Posted by: Gregg | July 13, 2006

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly – Anthony Bourdain

Kitchen Confidential is a sort-of biography and peek behind the curtain at the New York restaurant scene by professional chef and cranky raconteur Anthony Bourdain. I first encountered him a few years ago when he wrote an article about outdoor grilling for a men’s magazine. Then there was an ill-fated Fox sitcom last season based on his kitchen experiences that was cancelled after only a handful of episodes, and then his excellent series on the Travel Channel, No Reservations, about eating exotic (and often disgusting) things in foreign countries while mixing with the local culture.

I really like the guy. Tall, thin, handsome in a rough-hewn way with a grating New York voice that comes out of a mouth that always seems to have a cigarette parked in it, Anthony Bourdain is the very picture of a world-weary cynic with an amused twinkle in his eye. I had to pick up the tell-all book that kicked off his career, Kitchen Confidential. And even though I have absolutely no culinary skills beyond peeling back the foil before placing something in a microwave, I found this book to be a fascinating, if sometimes unfocused, behind-the-scenes look at the life of a professional chef.

The book works best if read with frequent breaks, as Bourdain is all over the place. Chapters range from his years toiling in school studying to be a chef, to his young professional career as a grunt worker, to his rise and participation in several failed ventures, to owning and running his own successful restaurant in New York City. Interspersed in stand-alone chapters are cynical observations of his craft, mocking investors who want to open a restaurant with no experience, and searing rants on what not to order in a restaurant (I’m never ordering Eggs Benedict again. Two words: bacterial apocalypse.) All the while he’s taking gleeful shots at made-for-television celebrity chefs like Emeril and Rachael Ray.

Even if he’s all over the map, the book is absolutely fascinating. He writes in a conversational tone, as if he setting next to you at a dimly-lit, smoky bar, trading war stories from the kitchen inbetween shots of Jaeger. Kitchen Confidential is the rarest of things: an honest look at what a person does for a living, clearly defining his passion for his craft without the need to make the author look good in the process. Fabulous read.

UPDATE 07/15/06: Apparently Anthony Bourdain is trapped in Lebanon this week doing a taping for his Travel Channel show.  Details thanks to Off the Broiler.

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Responses

  1. I’ve read a lot of that in bits and pieces, like when browsing in Borders. I envy him greatly, and not just for the cigarette.

    And yes, from what I’ve seen, lightly poached eggs (read: just this side of warm and only vaguely coagulated) slathered in hollandaise (warm butter whisked into raw egg yolks, basically) is risky.

  2. Hey, from what I’ve tasted from your kitchen, you could give Mr. Bourdain himself a run for his money.

    I’ve been playing around with the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks recently, to my utter delight. I’m going to post on those soon.

  3. I do like the hollandaise sauce. I’m not afraid of raw egg. I just made some frosting for a recipe that my husband’s grandma had made for every x-mas since the dawn of time. I’m not afraid of raw egg. Bring it on.

    And “Kitchen Confidential” is, like, the coolest book EVA!


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