Tatiana's Reviews > Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
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Sep 06, 2010

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bookshelves: 2010, non-fiction
Recommended for: all interested in food and culinary business
Read from October 10 to 18, 2010

If you are like me and love food, watching Top Chef and Food Channel, think that cooking is art, an outlet for creativity, consider chefs featured on such shows (including Anthony Bourdain) as super-sophisticated artists, you are up for a surprise with this book.

Bourdain definitely crushes all preconceived notions we might have about the industry. You remember those foul-mouthed, unkempt, ever-fired-and-hired kitchen workers with shifty pasts you've come across at some points in your life? I thought I simply had a misfortune of working in crappy places, but, apparently, all cooks are exactly like that! There is no such thing as a sophisticated cook, according to Bourdain. In his book, cooks are a dysfunctional lot - drug-addicted, unable to hold a "normal" job, people from the fringes of the society. Actually, Bourdain is one of these people himself. He supports this statement by numerous stories of his drug-, crime- and sex-infused culinary career. As for artistry in cooking, there is none. Cooking is all about mindless, unvarying repetition. Only a few executive chefs in high-end restaurants have a luxury of being creative with the food they make.

Besides the anecdotes about dysfunctional kitchen workers, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is a sort of biographical account of Bourdain's cooking career. He talks about how his love for food came about. He takes us on his life journey - from a dishwasher in a seaside joint to an executive chef position in a swanky NYC restaurant. He describes his experiences in failed and successful businesses. Offers practical advice about the industry and food. The morsels of wisdom I am taking away from this book are: don't order specials and don't attend brunch buffets (apparently, both are dumping grounds for old leftovers); don't eat at places with dirty bathrooms; vegetarians are crazy and sickly people who can't be trusted.

As a narrator, Bourdain is very entertaining. He is a no-nonsense, no-holding-back kind of writer, sarcastic and witty and, I assume, quite honest about his exploits. One does start to wonder however if he is laying the bad boy thing a little too thick. It is interesting that in spite of his years-long heroine, cocaine, and alcohol addictions and his bad behavior at work, he not only managed to line one chef job after another in decent places (no McDonald's and Shoney's on his resume) but maintained a marriage as well.

While I thought the book was entertaining, I finished reading it thinking it needed some editing help. First, it is not very well structured, the narration is not cohesive in any shape or form, it reads like a bunch of anecdotes thrown together in no apparent order. The stories of debauchery become repetitive and redundant by the end where I started skipping chapters because none of it was new. Finally, seeing some pictures of people and places Bourdain talks about would have been great too.

Nevertheless, I would recommend this book to all food lovers and especially people who are toying with the idea of becoming restaurateurs or cooks. The author's advice and warnings about the business are sound. I, personally, am convinced not to ever get involved in this business, in any capacity, and will try to continue enjoying food knowing what actually goes on behind the kitchen doors.
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Reading Progress

10/10/2010 page 55
19.0% "Never knew cooks live such a rock star life style - sex, drugs and booze 24/7" 2 comments
10/17/2010 page 235
77.0% "This is getting a tad redundant. Ready to be done with it..."
02/08/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy Wow! I had no idea... Good thing I can't even boil an egg! Great review, Tatiana!


message 2: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy Wait - Zosia, I have a question.

Though you're incapable of boiling an egg - if someone dumped you in the outback would you totally survive?


message 3: by Hannah (new)

Hannah haha! I felt certain they were crazy SOBs.

Good review, T :)


message 4: by Heather (new)

Heather I was the only sober, non-drug user at the pub when I waited tables/tended bar. Still, I think it would be fun to be a chef, if, I had autonomy.


Tatiana I feel duped. I watch these food shows and people talking about flavors and pallets and their love of food, etc. And then I read this book and it's all about drugs and criminals and sex behind dumpsters and in walk-ins. I am surprised, however, there were no stories about spit and pubic hair in food. Very surprised.


message 6: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy Spitting food is a criminal offense. Drugs and criminals and sex behind the dumpster is just rough-hoursing and playing around.


message 7: by Heather (last edited Oct 20, 2010 06:38AM) (new)

Heather I never once saw anyone do anything bad to the food. It's just that the nature of the business isn't exactly idealic. Aside from food safety, there isn't a lot of policy regarding quality, no drug testing, you don't have to have an education, so just about anyone can get hired on. When you don't have a lot of barriers to enter an industry, you can just imagine the "type" of individual that would draw.


Tatiana So, those stories about servers doing stuff to food if you don't treat them right are just myths too? I hope.


Spider the Doof Warrior No way I want to be a chef. The Gordon Ramsey Yelling at People Show comes to mind.

Also, why would anyone want to have sex behind a dumpster? That sounds uncomfortable and unromantic.


message 10: by Kat Kennedy (new)

Kat Kennedy Waiting with Ryan Renolds and Justin Long was pretty awesome btw.


message 11: by Heather (new)

Heather I never did, and neither did any of my co-workers. If a customer was rude to me, I just took my time refilling their drinks :). Most places have open kitchens, so you can't exactly spit on the sly.


message 12: by Heather (new)

Heather I loved that movie Kat. Justin Long cracks me up. Aside from the food taint, the movie was a pretty accurate depiction too.


Tatiana Synethesia, in that particular story people who had sex behind the dumpster were: a dirty chef and a bride from a wedding party celebrating her wedding at the restaurant where he worked. So as you can see, there was nothing remotely romantic about this affair.


Spider the Doof Warrior Ew on several levels. I hope he washed his hands before he went back to cooking...


message 15: by Marija (new)

Marija Your review reminded me of an interview Bourdain did with his mother that aired on Sunday Morning a few years ago. They were discussing Bourdain's unsavory past, his hopes for the future and about becoming a father.

Also saw a couple episodes of his No Reservations travel food show. Some of it was rather interesting, though some of those entrée choices of his were a little too far out for my taste.


Tatiana I haven't seen his show, I only know him from his guest appearances on Top Chef. He seems to be a very charismatic person. I might try watching No Reservations. Even in his book he says he will try eating just about anything.


message 17: by AH (new)

AH Interesting review. I think that a lot of people have at one time worked in the food service industry. I'm lucky I never had to work with screaming chefs.


message 18: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Good review of the book. As someone who worked and still works in the industry i was more surprised about his beginnings as a rich boy than the "expose."
Although I will comment that while what the others mentioned is true to an extent... Ive known a chef or two, to drop a filet mignon on the floor if it has been sent back twice. So rare... but def seen that happen... and Bourdain is right... seen copious and ridiculous drug use, alcohol, pests, and sex at many restaurants. More so at independents than Chain restaurants.

Some hate Bourdain, Ramsey and their ilk... I love em. You have to EARN their respect... something we are unaccustomed to.


therwiterkelly hit the nail on the head here. get past his ego and he's a great narrator. he hosts his own shows for a reason, and i definitely learned a lot of surprising relevations about the food industry.


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