As I have mentioned in a couple of other posts, my day job is in the Food & Beverage industry. I started as a busser at a country club in 2008, and have stayed in the Private Club world for the last 13 years. In that time I have filled almost every role that exists in a restaurant: busser, expo, food runner, dishwasher, prep-cook, line cook, server, bar back, and one particularly bad night I filled in as a bartender. In that time I came across a subreddit dedicated to kitchen/restaurant staff called “r/kitchenconfidential.” After a bit of reading there I realized it was named after Anthony Bourdain’s book. I knew of Bourdain’s travel shows, but hadn’t read any of his books. The way this book was referenced, and the way that the people there seemed to bond over it, I was very excited to listen to this book.
Kitchen Confidential is part Anthony Bourdain’s story of coming through the New York restaurant scene, part view behind the curtain of what day to day operations in most restaurants are like, and part advice book on how to cook like the pros. There are some really funny stories, some really touching stories, and some absolutely crazy stories. There’s advice on what knives to buy and how to plate up food at home impress your friends or dates. There’s a really interesting travel section towards the end that is some serious foreshadowing to Bourdain’s later career as a traveling documentarian. One of the chapter’s “A Day in The Life” felt particularly real to me. Bourdain describes what it takes to run a dinner shift from the moment he wakes up, till the moment he gets home again. Now, my Country Club doesn’t do anything like the volume one of his restaurants did, but all the problems he mentions are things I worry about over the course of a week as opposed to one day.
Luckily, before writing this I actually had a chance to discuss it with someone else who had read it, my brother. Now, perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, my brother’s professional career has been very similar to my own. So similar in fact that he is currently my Executive Chef at the Club where we both work. After I finished this book I talked about it with him and we had very similar takes on it. I described it to him as “the best book I’ve ever hated” and he laughed and largely agreed with me. Let me explain what I mean by that, Anthony Bourdain was a fantastic author, its no wonder he got so famous. The stories is this book are excellent, with great comedic timing where it was required and great verbiage to get the more emotional points across. Those parts of the book are amazing, and are a large part of why I went through the book so fast. The parts I didn’t like, were when Bourdain tried to romanticize the aspects of Food & Beverage life that suck. Working every holiday and weekend, “getting busy as the rest of the world is getting off work,” and the asymmetric nature of every day in a restaurant. Bourdain makes it seem like there’s some sort of honor earned in putting up with these aspects and that it makes the process of making food somehow more personal. Maybe I’m just burnt out after so many years of doing this, or maybe its that I’m certainly not as passionate about food as Anthony Bourdain was, but in my experience what all those downsides add up to are holidays you don’t get to spend with family, weekends spent working while your friends go out, and days off in the middle of the week with nothing to do because your friends are at work. And the pay off is very rarely something beautiful, its usually just barely surviving a busy night, or maybe some wannabe food critic telling you how good everything was “, but….”. Again, maybe I’m just jaded, but for how often this book is recommended to people who want to be cooks or chefs, I think that its a little misleading.
All told I found this book very entertaining. The stories were remarkable, and some of them were very relatable. Bourdain’s writing style and descriptions are amazing, with more than one anecdote making me literally laugh out loud. If you have friends or family that work in the hospitality industry, this book is a pretty decent glimpse into that world. I just wish that either I connected with the message a little more, or at least it didn’t bother me so much. Like I said, easily the best book I’ve ever hated.