By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost Staff Writer
Whether you are a culinary enthusiast who can prepare a six-course French meal or a cooking neophyte who does not know how to boil water you have the ability to read, appreciate and enjoy “Kitchen Confidential: Adventure in the Culinary Underberlly” by Anthony Bourdain.
Dressed in white, Bourdain stands confidently and somewhat smugly clutching a sword on the cover of his book. He looks formidable; the book reveals that his cover appearance is justifiable. Bourdain’s narrative divulges his experiences and knowledge gained from working in the restaurant business in Manhattan.
Prior to traveling and eating his way around the world for his cultural culinary show “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel, Bourdain worked his way through restaurants and kitchens in New York City. Bourdain shares anecdotes about his different jobs and colleagues; he gives cooking and dining advice based on his experiences behind-the-scenes; and he makes your jaw drop from his outlandish tales, secrets and opinions. His witty, honest, in-your-face writing style makes you feel like an insider to the culinary world. Bourdain does not hold back embarrassing stories or gloat about his accomplishments, but he shares his career’s highs and lows with a “this is how it is” kind of attitude.
Bourdain organizes his book like a meal: appetizer, first course, second course, third course, dessert and coffee and cigarette. The book is a hodge-podge of stories, observations, lessons, advice, cooking tips and insight into the business of food.
Bourdain tells stories about specific people and restaurants that impacted his life and shaped his career. His mentor, nick-named Bigfoot, gave Bourdain a job and showed him the way to run a business. “Bigfoot inspires a strange and consuming loyalty. I try, in my kitchen, to be just like him,” Bourdain says about his mentor. “I want my cooks to think that, like Bigfoot, when I look into their eyes, I see right into their very souls.” Bourdain explains how the restaurant world works and who the people are that run it – thoroughly.
Cooking advice intertwines with details of Bourdain’s experiences. He explains what the essential items and ingredients are for the average, professional chef, some of which include: a chef’s knife, non-stick sauté pan, heavy-weight pots and pans, butter, shallots, roasted garlic. He gives advice on how to obtain some items. “If you have a few extra bucks, read the back of the paper for notices of restaurants auctions,” Bourdain recommends. “Restaurants go out of business all the time and have to sell off their equipment quickly and cheaply…” Bourdain is not condescending, nor does he have an all-knowing attitude; he is practical and honestly shares his advice, including his do’s and don’ts for eating in restaurants—don’t eat fish on Mondays, don’t order hollandaise sauce and do eat the bread, but understand it has been recycled from someone else’s table. Bourdain justifies his advice and includes more things to watch out for, but you will need to read the book to learn how to dine like an expert.
Bourdain is not shy, and he does not care if his opinions, language or stories offend anyone. “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food,” Bourdain says, clearly not caring if he offends those who fall into the vegetarian or more stringent categories. He goes on to say, “Amoebas are transferred most easily through the handling of raw, uncooked vegetables, particularly during the washing of salad greens and leafy produce. So think about that the next time you want to exchange deep tongue kisses with a vegetarian.” You either laughed out loud or closed the book in disgust, but that is Bourdain and his writing style/sense of humor.
Bourdain wrote this book before he joined what he calls “the celebrity chef culture.” He admits that the culinary world is different now because chefs have the potential to make money and achieve stardom. Instead, his book tells how it was in the ’80s and ’90s when chefs went from job to job working 14-plus hour days hoping and waiting for the opportunity to run their own kitchen. Bourdain’s narrative appeals to people who know what its like to work hard for love and survival.