15, 2000
I anticipated some shock value being associated with this book. However, there are relatively few titillating facts or revelations in this book. Unfortunately, it largely diminishes the respect of readers who recognize the yeoman work and assume artistry being inherent in chef's work.
Perhaps Mr. Bourdain does accurately summarize the mindset and lifestyle of chefs and their kitchen staffs. I suspect, however, that he is more likely to be describing the restaurant scene in Manhattan than accurately summarizing it nationally, much less across the world. Bourdain's depiction of his experience with the fastidious and quality focused Tokyo restaurant scene undermines his thesis that the book's earlier characterizations are universal.
It is discouraging, because Mr. Bourdain effectively develops in the reader a distain for the profession and those drawn to it, leaving one with the impression that it is a magnet for maladjusted low lives who have, at best, marginal ethics.
This is a cynical and egotistical work. Mr. Bourdain acknowledges, and wallows in his excessively positive self image. He goes to extreme lengths in an effort to prove that this is a manly profession, salting it with excessive (and unnecessary) vulgarity, references to aberrant -- albeit heterosexual -- predelictions and practices, and numerous homophobic remarks. Yawn. This simply indicates significant insecurity and a poor self image not far from the surface. Perhaps I am inferring this from the author's continual allusions to his former drug addiction and significant consumption of alcohol and tobacco throughout the book.
While the gourmand willl find a number of passages somewhat informative and interesting, ultimately this is a depressing book. It leaves you with a sense of distain, distrust, and some pity for those in the restaurant business, who you are left thinking work too hard for too little and waste their lives. One suspects, and hopes, it is more autobiography than an accurate description of the profession.
on August 11, 2000
In VH1's rocumentary series "Behind the Music" the format goes something like this: rock star struggles; rock star makes it big; rock star self destructs and nearly dies; rock star gets the band back together; rock star triumphs but doesn't know why or how considering all the sex, drugs and rock & roll. Substitute Chef for rock star, toss in a few useful tidbits of how to buy a good chef's knife and where not to buy smack on 9th Ave., and so goes the life and times of Anthony Bourdain in his "tell-nothing" book Kitchen Confidential.
For a book presumably about food, this one is neither fish nor fowl. Bourdain is all over the map on this one. In fact the spine is the only thing holding this book together. Sometimes it's Bourdain's life stungout, other times it's food, and sometimes it's how Ecuadorians make better line-cooks than "white boys." The only constant is that Bourdain is a bully in the kitchen with an incredible appetite for cigarettes and an ego the size of Manhattan.
Bourdain should stick with the cote du boeuf and not let those two years at Vassar lull him into thinking he's a writer or even as interesting as Motley Crue for that matter. Readers are painfully reminded that indulgences of the 70's and 80's continue to pay dividends in the 90's and beyond. By the way, his wife Nancy deserves a medal.
on August 3, 2000
Bourdain seems to have written with the aim of shocking the reader, rather than to give an understanding of the cooking business. The book is a series of disconnected stories, obviously written at different times, for different purposes, and stitched together to make this book.
Bourdain paints a picture of a kitchen populated by misfits with foul mouths, lacking in common morals. While I'm sure that these types of kitchens exist, Bourdain's kitchen seems to be more a reflection of himself than of the industry as a whole.
There are two things missing from the book which are telling. The first is that Bourdain never displays any passion for food. He describes how many meals he and his kitchen staff put out, and how he cheated at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), but never even mentions a desire to create unforgettable food. The only mention of why he chose to become a cook has nothing to do with food, but perhaps with power.
The second is the lack of mention of his parents (they appear briefly in an early chapter). But it's clear that their support was important to Bourdain, both for the education funds he diverted to drugs and for his tuition at the CIA. Yet he never mentions them, giving the impression that he did everything on his own.
Bourdain obviously is driven and works extremely hard. One is left wondering what he could have achieved, even in the cooking world, if he had focused that drive and energy towards achievement instead of drugs and macho posturing.
A book with a more realistic view of the cooking world is Michael Ruhlman's "The Making of a Chef". Save yourself some time and money and buy that one first. And if you're really interested in cooking, get Harold McGee's book "On Food and Cooking".
on June 27, 2000
As a 9 year old Enfant Terrible at the beginning of KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL, the author, Anthony Bourdain, discovers the power of food while on a vacation in France with his brother and parents. More to the point, he discovers food's power to shock and amaze as he eats local delicacies that otherwise make the rest of his family gag. By his own admission, he enters young manhood as " a spoiled, miserable, narcissistic, self-destructive and thoughtless young lout, badly in need of a good ... kicking". Then, he got his first job as a restaurant dishwasher. By the end of the book, Bourdain is executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City. In between, we follow his upward advancement through the culinary hierarchy: salad station, broiler station, independent caterer, line cook, sous-chef, executive chef. More often than not during the first half of his career, he admits to being stoned on one or another controlled substance. However, Bourdain also has an evident talent for cooking and organization, and by the book's second half he's sobered up and on his way to a career of distinction.
Reviews of CONFIDENTIAL laud the author's wicked wit as he reveals to us the uninitiated the secrets of the kitchen behind those swinging doors. Was it witty? Not really. Was it informative? Yes, but do I really need to know that the Rainbow Room's locker-room was a "gruesome panorama of dermatological curiosities ... boils, pimples, ingrown hair, rashes, buboes, lesions and skin rot ..." Or, that the odors of the place "combined to form a noxious, penetrating cloud that followed you home, and made you smell as if you'd been rolling around in sheep guts". Hmm, local color perhaps.
To be fair, there are one or two terrific chapters, particularly "How to Cook Like the Pros", in which Bourdain lists and describes what the pro absolutely needs, and "A Day In the Life", in which he describes a typical, grueling day on the job from 6:00 AM to near midnight. Clearly, it isn't a career choice for a couch potato.
I guess my greatest objection, and disappointment, was that I just never liked the guy. While enormously talented, he's also way too self-absorbed. He's an Enfant Terrible grown into a Jerk. His best buddies, also in the biz, are apparently just as professionally talented and personally dysfunctional. He barely mentions Nancy, his wife, who has to put up with him, and is quite likely a saint. His disdain for the paying public is often glaring, as when he refers to weekend diners as "rubes". Well, this is one Rube who would just as soon dine on slop at the local Denny's than sit down to his finest creation END
on July 23, 2002
I was amazed to see so many complimentary reviews of this book, especially the ones that rate Bourdain as such a 'fine storyteller'. Maybe he comes across better in print; I listened to the Audible version that he narrates himself. The subject matter and his exploits are certainly entertaining. However, before I was halfway through the book I had developed such an intense dislike of the author that I could barely listen to the rest. I understand his intent to write a 'tell-all' description of life as a chef, and I have read many a book that used constant, never-ending, over-the-top foul language for that 'touch of realism'. But Bourdain just comes across as such an unpleasant S.O.B. on tape that I was soon sorry I had given money to his cause. In the end, it wasn't the behind-the-scenes stories of what really goes on in a kitchen that repulsed me so much as having spent six hours listening to someone who I would never want to sit through a dinner with. Get 'Fast Food Nation' instead.
on January 8, 2002
For those who thought that the Normal Mailer types were on the wane, here's one who appears to have been crossed with Joan Rivers. Imagine a mix of catty commentary on all kinds of inane marginalia mixed with egotistical swagger and you'll be able to almost smell the sweat of your cell mate if you choose to read this thing.
But if you are a cook wannabe who needs discipline, delivered by a drug-vetted Dimmesdale, the author will tell you which knife will make you cool and which one will make you a [dork], while he's reminding you that you're never going to be as good as him. This cat's follow up should have a picture on the front with him swinging from the chandelier of his haute cuisine big top from his prehensile tail. Julia Child would spin in her grave if she weren't still alive (proof that she probably hasn't read this yet).
on December 31, 2000
Bourdain's account of his life as a chef is too long by half. The best parts of the book--his amusing revelations about where restaurant leftovers end up and why NOT to order the special--appeared in The New Yorker. Save money by finding the back issue and reading him there.The rest of the book, Bourdain's autobiography, is an unsavory casserole of narcissism and some not terribly convincing self loathing, spiced with so many boring references to scoring drugs that, by the end, I found myself skimming rather than reading. There are a number of typos, and the book has a manic, disorganized quality that presumably reflects the author's personality but, more likely, suggests that it was rushed into print. Bourdain's prose resembles, well, a buffet table: a few decent things but an awful lot of chicken chow mein and seafood Newburg.
on January 8, 2002
Anthony Bourdain is an ego-maniac who hails from a kitchen milieu that prides itself on "covers" - the number of orders that get sent out on any given night. That he's graduated to both covers and quality is to his favor, but he seems to be most concerned with shocking us with the mess and mayhem of production line cooks and cooking, and in being the bad boy of the culinary world. He rails against celebrity chefs, but has become what he dislikes. "Kitchen Confidential," is a quick read, somewhat entertaining, moderately informative, occasionally affecting, and completely self-aggrandizing. If you really want to read about how ugly a kitchen can be, take a look at "Down and Out in Paris and London."