Friday, December 7, 2012

Book Review: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Title: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publication Date: May 2000
Source: Personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads:

A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine.

My Review:

Remember yesterday, when I mentioned that I signed up for the Foodies Read 2013 challenge?  I love food books.  Especially food memoirs.  LOVE LOVE LOVE.  I am a self-proclaimed foodie (if you can be a terrible cook and still call yourself that...hey, I appreciate other people's cooking).  I will try anything and everything you set on my plate.  Plus, some of my favorite memories revolve around food (dinner in the Escoffier Room at the CIA?  Tapas at Cal Pep in Barcelona? Poutine in Montreal? The list goes on).  Before I go into a salivating tangent (too late?), let's suffice to say that I love reading about food.

In honor of that, I am reviewing the first food memoir I ever read (back in 2010)--Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.  If you love food, AND you have a crude sense of humor (check, and check) you will enjoy this book.

In this memoir, Bourdain tells the story of how he entered the world of food service.  He chronicles his time at the Culinary Institute of America, and his early years of finding work as a chef after graduation.  He covers the good, the bad, and the ugly of his experiences.  I know that some people who are not fans of his TV shows (No Reservations, The Layover, etc) think that Bourdain is a self-centered, egotistic arse--but this book paints a very different picture.  He covers his successes, and his (major) faults, along the way to becoming the "celebrity chef" that he is now (even though he will probably personally hunt me down and beat me for referring to him as such).

The section of the book about his time at the CIA is easily my favorite.  I am mildly obsessed with the place--my stepfather went there in the 80's, and I grew up hearing his stories, so hearing tales from other Hyde Park veterans has always been of interest to me.  (Aside: if you're interested, check out Michael Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef--awesome info about the full CIA curriculum!)  CIA training is no joke, and reveals much of how Bourdain honed the skills he retains today.  Plus, he obviously peppers the narrative with his various hijinks during his education there, which makes it all the better.

Be prepared to hear about the food industry in all of its dysfunctional glory.  Sex, drugs, uncleanliness, name it.  But at the same time, Bourdain tells stories of his important "epiphanies" over the years--the things that made him love food and want to know how to work well with it.  This passion is much of what's kept him going in such a crazy, work-you-to-the-bone industry for so many years.

The thing I love best about this book is that you can hear Bourdain's voice loud and clear through the writing.  He is sarcastic, obscene, and irreverent, just as you hear him on TV.  He had me laughing out loud, often because I could hear him speaking the words to me in my head.

This book probably isn't for everyone--if you're not interested in the inner workings of the food industry, there are parts that may bore you.  And if you aren't into crude humor, definitely choose a different memoir!  But otherwise, check this one out--it's funny, informative, raunchy, and very much reflective of the Anthony Bourdain you see on TV.

When you're done, check out his other memoirs--A Cook's Tour and Medium Raw especially.  Medium Raw was published more recently, and you can hear how much more seasoned he's become when you compare the two narratives.

What are your favorite food memoirs?


  1. This comment is completely off-topic from the actual review, but I can't believe how young Anthony B. looks on this cover!

  2. Oh I know it! That was about 12 yrs ago I guess. Looks completely different.

  3. I really enjoyed this book, too, as someone who has a little industry experience (as a server at a chain restaurant, but still, the debauchery is everywhere) and as someone who really likes No Reservations and Anthony Bourdain. I haven't read his follow-ups, but maybe I should one of these days. He's a really entertaining writer and food is always fun to read about!

  4. Oh yes, the debauchery IS everywhere...I worked as a food runner for just over a year, and even at the tender age of 15, I saw things in that kitchen that no one should have to see. lol.

  5. I've been doing the Foodies Reading Challenge for a couple of years -- it's fun!

    I often cross-post with the Weekend Cooking blog hop -- we love book reviews like this there. That linky goes live on Saturdays at Beth Fish Reads:

    Joy's Book Blog

  6. I loved "Kitchen Confidential!" Of course, there is the divine "My Life in France" by Julia Child and I love anything by Michael Pollan, too. "The Sex Life of Food" by Bunny Crumpacker was fun and interesting!

  7. Big ditto on Michael Pollan. I will check out the Julia Child and Bunny Crumpacker books though!


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