Friday, August 07, 2009

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

All those addicted to the Travel Channel will be familiar with Bourdain's show No Reservations in which our host and guide travels to various points of interest around the globe and samples the local food culture, usually with his own guide from that particular place. It's a great show. R and I watch it pretty religiously (although the new season I think started while we were on our honeymoon and the 2nd episode was while I was moving): Bourdain is funny, insightful, and (sometimes suprisingly) culturally sensitive. All in all, it's a good watch.

It seemed only natural, then, to turn to Bourdain's somewhat groundbreaking book--at least in terms of his celebrity career--for more of a taste of this guy's thoughts on food. He's written several more, which I would love to read, but until I get my library card I'm limited with this one. I would like to point out, from the beginning, that I am not what you would call a "foodie." I don't think I have ever been to a two star restaurant (via the Michelin guide) not out of dislike, more out of the fact that I can't afford it. But I do like food and am willing to try new things, especially when in new places (Chavappi in Sarajevo, for example...). So it was with excitement that I turned to Bourdain's book on kitchen life.

For those who have watched the show (not Kitchen Confidential, although I hear there was a TV show based on R tells me. Neither of us have seen it though), you will definitely hear Bourdain's voice in his writing. It is unmistakably his and makes for an easy and enjoyable read.

There's some material in there that I am sure will be shock value to some: don't order fish on Mondays, that brunch you New Englanders are so fond of (because you aren't in church!!!) is cooked by the B team chefs and on top of that is not filled with the freshest ingredients, restaurants recycle their bread, sending unused bread back to the kitchen and back out to the tables, etc. I'm not sure why any of this would come as a surprise to anyone--the food industry is just as much about cutting costs as any place else. Besides, if you're eating at a 3 star restaurant, why would you want to fill up on bread in the first place? That's my view anyway. Once you get past these revelations (almost entirely contained within the chapter "From Our Kitchen to Your Table") you can focus on Bourdain's story.

It's the story that makes this book such a good read. There are several chapters that are more along the lines of "how to cook like a pro" or "my typical day" type of things, and those provide useful interludes in Bourdain's turbulent life, but they aren't the real meat of the book. What is so compelling about this, at least to me, is watching this man discover the glory of food as a child, fall away from his goals, and climb back to where he is today, making various discoveries about food (duh) but more importantly people along the way. I think that is what makes Bourdain's show such a draw-it's not just this guy walking around eating stuff-you hear him reflect on his journey pretty honestly. Kitchen Confidential is much the same sort of thing.

So. You don't need to be a "foodie" or food snob to read this book. You don't even have to have seen his show. It's a quick and easy read with some interesting insights into the side of the restaurants business most of us never see-the kitchen.

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