Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential

[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.

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  • It’s official: everyone but me has read this! I really need to do so. As I fantasise about opening my own restaurant someday, I need something to bring me back down to planet earth. (I did once work in a restaurant as a teenager, so I know what hard work it is — but I was only there a few days a week.) Bourdain sounds like a funny and gifted writer.

  • carolyn

    hi clotilde. i got here from jennifer (moving hands). if you liked that bourdain, you’ve got to read his other one, it’s called ‘a cook’s tour’ or ‘a cook’s journey’ or something like that. he travels all over the world, eating all kinds of stuff. i was sooooo hungry by the time i was done, i recommend having dumplings close at hand while reading!!!

  • Another book that is quite good and gives you insights into restaurant management is “The Fourth Star” by Leslie Brenner. It is a look at Daniel Boulud’s restaurant “Daniel” and its journey over a year to get the fourth star from the NYTimes restaurant reviews. One thing I like about it is that it shows the *whole* picture of the operating a restaurant — from the kitchen to the sommilier to the hostess to the office management side. Some of the dialogue gets a little old, but it is a very interesting read!!

  • david

    bourdain introduced me to a great book about food, ‘the belly of paris’ by Zola. difficult to find in english, unless you look at libraries.

    beautiful pictures, clotilde.


  • Bourdain also writes gritty crime novels, often set around the catering industry. I quite liked “Bone In The Throat”… There seems to have been an explosion in food novels recently – have you read any others?

  • Vanessa Parody

    My boyfriend has just finished Bourdain’s “A Cook’s Tour”, which he really enjoyed.

    KC introduced us to one of our favourite phrases – when he’s talking about the mystery of the really rather squalid bread maker and his mysterious bread making skills. For example, when he phones in sick one day and squawks to Anthony “feed the bitch…” – it’s amazing how many situations to which one can apply that phrase, from wanting another slice of cake when you know you really shouldn’t, to giving in on an “I’m not buying another single thing ever” reaction to an overspend/bank statement. Great book!

  • Jackie – You do need to read this, I’m sure you’d love it! I was a bit weary of the tone at first, but it really grew on me. And after reading this, if you still want to open that fabulous restaurant of yours, you’ll know you have real motivation! :)

    Carolyn – Oh great, I wondered about his Cook’s Tour book, it’s good to know you liked it.

    Kate – Thanks for the recommendation, I’d never heard of that one! I want to read Boulud’s “letter to a young chef”, I hear it’s interesting too.

    David – Ah yes, “Le Ventre de Paris”! It is indeed supposed to be great, thanks for reminding me about it! I’ve read a few of Zola’s books (en Français of course – a required read in French schools!) and they are truly enjoyable. I love the one about the department store (“Au Bonheur des Dames”).

    And I’m glad you like the pics!

    Angela – He does mention these novels in KC, I’m glad to know that one was good! I don’t usually read crime novels, but if it involves food, I can probably be drawn into it! :)

    Vanessa – The passage about Adam Real-Last-Name-Unknown is indeed brilliant, and I had to laugh at your creative uses of the Feed The Bitch phrase. I’ll keep them in mind!

  • I have to say, Bourdain’s appearances on TV here in the States always rubbed me the wrong way. He always struck me as a pompous know-it-all. But then a friend pressed Kitchen Confidential into my hands and said “You. Must. Read. This!”… She was right!

  • Meg

    I would think there is a necessary connection between arrogance and being a “notable chef”…you’d need it to stay alive in this world of new cuisines popping up by the minute.

  • Arrogant? Odd, I find Bourain completely lacking in pretense. He knows what he knows, and obviously loves food.

    He also states several times just how lacking in talent he is to be an excellent chef. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy reading him so much.

  • This was a laugh-out-loud funny book.

    It certainly changed my opinion of Bourdain. I find his enunciation rather grating on A Cook’s Tour, but reading him rather than hearing him is definitely a better alternative.

  • Hi Clotilde,

    I love your site! My husband Derrick introduced me to it, and I am now happily a daily reader. :-) Thank you for all your hard work.

    And I love the Anthony Bourdain books. I work with a local bookstore’s events staff, so I am there when authors come to the store to read and sign books. Chef Bourdain is extremely charming and sweet in person, his “arrogance” is completely self-effacing.

    The Cook’s Tour book is great. Also enjoyed watching the programs from his travels. I haven’t seen all of them, but there is no way anyone who watched his show of admiration and respect for Chef Thomas Keller in the French Laundry episode and the great sigh of the “road not taken” could ever think Chef Bourdain was pompous.

  • Eric

    All of “Kitchen Confidential” I’ve read was the “Day in the Life” segment, in my English class, no less. Very well-written, and a nice warning about the eternal war that is a professional kitchen. Not sure if you can get his “A Cook’s Tour” show in France, but it’s also quite good, I believe it was filmed during his trips to write his book by the same title. He goes out of his way to find regional specialties and small restaurants, as opposed to major establishments or famous reastaurants.

  • I have never seen Bourdain on TV. We get a few British cooking shows (Jamie and Nigella mostly), but none from the US unfortunately.

    I agree that his tone can be a little annoying at first, but after reading him for a while, you start to see that his frankness leaves no room for arrogance. He knows what his strengths and weaknesses are, and is not afraid to point out either.

    Melissa – How nice to have you here, I heard so much about you! :) And organizing book signings must be very interesting and rewarding. Is that what you do for a living?

  • Carrie

    salut clotilde,

    i’m a food-obsessed american living in france, and i just discovered your site through a friend. i have many, many questions for you! since you were on the topic of books yesterday, i’ll start with a related one: have you had a look at guy martin’s toute la cuisine? i’m tempted to buy it — it looks like it could be a veritable recipe bible along the lines of the joy of cooking. but i’m curious to know if you’ve tried out any of the recipes…

    another thing that i’ve been trying to research for ages: while i love french desserts (especially those involving apples), i do need to get an american pie fix every once in a while. yet when i try to make a crust using french flour (and the appropriate conversions), it never comes out. do you have any suggestions? i know i could use a recipe for pate sablee or brisee, but it just isn’t the same.

    thanks for your thoughts,

  • Carrie – I have never tried anything from Guy Martin’s book, but I hear it is indeed a great reference! And I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a solution for your pie problem. I know what you mean about the difference in the crust, but I’ve never made a pie the American way, so I’m not sure what to advise! I’ll keep my eyes open and let you know if I happen to find anything on the subject!

  • Matt Brown

    KC is one of my favorite books of all time – it certainly pursuaded me to stay in accounting and enjoy my homecooking for what it is. Has anyone read The Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman? That’s another wonderful study of professional cooking. There’s a chapter on the night the author was treated to dinner at the French Laundry with what seemed like a hundred unbelievable courses that will make you wince in envy! Ruhlman also co-wrote the French Laundry Cookbook and The Making Of A Chef – the latter about learning at the CIA. Good stuff!

  • Matt – Thanks a lot for the recommendations, I am always on the lookout for more food and restaurant related books!

  • Adam real last name unknown

    Mr. Bourdains depiction of me may have had some truth to it ten years ago,but that person is dead now.So a little message to those people,and fellow chefs who choose to have a I’am better than you attitude lighten up guys my past has very little to do with my skill level and I find that you straight laced nerds cant cook anyways

  • Adam – Well, hello! Could you be *the real* Adam-Real-Last-Name-Unknown? It would be nice to have you around, I hear you bake a mean loaf of bread! :)

  • I love Anthony Bourdain’s books (well, the two I have read anyway). His Les Halles Cookbook is on my wishlist and won’t last there long. I doubt I can wait much longer before caving in and ordering it.

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