on June 18, 2003
Tony Bourdain's breakthrough book Kitchen Confidential invites readers into a world few have seen more than the tiniest hints of: the hectic, high-pressure world of the professional kitchen.
Written as an expose of sorts, many of the things Bourdain covers will shock the casual diner reading his book, from staff parties afterhours with lines of coke all down the bar to the reasons not to ever order the seafood special or get your steak cooked well-done. Primarily, the book covers Tony's life as a chef, from his drug-filled college days to stints at what must seem half the restaurants in NYC to his getting his life back on track and his success at his current job--yet the book is not a biography (unless of the industry itself); it instead offers on-the-mark observations on personalities, the business of restaurants, and the trials of achieving one's dreams.
While the book's subject matter is in itself interesting, what really makes Bourdain's book excel is his writing style: harsh, frank, and unapologetic yet still paced well and very readable. His descriptions leap out like something from a hard-boiled detective novel and make for an easy read.
on May 7, 2002
Are you socially incorrigible, substance-dependent, able to curse fluently in multiple Spanish dialects, have a high tolerance for knife wounds, burns, cramped spaces, no sleep, and people looking to stab you in the back at every turn? Well, if you are, and you're not interested in a career in piracy in Latin America, you might want to try being a fancy chef.
Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" is a salty, rambling, rambunctious love letter to the world of a professional chef and to the insane people who inhabit it, interspersed with some advice to the general public (such as why you should never order your steak well-done or a fish frittata, and how many knives you REALLY need to make all those hoity-toity dishes you see on TV). Bourdain gleefully jumps from describing his falling in love with french cuisine as a boy, to his experience as a junior "know-nothing" in Cape Cod, to what a typical day at Les Halles is, to a full-blown food and alcohol orgy in Japan, all at a pace that will leave you gasping for breath.
Not necessarily for the faint-hearted, but if you want to know what life is like behind your fancy dishes, this is a must-read.
on April 23, 2013
I read Kitchen Confidential a few years ago and recently re-read it just prior to reading Medium Raw. These two books paint a great picture of Anthony's life and the journey he has taken - I have both read and listened to them and I find the audio book wayyyyyy better - to hear him tell the story, I couldn't stop listening. Hilarious, great entertainment- all foodies and self-procliamed food nerds must read- though, I am sure you already have.
Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential is almost a classic treatise on the restaurant business. Anyone who is interested in the back-door, clandestine secrets of the restaurant industry must read this. Anyone with a deep and soulful love of food should read this, anyone with a dark and sarcastic sense of humor should read this!
Tony's personality transmits seamlessly from written word to reader---he is well-spoken and cultured with just the right amount of vicious self-deprecation and distain for the world. He has been true to one mistress, it seems, throughout his life: Food. I share Tony's love affair and this book was impossible to put down.
Critically speaking, there was a little shifting around throughout the book so the flow was occasionally a little choppy. I didn't mind at all. I felt the book was the perfect illustration of Bourdain's true thoughts and feelings about his life as a chef. One day I'm hoping to meet he man in person, and hopefully buy him a drink. Or two. Possibly enjoy an oyster with him as well! Cheers, Tony.
on December 1, 2008
Mr. Bourdain's bittersweet tale of being a chef rippled through the mass media in 2000 when it was first published. The candid account of his 25-plus years in the culinary industry outraged some (mostly restaurant owners), delighted some (mostly culinary professionals), and shocked many (the public).
Mr. Bourdain discovered his passion for food when he was ten, while on a family vacation to France. He stumbled into the restaurant business when he took a job as a dishwasher in Provincetown during his college years. This was when he discovered the dysfunctional yet fascinating world of the culinary profession. The eye-opening experience as a novice cook introduced him to the world of booze, drugs, power, and money. He knew by then there was no turning back.
Mr. Bourdain's tales are candid and raw. He starts as a ruthless punk and finishes as a professional chef. How the 25-plus years have changed him is remarkable, although Mr. Bourdain rarely dwells on retrospective analysis . Rather, he relies on his stories to lead the way.
In a mere 300-some pages, Mr. Bourdain explains why readers should not order seafood on Mondays, why so many restaurants fail, why good cooking is not about creativity, how to get professional-grade cookware cheap, and how he keeps on top of things via his private intelligence network. As a result, his narrative is sometimes choppy.
on November 19, 2002
Tony Bourdain's work unpretentiously describes the world of cooking as seen by a cook. His gruff prose and semantic swagger match perfectly the world he describes, often reading like a collection of choice transcripts from kitchen conversations. If you want insight into a world you don't know, if you want the lowdown on what those immigrant are doing to your food while you enjoy candle light and conversation, or if you want information on how to become, yourself, a culinary master--this is not the book for you.
If, however, you've spent any time at all behind the swinging doors--as cook, expediter, dishwater, or even waitron--even for just a short time--you'll love it. You'll see a lot of people you know, you'll relive luxurious and painful experiences. You will laugh until you cry.
This insider-chic is not, however, Tony's one big flaw. That flaw, rather, is the foolish notion that his life outside of the restaurant is uninteresting. He left me hungry for more information on his drug problem (and, no, I do not consider this non-pertinent to his culinary career) and more about his wife, Nancy.
on May 6, 2002
I admire Anthony Bourdain. Because I consider myself such a dilettante in so much of what I do, I have a lot of respect for people who are absolutely focused, to the point of monomania, on achieving greatness in what they do. Working in a Bourdain-run kitchen would be easy: all you have to do is be invariably punctual, absolutely reliable, committed to the same high standards he is ... and then work yourself to death to achieve them.
Bourdain's story is entertaining, fast-paced, profane, funny, iconoclastic (at least if you like celebrity TV chefs), revealing, occasionally nauseating, deeply personal ... and probably a lot more fun to read about than to have lived through. You won't look at restaurant food the same way again. Sure, you may be more suspicious about what it is you're really being served. But more importantly (to Bourdain anyway, I suspect), you'll have greater understanding and respect for the people who prepared it. The seamy underside of the restaurant world is the most headline-grabbing part of the book, but the real value comes from the author's own experiences, his revelation of the life of an NYC chef, and his obvious love of great food prepared well.
At the same time, though, it seemed to me like there's a little bit of bait-and-switch to it. Bourdain spends the whole book talking about the manic, hard-rock, drug-driven, frenetic, foul-mouthed, take-no-prisoners world of the professional chef, laying it all on the line for us: this is what it's really like. And then, in one chapter, he pulls the rug out from under himself with his profile of Scott Bryan, another New York chef who, Bourdain admits, is night-and-day different from our author, and also more knowledgeable, more respected, and more successful. It's to his immense credit that Bourdain is absolutely up front with us about why Bryan is a three-star chef and he isn't.
I plan to read Bourdain's other non-fiction work and his two novels. This soul-baring book has put Anthony Bourdain on my list of authors I definitely plan to keep an eye on.
on April 20, 2002
About 30 years ago, I worked in a restaurant kitchen for all of five days. So I am no expert in the business. But I value good food.
What sets Tony Bourdain apart from the stock _Food Channel_ crew of performers is his candor and hard-won understanding of food both as a passion and as a business.
This is not really the horror story some described when the book first appeared, and it will not put you off from eating in restaurants. Maybe you will be a wiser consumer, and more apt to push your own limits and to try new fare. That's all to the good.
But on a much more elemental level, what I really value about Bourdain is how he tackles, head-on, the really serious subject of our relationship with food. This absolutely essential part of our lives gets the respect it deserves from Bourdain.
Bourdain has an easy and familiar writing style. He is also clearly no peasant, but a thoughtful, sometimes disarmingly introspective man-- a persona that belies the "tough guy in the kitchen" image he must maintain to run a business.
Excellent and insightful.
on April 4, 2002
I just read this book by recommendation and really enjoyed it. If you've spent a lot of time eating or working in restaurants you will appreciate how grueling of a job it is for the staff. Bordain convinced me that maybe my office job IS cushier, but his job may be more fun. I liked him for his brashness and honesty and enjoyed his cultural references to the more seedy late '70's and early '80s, Provincetown and his drug use intertwined with a solid work ethic, once he got himself going in the morning. I felt like I knew him.
He also offers some good insider advice on how restaurants work their specials, what knives to use and my favorite-how to cut garlic, "[like the two mafiasos in the movie Goodfellas who use a razor to cut the garlic paper thin]." That's love of food! To me this feels like a coming-of-age autobiograhy about a guy who struggles to stay afloat in a tenuous business, often flying by the seat of his pants (or his wits) and manages to survive. I hardly saw it as shockingly revealing about the restaurant business-I've heard much worse stories than days old fish on the Monday special. For me it was an honest and entertaining view of the world behind that plate of food that arrives on your table. It made me respect that world a bit more too.
on March 29, 2002
Like many readers probably did, I got my first "taste" of Tony Bourdain's prose in the pages of The New Yorker, where one of the more infamous chapters of Kitchen Confidential (you know the one I'm talking about -- are you planning to eat mussels and swordfish anytime real soon?) was excerpted prior to the book's publication. And in that little morsel, we got a sense of just what we were in for when this book hit the stores: a perpetually (often self-consciously) hip style, total lack of qualms about delving into the grime and grunge of the restaurant business, and a great comedic flair.
Like many others, I actually laughed out loud while reading Kitchen Confidential -- it's that good. The way that Mr. Bourdain studiously deflates the rarefied aura that so many celebrity chefs today work so hard at cultivating is refreshing, as is his unconcealed loathing for one Fall River-expat in New Orleans (believe me, Tony, you're not alone! When I saw him drop a bundle of asparagus into a pot of boiling water, saying that he tied them together to keep them from floating apart in the pot, I knew that he was a certifiable hack, too!). Yes, the fact that he's now channel-mates with that very same hack is indeed ironic (especially after one reads his line in KC mocking that very possibility), and after watching him on TV, the inescapable conclusion is that he's better taken through the medium of prose. Still, you won't do better than this gem of a book.