Wednesday 7 February 2018

Devouring Books: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Are you easily offended? Anthony Bourdain sees you, and he doesn't give a shit. Kitchen Confidential is part memoir, part behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant industry, and a whole lot of brilliant. Bourdain seems like a natural writer, which I would imagine is reasonably rare in a chef, so he seems uniquely poised to deliver such a good book, and boy does he deliver.

I'll start by saying this- Bourdain seems like kind of a dickhead. He yells at his staff, he was a total idiot when he was young, he's just not a super nice human. He even says this about vegetarians: "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." (Don't even ask about vegans, he refers to them as the "Hezbollah-like splinter faction" of vegetarians because he is mean and this book is sort of old). The fact that he's kind of a dickhead though kind of doesn't matter, mainly because he acknowledges it himself (self-awareness is fab) but also because THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD.

I've been trying to pinpoint exactly why it's so good, and I think there are quite a few different elements that combine to, honestly, a near perfect book. There is, of course, the excellent writing, which creates the perfect tone, but that's not all. Each chapter of the book is kind of like a little essay- some are quite straightforward autobiography, whereas some contain invaluable advice, like how not to open a restaurant, and how not to eat at restaurants (never have seafood on Mondays! Who knew?!) Bourdain even managed to make me completely stressed out by describing a day in his life as head chef of Les Halles- does he get to rest? Not even a little.

My very most favourite part of the book though comes towards the end. Having been very essentialist throughout the book, Bourdain then tells the tale of a different chef, equally if not more successful than him, who, for example, doesn't have a loud, hectic kitchen, doesn't sort-of abuse his staff to get results, and who took a failing restaurant and turned it around (something Bourdain basically says is impossible). What I really like about this is that Bourdain is smart enough and big enough to say- I know what I've said so far, and I've made it sound like it's the only way, but actually it's only one way and I appreciate that. I think it takes a ton of insight and intelligence to realise that your way of life is not the only one.

Also there's a chapter about Japan and Japanese food, so SOLD.

To summarise- Kitchen Confidential is excellent. It's 18 years old, so you've probably read it already, so if you'd like a backstage look at restaurants, want to read about mouthwatering food, or just want to read a really really good memoir, then you should definitely read this.


  1. It really is such a fantastic book. And if you haven't watched Parts Unknown, I highly recommend it. I adore Bourdain, even though he'd hate me because I wouldn't eat 90% of what he does.

  2. I’ve dipped into this occasionally to read, but mostly have read excerpts that other people (like you!) have posted. I did read Medium Raw, which was more conversational than well written, but his personality certainly shone through. I’d say he comes across as more than a “sort of” dickhead, but I still appreciate his humor and his low BS tolerance, even when it comes to himself. I go to hear him do a show one night and he was fascinating.

  3. I hope you see WASTED one day - my roommate's sister directed it and Bourdain is awesome in that one. (There's also Mario Batali and some other badass chefs, but Bourdain is especially judge-y and witty in this one hahaha)

  4. Yes I love everything you have to say about the book.

    Bourdain seems like a super dickhead and fairly pretentious (espec on his show) BUT like you said, self-awareness so that helps. Also he makes a comment at one point about his past drug abuse and hitting rock bottom and knowing where that bottom is makes you realize what you can bounce back from.

    This is great and yes I super love this book and do not know how many times I read it.