Kitchen Confidential was a very emotional read for me. Anthony Bourdain’s suicide seems less questionable when you read about his debauched, drugged out experiences. You begin to understand the man in an intimate way. Feeling his nihilistic humor turn into an explanation for his suicide rather than a demonstration of his vulgar charm definitely struck me deeply. His descriptions of the food service industry are uniquely jaded, but not overly cynical. Anthony is very self-aware of the fact that he could come off as a crabby old geezer, so his no-nonsense writing comes off as wise and grounded — it’s realistic. Never does it gloss over the drug use, misogyny, racism, and depravity of a kitchen environment. He discusses the cooking line as something beautifully efficient but equally deplorable. It makes you wince at the kitchen and want to revel in its odd beauty at the same time. Anthony will instill a profound appreciation for the bizarre machine that is a restaurant kitchen in those that can’t even make a proper omelette. This is the kind of book you read in one sitting then read two more times to go back and highlight passages, grinning at his intellectual wit. His style is clever and powerful, utilizing every inch of the page tactically. He wastes none of your time — there’s no fluff, no verbosity — he keeps you engaged with metaphors and strong, vivid adjectives.
I found myself particularly compelled when Bourdain detailed his first experience handling the broiler — he messed up and grabbed a hot pan without gloves and dropped a plate of food on the floor in the middle of a lunch rush. When he fixed his lips to ask for a bandaid, his boss' wrath came in the form of a soul-crushing insult to his entire integrity. Tyrone holds his blistered, welted, scarred, and fleshy hands to Anthony, curses him out, then continues to pick up a hot pan with his bare hands and put it in the counter. Anyone who's worked in a kitchen knows that testing the last nerves of a chef, mid lunch-rush, when he hasn't had his 14th cigarette of the day is not recommended. And you learn to respect this crazed felon as you become more intimate with his lifestyle throughout this book.
You feel like you’re seeing the world through his eyes, the way he seamlessly translates his experiences into all encompassing words. And it’s a beautiful picture, it really is. He’s serving you a realism that isn’t negative or frustrated. Instead, it’s wistful and refreshing. The whole book feels like a family owned restaurant. It reads like the taste of mother’s cooking, serving you with an authentic smile and a facetious compliment.
Brigade Book Society Rating: 9/10