BOOK REVIEW: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

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Eight months after his tragic death, Anthony Bourdain’s inimitable voice still shines brightly through in the book that launched him into culinary superstardom. Despite being published almost two decades ago, Boudain’s memoir Kitchen Confidential: Adventures In The Culinary Underbelly feels as true to his personality as ever. Filled with dark humour, vulgarity and a complete lack of regret, it’s a book about the food industry, but also about a man who was seemingly unaware of how much he had to offer the world and the adventures his life would soon take him on.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, a young Anthony Bourdain began his career in New York City. Working his way up from intern to line cook to head chef of various restaurants, Bourdain formed relationships with some of the most influential people in the food industry. Throughout his cooking career he experienced and witnessed the unsavoury side of the culinary world, and in Kitchen Confidential he unapologetically lays bare the bizarre realities of working in a kitchen.

Kitchen Confidential is filled with wacky characters. From the sociopathic bread-maker to the handsy line cook, Bourdain dealt with some truly unbelievable people and situations. His anecdotes about messing up job interviews and cooking for celebrities will have you laughing out loud, and his beautifully lyrical writing will have you in awe of his knack for storytelling. His keen work ethic and can-do attitude are beyond what most people could ever muster. Long work days and infrequent breaks wore Chef Bourdain down like they would anyone else, but his passion for food never faltered.

Kitchen Confidential unveils the real story behind bread baskets on tables, free drinks from bartenders, and the screaming chefs who operate behind the scenes in the restaurants we all frequent. Unafraid of the response he would get from critics and fellow culinary professionals, Bourdain wrote his book with a kind of blunt honesty that’s both appeal and completely repulsive. It’s a little stomach-churning to know what’s really going on in the kitchen of your favourite restaurant. But with Bourdain’s trademark wit stories of rats feasting on leftovers in the kitchen become less disgusting and more hilarious.

Although life changed for Bourdain quite significantly after the publication of his book, reading Kitchen Confidential is a pleasant reminder that he remained the same throughout the rest of his ever-changing career. He never - at least not publicly - lost the kind of curiosity and humour that feature so prominently in his book, and these infectious traits are what made him so popular to people all around the world.

In one of the book’s final chapters Bourdain takes a trip to Tokyo. He describes exploring the city and eating anything (and I mean anything) he could find, and forcing himself to try things he never imagined. In these pages we see the Bourdain we would all come to know and love on television - the man who would try anything once and displayed such appreciation for the cultures and people he visited. Even then, well before the media training and fame, Bourdain knew how to get people to open up. It’s a gift he never lost.

Reviewer note: As a journalist and writer, I have long been an admirer of Anthony Bourdain’s work. I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading Kitchen Confidential, but I’m so glad I finally did. Although we’ll never know what went in in Bourdain’s mind at the end of his life, it is a beautiful thing to be able to remember him through his own words in writing. I feel incredibly sad knowing that the vibrant, excited and full-of-life man I came to know on T.V. and in the pages of Kitchen Confidential was going through so much personal trouble and battling an illness. I hope my review will inspire at least a few people to pick up this book and find out more about Anthony Bourdain.