Jun 10, 2014

[Books] Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

To sort of recap what I had already discussed in my personal blog, I had purchased a copy of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly some time ago as one of my first Kindle Daily Deals. But then ebook then sat in my Kindle (technically two Kindles now) unread for no particular reason. I had purchased the book since it seemed like a good deal for a rather famous book. But given my core interests in science fiction and fantasy, I never felt all that rushed in terms of the need to read it.

Fast forward to the present and I have a much better appreciation for Anthony Bourdain given his various TV shows like No Reservations and The Layover. Plus there are his appearances as a judge on The Taste, which continue to both interest and amuse me.

With all that in mind, I finally decided to dredge up the book from the back of my reading queue and get it down. And needless to say, the book has been quite the amazing ride. And I've enjoyed it so much I quickly marathoned the TV show that was inspired by this book and I have a longer term project of properly watching all of Anthony Bourdain's TV shows in earnest. It's become one of those things.

Synopsis: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is a non-fiction book written by Anthony Bourdain that is part discussion of the restaurant world, part autobiography.

The book travels along two paths. First, we trace back to how Anthony Bourdain became interest in food and the cooking world as a whole. And this goes back to his childhood and a particular trip to France that changed his life. Thus we follow his progression from a dishwasher working his way through the summer at Provincetown to him becoming a true chef. His colorful life is a mix of the good and the bad and more than his share of highs and lows. But we mostly focus on his professional life and we don't dig too deeply into his personal life.

But then there's the other angle to things that focuses a lot more the restaurant industry as a whole - or at least from the perspective of the kitchen. And Bourdain holds nothing back as he describes kitchen crews as being a something like a band of pirates - thieves and other criminals who are united by an odd penchant for cooking. He describes putting up a restaurant as a business venture that is doomed to fail. And he strongly dissuades any hobbyist cooks from ever stepping into a professional kitchen unless hey are truly prepared to give up so much for their lives for a restaurant.

Anthony Bourdain has a conversational writing style that I struggle to achieve in my own blogging. The book reads as the sort of conversation one would have with a friend over beer - it's casual and yet direct. More than just candid, it's brutally honest. At times the book reads like a tabloid expose of the secret world of restaurant kitchens. And in many ways, I suppose it is.

This is not to say that it's all about beating up the restaurant business. Anthony Bourdain is a man who genuinely loves good food and loves cooking in itself. He has a whole chapter dedicated to tips for us home cooks and how we can improve our meals. He has all these little tips for any number of things. And on the more colorful side of things, he has a whole chapter dedicated to the somewhat complex and often vulgar language of the American restaurant kitchen.

At the same time, he also contrasts his view of the restaurant industry with the cooking experience of a colleague of his. His kitchen appears to run like a well-oiled machine and it's easy to appreciate just how different the two chefs are. And this inevitably begs the question of just how accurate all of Bourdain's stories are - and clearly this was a deliberate effort on his part in order to impart a particular message for us.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is all this and a whole lot more. It's an inspiring book that shows you what perhaps some chefs out there face in the ever busy world of professional cooking. Or maybe it's just Bourdain's story of his uniquely colorful friends throughout the years. Thus the book more than deserves a full 5 almost unbelievable stories of the kitchen life out of a possible 5.

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