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Anthony Bourdain – Kitchen Confidential

May 19, 2010

51. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (2000)

Read By: Anthony Bourdain
Length: 8h 19min (302 pages)

Genre: Non-fiction; Memoir

Started: 28 April 2010
Finished: 02 May 2010

Where did it come from? From the library / the library booksale.
Why do I have it? Honestly, I don’t remember.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 12 May 2009.

Why did I chose to listen to it rather than read it, and why did I do so now? My Netflix account said “Hey, you like “Top Chef”, so you’ll probably like “Kitchen Confidential”, the short-lived half-hour sitcom. So I rented it and watched it with some friends (and Netflix was right, it was hilarious), and I said “hey, I’ve got the book this was based on, I should read it…” and they both said “No no no, you should *listen* to it, it’s great!” and so I did (and they were right, too).

Like eating out? This
book’s for you! Want to keep it
that way? Maybe not…

Summary: Kitchen Confidential is a hybrid – part memoir, part behind-the-scenes peek into the dark side of the restaurant business, and part love letter to food, cooking, and restaurant culture. Anthony Bourdain gives us some of his own history in the culinary business, shares the mistakes he’s made, the people he’s met, and the lessons he’s learned. He gives advice on what items you’re probably missing from your home kitchen, teaches a quick course in kitchen patois, and explains why you should never order the fish on a Monday, and he does it all in his brash and inimitable style.

You should definitely read this book if:
– You’re a foodie. Even though, by Bourdain’s standards, I am not “worthy” to eat garlic, I’m a bit of a foodie: I like reading about food, watching the Food Network, cooking, and eating. It’s clear throughout the book that whatever his feelings on the restaurant business, Bourdain loves food, and that passion comes through loud and clear.

– You like “behind the scenes” non-fiction. Kitchen Confidential is an insider’s point of view on a world that is right there, on the other side of the restaurant wall, but which most of us will never see, and it’s thoroughly fascinating. It almost reads like an ethnography on restaurant culture, and it simultaneously made me daydream about becoming a chef, and want to run screaming and never step foot inside a restaurant again. Since I’ve read it, dining out has become a much more interesting experience.

– You like books read by the author. Although Bourdain is also a published novelist, the writing in this book is very personal and informal, like Bourdain is just sitting there, regaling you with hilarious tales of his adventures and shooting the shit over drinks. He writes like he talks, and so the audiobook doesn’t feel like he’s reading a book to you, so much as like he just sat down in front of a microphone and eight hours of stories came pouring out spontaneously.

You should avoid this book if:
– You like a structured, linear narrative flow. Kitchen Confidential is not a straight-up memoir; it jumps pretty frenetically from topic to topic and from time period to time period. It got a little confusing in places; Bourdain would do things like refer to his wife on one page and then his girlfriend a few pages later, and then leave it to the reader to figure out that the later chapter actually occurred before the former. I can pinpoint the beginning and end of Bourdain’s professional timeline as described in the book, but as to the order of the events in the middle? No way. Once I got into the rhythm of the writing, I was fine, but approaching this book looking for a single cohesive story is going to land you in a world of confusion.

– You’re easily offended. Bourdain is not at all shy about discussing drug use or sex, or calling people idiots when they’re idiots, and there’s plenty of all three in the restaurant industry. The book is also laced with swearing, and incidental bits of racism and sexism. These things didn’t bother me – they’re part of the subculture of the kitchen, and any attempt to bowdlerize them would have made the book feel inauthentic – but if you’re sensitive to such things, you’ll probably want to steer clear.

– You like to cherish your illusions about the sanctity, deliberation, and care with which your meals are prepared in sparkling clean, calm, and organized restaurant kitchens by dedicated, morally-upright, and careful chefs. Good luck with that. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Boston Bibliophile, Joyfully Retired, Rantings of a Bookworm Couch Potato, Steph and Tony Investigate
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Don’t get me wrong: I love the restaurant business.

Cover Thoughts: It’s Bourdain through the window of his restaurant Les Halles (which, throughout the audiobook, I thought was actually called Leal – i.e. Spanish for “loyal” – because I am a non-Francophone Philistine). I can’t figure out what he’s holding, though? Swords? Really large fancy knives?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2010 8:10 am

    Another reason to steer clear might be that cooking fills you with a primal dread. :P I find chefs so intimidating!

    • June 9, 2010 10:23 am

      Jenny – Heh, me too. I can’t decide if this book made that intimidation better or worse!

  2. May 19, 2010 8:49 am

    I’m not sure this book is for me, since I do want to keep the allusion that my food is prepared with care, but I bet my husband would love this!

    • June 9, 2010 10:51 am

      bermudaonion – I’m sure that a lot of places care about your food – it’s just that the ones that don’t make better stories.

  3. May 19, 2010 10:41 am

    Interesting! I have had this book on my TBR pile for what feels like forever. Probably time to move it to the top of the pile.

    • June 9, 2010 10:57 am

      Jessica – I listened to it, so I can’t say for sure, but it seems like it should be a fast read.

  4. May 19, 2010 2:36 pm

    I have this book, so I took a look at the cover. It seems to be a couple of swords, but I’m not sure he is actually holding them. It looks like they are photoshopped — either partly in or out?

    I enjoyed this book also, although I winced a bit at his insults towards vegetarians (or is that in “A Cook’s tour”?) — seemed sterotypical (I’m a veg who also eats seafood)

    • June 9, 2010 10:59 am

      Valerie – Are they maybe tucked through his apron? I can’t figure it out.

      And he is kind of rude towards veggies in this book, but not being a veggie myself, it didn’t really register with me. Besides, if you eat seafood, then you can console yourself that he wasn’t really talking about you. :)

  5. May 19, 2010 6:52 pm

    Blah, my library doesn’t have this, or any of Bourdain’s other books, in their electronic reserves. :( I guess it’s the print version for me.

    • June 9, 2010 11:00 am

      Memory – His voice comes across pretty clearly in the print version too, I think – you’ll just have to imagine him reading it to you.


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