Kitchen Confidential is part memoir, part behind the scenes, and part guide book for aspiring chefs. Perhaps best described as a “What not to do.” for those in the industry. I worked in restaurants throughout my high school and college years, so I was able to identify with Anthony Bourdain’s account of life in a working kitchen. While I wasn’t plating up high end meals for well heeled New York City clientele, the accounts of work place shenanigans and debauchery certainly took me back to those days of battling through a dinner rush and then partying the night away. Speaking from experience – and I don’t have more than a percentage compared to Bourdain – the restaurant business can chew you up and spit you back out if you aren’t careful. Kitchen Confidential is a bitter love letter to the industry.
Starting with a childhood visit to the home country in France and moving though restaurants in Provincetown, MA and New York City, Bourdain leaves little to the readers imagination in spelling out the kind of life a professional cook can expect to have. There are times that the book gets bogged down in the description of various dishes, but for the most part this is a lively ready that should serve as an eye opening examination to the reality of working in the restaurant industry. Of particular interest is a chapter detailing Bourdain’s Day in the Life, an essay that peels back any mystique you may have of a working chef and describes just how backbreaking managing a kitchen can be. Same are the chapters where Bourdain details the many, many shifty characters he has been friends with and employed over the years. The book is filled with accounts of drug use and excessive partying, but a great deal of the narrative takes place in the 70’s and 80’s so that’s pretty much to be expected.
I enjoyed the book and plan to read his most recent book on the subject, 2010’s Medium Raw as well.