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Kitchen Confidential

July 4, 2006

I’ve talked about this book before, but it was only in passing. I was younger, less cynical, and far less appreciative of what the author had to say the first time I read it.

The author, in this case, is Anthony Bourdain. You may recall me rambling about his show on the Travel channel, ‘No Reservations’. I still like the show an awful lot, but in this post-cable space we’re now living in I’ve been happily returning to the printed word off the LCD screen. Apparently, these ‘book’ things are still popular. The fact that I began reading the book on vacation made it that much sweeter to read Bourdain’s tale of blood, sex, drugs, and foie gras.

Kitchen Confidential details the whole of Bourdain’s cooking career, from his misspent youth to his time as executive chef at Les Halles. The evocative voice that he uses in voiceovers for television shows is immediately apparent. Vivid descriptions of bygone days on a family vacation in France makes for a great introduction to the author’s sometimes lurid life.

In my original discussion of the title, I mentioned his ‘Day in the Life’ chapter as one of my favorites. That’s still an entertaining look into the process, but this time around I more greatly enjoyed the pieces at the end of the book. Bite-sized looks at specific topics, they’re more indicative of the writing and television work that would be spurred by this book. His authorial voice is more developed than in some other parts of the book, and I can definitely tell why a producer may have read those chapters and thought to put this guy on a plane.

The ‘Mission to Tokyo’ chapter, in fact, acts as a great counterpoint to the Japanese episode of ‘No Reservations’. His discussion of walking the streets of Tokyo, a jetlagged zombie, contrasts well with the ‘not in Tokyo’ approach he takes in the episode. Shades of Reservations and his other show, ‘A Cook’s Tour’ are readily apparent in the final chapters of Kitchen Confidential.

Still one of the best books written on what it’s like to work in the food industry, this tome is a must-read. Bourdain’s conversational, almost conspiritorial, tone makes what is likely an unfamiliar topic readily approachable. If you’ve read ‘Fast Food Nation’ and have a poor opinion of food preperation in America, this book will get you back on the side of folks who have our best interests at heart: the cooks.

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