[Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly]
Anthony Bourdain attended the Culinary Institute of America 25 years ago, has been in the restaurant business ever since, and is currently the executive chef of the restaurant “Les Halles” in New York. His book “Kitchen Confidential” is both an autobiography and an essay on the world of restaurants, and is written in an unusual tone of honesty and bluntness. A highly entertaining, instructive and fascinating read.
Anthony takes you behind the scenes, and has no intention of sugar-coating the facts. He describes in the vividest way the wild atmosphere reigning in professional kitchens and the improbable profiles of the guys he has worked with over the years. He shares his first-hand experience and insight about which business ventures succeed and which ones don’t, about the way these places work and operate, about the food safety customs (or lack thereof), about what makes or breaks a great meal, and what it actually entails to cook professionally.
You read this, awestruck and feeling quite certain that there is not an ounce of balderdash in there, in part because the author does not try to hide the dark times he went through (drug-abuse and just general down-in-the-dumpness) or his own shortcomings : he is most straightforward about what he is good at, and what he isn’t, what he knows and what he doesn’t, and never misses an opportunity for self-derisiveness. He even ends the book with a chapter full of stories and examples that deconstruct the different principles he has spent the whole book defining.
You can really tell that he has a profound passion for his job and would never think to work in another industry, but his goal is to demistify it, reveal what it is really like, and warn aspiring chefs about what they’re really in for, when they choose a career in professional cooking.
My favorite chapter (right behind the section on kitchen toys and three-star plating tips), is called “A day in the life”. It describes his typical day of work at Les Halles, and the feverish whirlwind it depicts has earned him my eternal admiration. I sure stand warned.