Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Kitchen Confidential" -- Tasty but Not Quite Fresh

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary UnderbellyKitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When "Kitchen Confidential" came out in 2000, bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain scandalized the restaurant-going public with his revelations about what it's really like to cook for a living. These days, with Bourdain a familiar presence on television and his most shocking claims now common knowledge, it's a little harder to see what all the hype was about.

Bourdain can certainly write with verve. His voice is very engaging: snarky and vivid, sometimes hyperbolic, sometimes self-deprecating. But the book is weirdly organized. Partly, it's a memoir (loosely but not strictly chronological) of Bourdain's personal experiences as a chef. And partly, it's a series of short essays about different aspects of the restaurant life: lists of kitchen slang, advice for aspiring chefs, etc. I tended to find the "essay" chapters more interesting than the "memoir" chapters -- I didn't always care about Bourdain's crazy escapades, but I do care about why restaurant sauces always taste better than the sauces I make at home (hint: they use a lot of butter).

One of Bourdain's most quoted pieces of advice is not to order the fish special on a Monday, because that fish is probably several days old and past its prime. And that seems to me an apt metaphor for "Kitchen Confidential," fourteen years since its original publication. Dished up by a talented chef, parts of it are pretty tasty. But it isn't quite fresh.

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