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Book Review: Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential – Scathing and Sweet

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Books! Yes, we still have them and yes, we still need them.
In Honor of His New Show
Called No Reservations featured on the Travel Channel, Mondays, at 10 pm.

Below, a review of Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

A reader might require an acute interest in all things culinary or an understanding of the logistics of New York to better enjoy this book of shock, fun and information as regards chefdom. But then again, maybe not. For the author and chef extraordinaire, Anthony Bourdain, is, and this surprises me to no end, an absolutely wonderful writer. I figure if a chef of such renown can write so well, perhaps I, an imagined writer, could cook right well if of a mind.

Bourdain relates his tale of aspiring, learning and achieving a career as a chef as if parts of a grand meal. For the appetizer we learn about his exploits in the infamous Culinary Institute of America. For the main course we learn of many New York restaurants that suffered Bourdain as a chef and from which he emerged a more experienced and worldly wise chef. For dessert the author teaches us the many culinary terms and advises those of us who aspire to chefdom of the basic rules to guaranteed cooking success.

“This business grows assholes: it’s our principal export. I’m an asshole. You should probably be an asshole too.”
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The above quote reflects the street-wise honesty and New York attitude of the author. In an interesting bow to current events, Bourdain tells of his time as chef on top of the World Trade Center in a bittersweet narration as the reader realizes the book was obviously written before the 9/11 attacks. Bourdain also spent some time cooking in my own home town of Baltimore and what he has to say about this mid-Atlantic burg not only did NOT insult this native, the tale had me rolling in the aisles in his right-on-the-money assessment of the city with no discernible personality.

This reader struggled at times to understand the culinary terms bandied about. This reader, despite having no experience in the restaurant world beyond that of a diner, totally enjoyed the behind the scenes account of what really goes on in the famous kitchens of the world. They curse, smoke, cut, bake, chop, scream, do drugs and in-between all this human activity, manage to serve restaurant crowds every night, weekends and holidays.

The book left me with one nagging question, for the author firmly believes the best food requires little addition by the cook beyond absolute freshness and superior quality, a notion espoused by many who cook with a passion. I must ask, however – should this concept take hold across the world, wouldn’t this negate the need for such as chefs?

Oh well. They can always become writers.
Other Book Reviews by Pat Fish right here on Blogcritics:

TWO Jon Benet Ramsey Book Reviews

A Death in White Bear Lake

More book reviews HERE on my own Blog


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About pat fish

  • bourdain is a funny guy. on the one hand, i kinda like him. on the other, he’s sort of arrogant and snotty.

    plus, the stupid little digs at emeril are pathetic and strike me as sour grapes.

    all that aside, this book is still a pretty interesting read even if you’re not so hot on the man’s personality.

    oh, another question: isn’t it kind of strange for a chef to be a smoker? i mean, doesn’t it screw up your taste buds & all?

  • Nancy

    After I read this book, I swore off anything I didn’t cook myself…for probably about an hour and a half, until I got starving & decided to go get a hoagie. It certainly gives one plenty of food for thought, & should be required reading for anyone considering life in the Food Service business or who thinks that being a chef or owning a restaurant would be a ‘glamorous’ way to make a living. Cooking for a living is brutal, no matter how far up the food chain you are.

  • thanks for the review – I’d seen the book and wondered how it was

  • My brother is a professional chef and has been hounding me to read this book for years. Finally I got around to reading it last month and I have to admit that Bourdain has an impressive talent in storytelling. His stories reinforce the oddball late-night maniacal tales my brother would tell and color a profession that I have recently considered.

    With that said, what remains in the way of my jumping ships to culinary world? Easy. The fact that I love what I do as a business consultant and dread the brutal torture of the professional culinary arts, as told by my brother and so eloquently supported by Bourdain. This is an impressive book by what it reveals of an industry but as how entertaining it is along the way.

    For sure, one of the best books I’ve recently read.

  • davefromcali

    In response to Mark Saleski.
    You are precisely the reader who should not read this book. Bourdain has an incisive and acerbic wit, and yes the digs are part of the (sometimes) guilty pleasures the book is all about. Go ahead, ask anybody who takes food seriously about Emeril. As for smoking, there’s this little country filled with smokers, I think you’ve heard of it…it’s called, i forget…oh, FRANCE. You know, the people who invented good food. Bourdain does things cause he enjoys them, not so he can preserve his palette.

  • Em(chucktown,SC)

    I LOVE YOU davefromcali….youre goddamn right, Bourdain never sugar-coats anything, he gives you a peek of the culinary industry’s “nasty bits”..ive been working in a kitchen since i can remember and every word i have read or heard from Bourdain has been something i can relate to (somewhat, in some cases)..Cooking for a career is a LIFESTYLE, its not just a job, and you cant do it for the money, you do it for the passion for food, for the satisfaction of pleasing people, for the adernaline rush, and instant gradifcation, you cant find anywhere else!

  • soyuz, philippines

    i still havent read the book, how can i have a copy of the book here in the philippines? A COOKS TOUR NO RESERVATIONS on you tube is my favorite show! watched them over and over everyday since philippine cable shows hasnt aired it yet, tony bourdain ranked number #1 for me! KAMPAY!