kitchen confidential

My family is full of amazing cooks. When I was young, though, I never wanted to help my parents in the kitchen. My mother will tell you a famous reply of mine was, “no thanks, but let me know when it’s done.” I never started cooking real meals for myself until I was a senior in college, maybe even into my master’s degree. My whole life, though, I barely ever ate fast food or junk food, and when I began living on my own I just ate light and simple fare like sandwiches and salads. Nothing too skill-intensive to put together. But when I was finally bit by the cooking bug, that was it for me. Since then I have loved being in the kitchen, being creative, testing my culinary intuition, learning, keeping my hands busy, and producing beautiful and delicious meals that appeal to all the senses. My husband, of course, reaps the benefits of the successes and is sweet not to tease me (…much!) about my failed experiments.

As much as I have enjoyed my discovered love for food and cooking, there is no way in hell I would work in a restaurant. I have no illusions of culinary grandeur! In an alternate universe, my dream job in the food industry would be more along the lines of one of my blog heroes, smitten kitchen—photos and recipes from her sweet little New York home gathered into a cookbook. Looks (tastes?) like a pretty fabulous life to me.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain is a book that’s been on my own-need-to-read shelf for a few embarrassing years. It might have sat there longer too if I weren’t currently on a memoir kick and didn’t have a renewed focus to get through my unread dust-collectors. It was a quick read for me and I’m so glad I finally read it!

I admit that I started Kitchen Confidential thinking, Here we go, Anthony Bourdain—let’s see how much of a smug asshole you really are. (I am familiar with his Travel Channel show, No Reservations, but not so much with his newer shows.) I was pleasantly proven wrong in my assumptions. Part memoir, part exposé, part editorial, KC was totally engrossing for me. Bourdain brazenly describes his inflated self-confidence and youthful pride, while admirably owning up to mistakes, failures, and shameful moments in his career. He gives credit where it is deserved and shows honest appreciation for hard work, dedication, and tenacity in the kitchen. Bourdain knows he is not a perfect chef—or human being, for that matter. I like how Bourdain did not gussy up his writing with too-unusual terms or flowery language. He rhapsodizes about food, of course, but in a genuine, down-to-earth way. After all the descriptions of how nasty, chaotic, and vulgar restaurant employees and kitchens are (in Bourdain’s experience), I really loved the chapter about Scott Bryan and his kitchen.

Written over a decade ago, I think the non-biographical parts of KC have become a bit dated. The behind-the-scenes chapters were less scandalous than I was expecting. Also… shallots? Really? Shallots are mentioned way too much. We get it—they are the ultimate secret to elevating your cooking (…in 2000). So, occasionally there was redundancy. The chapter on chef’s toys and tools, too—taste in brands change over time. I did enjoy many of these sections of the book—not quite as much as his career retrospective—but they seemed all over the place and could have been organized in a better order. For example, the chapter on the cook’s personal language—some of which is obvious and non-exclusive to the culinary world—could have come earlier in the book for me.

Overall, I loved the book. Another new favorite. I came to realize Bourdain’s sardonic and sharp personality is more refreshingly no-nonsense than condescending snobbery. He calls it like he sees it and doesn’t suffer fools or bullshit silently!

Read from June 23 to 26, 2012.