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.

Kitchen Confidential BourdainSemi-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.

Anthony Bourdain Medium RawThe 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.

Review: $5 a Meal College Cookbook

In 1986 I graduated from high school and for the first time in my life ventured out into the big, bad world.  Sure the college was only 60 miles from my home but to a kid who had lived his entire life in the same house in the sticks it might as well have been on Mars.  But it was in a whole other state.

Before long I was ensconced in the whole college lifestyle – all nighters, parties and cheap food.  The latter taught me that less is not always more.  I remember the store brand cheese, 50 slices for .99¢.  It would not melt no matter how long you ran the microwave.  Then there were the chicken wieners, 24 for $2.49.  How many was I able to choke down?  Not a single one.  No amount of cheese, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, chili, jalapenos, cayenne pepper, onions, relish, Tabasco Sauce and salsa could make them palatable.  Yes, that’s what I put on hot dogs back then.  We ended up giving them away.

$5 a Meal College Cookbook on WannabeTVchef.comThose were the good old days, too – the Reagan Era.  Still, it sure would have been nice to have had a little help back then.  Something like say the $5 a Meal College Cookbook: Good Cheap Food for When You Need to Eat (Adams Media, 2010) would have come in handy.  $5 a Meal College Cookbook was written by Rhonda Lauret Parkinson with B. E. Horton, MS, RD and is available at

This is not Parkinson’s first cookbook. She also penned The Everything Chinese Cookbook and the Everything Fondue Cookbook to name a few but on this venture she is joined by Horton who brings her experience in nutrition with her.  While Parkinson’s background is in the kitchen Horton has a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tuft’s University, received her registered dietitian certification and did her undergraduate work at the University of Vermont.

The authors waste no time with nostalgic tales of their college days (like I did) or witticisms from leaner times.  After a brief introduction they jump right into the recipes.  After all their target audience is the Google Generation –  short attention spans and easily distracted.  And there are plenty of recipes to keep their attention, too.  Over 300 of them and each includes a nutritional breakdown and estimated cost per serving all packed into 224 pages.  Recipes like . . .

Easy Fried Rice

  • 1 large egg
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 green onion
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  1. Lightly beat the egg with a fork.  Stir in the salt and pepper and set aside.  Wash the green onion and dice.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently.
  3. Push the rice to the edges of the frying pan.  Add the beaten egg in the middle.  Use a spatula to scramble the egg.  Mix the scrambled egg with the rice.
  4. Stir in the frozen peas.  Stir in the green onion, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until heated through.  Add more salt, pepper, or other seasonings if desired.

Estimated cost per serving $1.56 and each one contains 470 calories, 20 grams fat, 56 grams of carbs, 15 gram of proteins, 210 mg cholesterol and 150 mg of sodium.

$5 a Meal College Cookbook is no Le Guide Culinaire but a copy should find it’s way into every freshmen backpack and dormitory survival kit.  And for goodness sakes, tell them to stay away from chicken wieners.

: Good Cheap Food for When You Need to Eat

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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