Review: “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” by Anthony Bourdain


Release Date: January 9, 2007
Publisher: Ecco/Harper Perennial
Genre: Autobiographies/Memoirs


A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine—now with all-new, never-before-published material.

New York Chef Tony Bourdain gives away secrets of the trade in his wickedly funny, inspiring memoir/expose. Kitchen Confidential reveals what Bourdain calls “twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine.” (via Goodreads)


My Thoughts

KitchenConfidential-coverWhen I first heard Anthony Bourdain died, I burst into tears. I didn’t know Tony personally or professionally. I’d never met him (nor was I ever likely to), nor had I seen any of his television shows or read his books. I knew him only from social media, both his own presence and how others waxed rhapsodical about him. He was a staunch defender of the marginalized and victimized. He left his bubble of white male dominance and immersed himself in the cultures of the world, respectfully, willingly, and with a mind as wide open as a prairie. I cried because the world lost a person who made it better simply by being in it, and because it hurt to know that for his last few days he couldn’t see that.

Within the week I started reading Kitchen Confidential and watching Parts Unknown on Netflix. The show is even better than I hoped. It’s enlightening without being condescending or patronizing, an exploration without the veneers of anthropology or conquest. Each episode is an hour of Tony sharing meals with grandmothers and fishermen and activists and survivors. He lets them speak for themselves and never shames or rejects cultural beliefs and social practices, even when he disagrees.

Although set mostly in Manhattan, Kitchen Confidential bears the seeds of what Parts Unknown would become. In the book he takes a traveler’s eye to his profession. It takes the reader not just into restaurant kitchens but his life and mind. He is, in effect, his own tour guide; he leads us through the unknown parts of the culinary world and shows us the truth of his experience. He revels in the best parts while confessing the worst.

Kitchen Confidential feels less like a memoir and more like listening to a man tell his life story over a few beers at a dive bar. The narrative is casual and charming, a story told with the air of a man who knows his shit and also knows he has so much more to learn. Tony pulls no punches – even with regard to his own less appealing attitudes and behaviors. I was pleasantly surprised to read his frequent praise for his POC kitchen crew. Not once does he reduce them to menial laborers or unknowledgeable drones. Throughout the book he shows how vital his documented and undocumented staff were, and, crucially, puts the onus of recognizing and accommodating that skill on the white majority.

Tony also touches on the toxic masculinity of professional kitchens, noting with great respect the women chefs who navigated those treacherous waters and became successful despite the odds as well as copping to his own role in perpetuating that toxicity that made work unnecessarily difficult for those women. In 2000, when the book first came out, Tony was nowhere near where he was when the #MeToo movement took off in 2017. Looking back I can see the arc of his journey and marvel at how far he’d come.

We lost a good man this summer. But at least we still have his voice. Here’s to you, Tony. Cheers.

For me, the cooking life has been a long love affair, with moments both sublime and ridiculous. But like a love affair, looking back you remember the happy times best – the things that drew you in, attracted yo in the first place, the things that kept you coming back for more. I hope I can give the reader a taste of those things and those times. I’ve never regretted the unexpected left turn that dropped me in the restaurant business. And I’ve long believed that god food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime “associates,” food, for me, has always been an adventure.

Do the world a favor and buy this from an indie bookstore or get it from your local public library.

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