Friday, April 1, 2016

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Book: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Author: Anthony Bourdain
First Published: 2000 by Bloomsbury Publishing
No. of Pages: 312
Genres: Memoir, Autobiography, Non-Fiction

“Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me . . .”
                   - Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

A veritable chronicle of his professional life, Kitchen Confidential reveals the dark side of the culinary world with much chutzpah. The book is a fast paced ride filled with some funny and some not so funny episodes. There are parts that might be just a bit shocking to your sensibilities, parts that are simply extraordinary, parts that will tickle your taste receptors, and parts that might (in all honesty) fill you with disgust. However, beneath all these parts lurks an honest soul, and Kitchen Confidential is Tony’s memoir of both tremendous failures and successes in the cut throat culinary underbelly. It wouldn't be wrong if I said that this rambunctious exposé is a must read for all those who possess and profess passion for cooking. 

Review of Kitchen Confidential Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

There are many things I liked about KC. And, I definitely liked the fact that Bourdain has been as critical of himself (perhaps harder) as he has been of the other characters. This says a lot about the kind of person he is. At first, he comes across as this badass swashbuckling dopey CIA graduate with a litany of failed restaurants forming the bulk of his resume, but then he grows and transforms, and when he does that, when he soaks in that learning from each failed attempt at the grandiose (all the while smoking pot), it is a treat to watch! And this my dear reader is what makes Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly a genuine and delightful affair.

It could have easily gone the other way, but thankfully it didn't and Bourdain’s “kitchenese” coupled with his brusque New York attitude are quite endearing actually.


Because that’s his domain and he loves it, lives it, and thrives on it!

I loved everything about the book, especially the unexpected way Bourdain began the journey of his gastronomic adventure, coincidentally traipsing around what better place but France! It was the way he wrote about his first encounter with food as something to think about and savor rather than a substance one (to put it in his words), “stuffed in one’s face when hungry” on that transatlantic voyage to his ancestral homeland that got me hooked. 

He writes, “This was something of a discovery for a curious fourth-grader whose entire experience of soup to this point had consisted of Campbell's cream of tomato and chicken noodle. I'd eaten in restaurants before, sure, but this was the first food I really noticed. It was the first food I enjoyed and, more important, remembered enjoying. I asked our patient British waiter what this delightfully cool, tasty liquid was.

'Vichyssoise,' came the reply.”

Another important moment in the life of the nine-year old came when he tasted his first oyster which he refers as "this glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive." 

Interspersed with story of his life, Bourdain munificently doles out very helpful suggestions and tips on how one can garnish food in the haute-cuisine way, what kind of food to order on what days in a restaurant, and also the essential quality items along with the best brands (He gives you the brand names too!) one must have in a kitchen that will always give your food an edge over the others. These I personally found to be very average. But then, this could also be because we watch too many cooking shows and are quite exposed to the tricks of gourmet food plating and presentation.

Some of the quotes I quite liked were:

  • “My love for chaos, conspiracy and the dark side of human nature colors the behavior of my charges, most of whom are already living near the fringes of acceptable conduct.”
  • “No one understands and appreciates the American Dream of hard work leading to material rewards better than a non-American.”
  • “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don't have.”
  • "So you want to be a chef? You really, really, really want to be a chef? If you've been working in another line of business, have been accustomed to working eight-to-nine-hour days, weekends and evenings off, holidays with the family, regular sex with your significant other; if you are used to being treated with some modicum of dignity, spoken to and interacted with as a human being, seen as an equal — a sensitive, multidimensional entity with hopes, dreams, aspirations and opinions, the sort of qualities you'd expect of most working persons — then maybe you should reconsider what you'll be facing when you graduate from whatever six-month course put this nonsense in your head to start with.”
  • “Assume the worst. About everybody. But don't let this poisoned outlook affect your job performance. Let it all roll off your back. Ignore it. Be amused by what you see and suspect. Just because someone you work with is a miserable, treacherous, self-serving, capricious and corrupt asshole shouldn't prevent you from enjoying their company, working with them or finding them entertaining.

Kitchen Confidential is a well written tale of the chef’s life; it will show you the world of cooking like you had never imagined. And most importantly, it will instill in you a new respect and admiration for these people who work all day, on all days, and very especially on holidays to tantalize your taste buds.
Felicitating the bonhomie of all epicureans, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly packs a powerful punch!

I give it 7/10.

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