My Summer Reading List: Kitchen Confidential
Originally published on June 17, 2009.
Last time on My Summer Reading List I reviewed Ruth Reichl’s Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, the beautiful story of a little girl in love with food who grows up to be a renowned food writer. Tender is a romantic telling of a life spent in food. Kitchen Confidential is a whole other beast.
Semi-retired chef Anthony Bourdain shocked the world with his tome on the inside workings of the restaurant industry, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. As the story goes, Kitchen Confidential blew the lid of the industry upon it’s release in 2000 by revealing the drunken, drug-laden debauchery that exists in American professional kitchens. I question how many people were genuinely surprised by the revelations in Bourdain’s work, after all the restaurant industry employs more people than any other industry in the nation, save the Federal government, over 12 million jobs nationwide.
I believe that most of the hullabaloo was feigned. After all, of those in the media not currently employed in the Life (as Bourdain calls it) most at least used to be employed in it. To a lifer like myself the book was comfortable. It was like sitting down with an old friend over a bottle of Johnny Walker getting three sheets while reliving memories and swapping tales.
Bourdain paints a perfect picture of life in the kitchen, testosterone driven trash talking, seducing servers and drinking way too much. But what surprised me was the author’s love of food. Images sketched in words of his first raw oyster freshly plucked from the brine while only a lad to his experiences with the amazing creations of Scott Bryan, Eric Ripert and Ferran Adrià. Throughout the text I was constantly reminded of both Bourdain’s love affair with food and his sheer talent for the smithing of words.
The boy’s got chops. At the time of its publishing I don’t think Bourdain knew just how good a writer he was. The book was so explosive, so popular that it actually was made into a television series, all though it was a short lived one. Fast forward nearly a decade and Tony is no longer commanding the kitchen at Les Halles, no longer going on three-day coke benders (I hope) and no longer chasing tail. He has become what he loathed and found it’s a pretty nice gig, this celebrity chef thing.
I made sure to put Kitchen Confidential on my summer reading list because I knew how important a book it is. What I did not expect was how much I would learn from it. In fact, I have gotten a whole new reading list from it. Bourdain emphasizes how important it is for any chef to read the classics, if you will, of our profession.
In sports the greats of the game are known by just one name: Hank, Bo, and Michael. Sports fans know of whom I speak. The culinary world is no different and it is these chefs of which Bourdain speaks. Works of literature produced from chefs so revered that they are known by just one name, Escoffier and Bocuse. So thank you, Tony. Not only have you penned a great book, but you have also made my summer reading project a little longer.
Next: Heat by Bill Buford.