Monday, April 07, 2008

Review of Kitchen Confidential

My first exposure to Anthony Bourdain, via his show No Reservations, left me with with the sense that he was a true asshole who sneered down his nose with aging punk-rock disdain at people and things he deemed beneath him, and, honestly, it seemed like most people and things were beneath him. For some reason, even though he crossed my Southern sensibilities and turned me off on that first exposure, I kept watching the show and realized that there is a lot more to him than that first impression suggested. No Reservations is now my favorite show and when I saw a copy of Kitchen Confidential for sale in the book store, I snapped it up and began reading it that night. I unfortunately wasn't able to keep his voice narrating in my head (his delivery is a large part of the draw of his show for me) but the series of stories from his past that he lays out are captivating even when it's heard inside my skull as coming from the disembodied larynx of my standard reading narrator.

Personally, I didn't find the shocking bits all that shocking. I've been backstage at good restaurants. I've heard it all before. Honestly, I'm not really all that hung up on food safety. Instead it was the parts dealing with his own erratic career path that kept me interested. Instead of leaving this book with the impression that Bourdain was an even bigger jerk than my first impression left me with (as someone suggested would happen), I left the last page of the book with an even more positive view of the guy. Sure, Bourdain is still cynical, obscene, and wears that brusque New York attitude like a badge of honor, but what stands out in his book is his glowing admiration for people who earned his respect for their willingness to work or pushing him down the right path as a chef (his almost loving references to Bigfoot and Pino are prime examples), his seeming compulsion to take less-than-desirable underlings under his wing, and his complete willingness to point out when and where he screwed up. In this more recent update, he even points out that he learned he was wrong about Emeril Lagasse (as a chef and person, not as a TV Celebrity) and frequently comments that he isn't a top-tier chef because of his own mistakes. He even goes so far as to point out that the only reason he is able to hang out with and talk to the Michelin-starred chefs he always admired from afar is because of his notoriety as author and TV host.

This isn't some self-aggrandizing piece literary self-pleasuring. This is a very human piece of literature that reveals its author to be a man who may have grown up a couple of decades too late, but isn't too vain to admit that when he did it was in a large part because of those who took a chance on him and supported him when he was at his worse.

I also have to admit that Bourdain disabused me of my half-hearted dream to be a chef. I always knew that restaurant work is hard. It's fast-paced, organization and multi-tasking are a must, and the hours and vacation time really suck. Still, his portrayal of a life that he actually loves nearly without reservation was enough to make me feel what I already knew but didn't take completely seriously. I'd not only be miserable with the constant working, but I'd really suck at this. I'm a good cook, but I'm slow. Painfully slow. I don't multi-task, and I'm not sure I'd be able to deal with some of the selling-out required to run a successful restaurant.

And for that, I guess I have to thank him. Maybe I should take up ceramics.


em said...

I have a hard time liking him because of his lame earring, which is, in turn, lame of me.

I like Alton Brown a lot but had a similar dislike of him when I first was exposed to him. He grew on me.

Jacob said...

Of course I didn't say he was perfect. I think the earring is a little lame, but I've actually heard him rip on earrings too, which I thought a little odd.

I've never disliked Alton. I've had a man-crush on him since first sight. If I were ever to get a tattoo, it'd be a portrait of the god-who-is-AB.

I'm only slightly exaggerating (I hope.)

sid said...

Have no idea who this guy is but you've definitely piqued my interests. Will try to find this book in my local book store.

Mickey said...

I pretty much had the exact same impressions of Bourdain and his book. I've seen his show a few times and he somehow manages to bring a vulnerability and insightfulness through his asshole exterior. Plus, he definitely comes by it all honestly.

I wonder what his fiction is like?

Courtney said...

Glad you liked the book. Funny, but I thought Bordain seemed like more of an asshole in the book than he does on his show. But he is brutally honest, and I appreciate that.

That book also destroyed whatever romantic notions I had of being a chef. Not that I ever want to work in a restaurant again anyway.

Chris said...

Meaghan and I have discussed the idea of starting a restaurant before, as I'm sure lots of people have. But, as you said, the idea of never getting a vacation again and working every waking hour does not appeal to me -- not to mention the high likelihood that my restaurant would fail since I would be grossly under-capitalized.

Julie said...

Those who can't do, watch it on tv.

Who else would like to join my petition to force Jacob to get a tat of Alton Brown on his bicep?