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.