If you’ve watched ‘No Reservations’, the television travel show hosted by Anthony Bourdain, you probably think of him as a chilled-out and somewhat zany seeker of gastronomic pleasures, willing to try anything once, and prepared to go to any lengths to try it.
What you probably don’t know (I certainly didn’t!) is that he is also a CIA-trained chef (not that CIA, dummy, the Culinary Institute of America) and a kickass writer. Kitchen Confidential is a no-holds-barred memoir of Bourdain’s journey from oyster-struck young boy to his ultimate goal: Chefhood.
Along the way, he takes you into the bowels of the restaurant industry, forcing you to linger in places where only the bravest diner would dare to tread. Bourdain tells it like it is. “I’m simply not going to deceive anybody about the life as I’ve seen it,” he says at the outset – and keeps his word. From the back-breaking effort of churning out 450 dinners a night in a hot, crowded galley kitchen to after-hour shenanigans that include Saran-wrapping a colleague and stuffing him in the cold chest for an appalled restaurant manager to discover, he spares no detail.
Bourdain also puts to rest your stupid-in-hindsight notion that every dish you consume in an upscale restaurant is actually prepared by the executive chef, unveiling instead a motley crew of misfits who, he believes, would probably be unable to function outside the frenetic and insular world of a restaurant kitchen.
The tone is dry-humored and self-deprecating, the writing tight and spare. Bourdain doesn’t mince words; his advice to newbie chefs wanting to experiment with new dishes is a case in point: “Show up at work on time six months in a row and we’ll talk about red curry paste and lemon grass. Until then, I have four words for you: ‘Shut the fuck up.’”
Kitchen Confidential is like a roller coaster ride: exciting, somewhat sick-making, yet completely irresistible. If you don’t have the, er, stomach for it, don’t get on in the first place.