Book Review: Kitchen Confidential By Anthony Bourdain (2000)

I’m kind of obsessed with Anthony Bourdain. On Monday I realized that I had spent more time watching his show (five different episodes of No Reservationsstill my current favorite show–were on, including the new one) and reading his chef memoir Kitchen Confidential than I did with my wife. The worst part about that is that I’m sure it would completely creep the dude out. Heck, it creeps me out a little.

I started off enjoying Bourdain’s TV persona as a world weary traveler who actually really likes traveling and then wanted to learn more about him and also check out his experiences as a chef. I didn’t really know much about Kitchen Confidential other than the fact that it spawned the Fox sitcom I quite enjoyed both when it was on the first time and again recently. Turns out the book’s no nonsense, brutally honest account of Bourdain’s time in kitchens all over New York not only caused a stir among the cooking world but also gained all kinds of attention from the general public. I had no idea about any of this at the time because I was, 17, in high school and didn’t care about cooking at all.

I care about cooking now. A lot, even. I love cooking for my family, wish I had more time and space to really mess around and was even thinking about maybe, possibly doing something in the industry in the future. I’m not so sure anymore after reading KC. Bourdain’s account of working in restaurants, starting out in the 70s through the 90s, is pretty rough. He compares the groups of cooks behind the scenes making your food as a pirate crew and it sounds about as debaucherous. Aside from all the grab ass and drug use in the kitchen, the point that Bourdain makes over and over again is how absolutely dedicated you have to be to really make it in the biz. It’s not that I lack the motivation, dedication or dislike the idea of working my way up, but I feel like I’m too old at this point and will be even older by the time our daughter will be ready to go to school. I guess I’ll just keep having fun in our tiny galley kitchen before moving up to something bigger at our eventual house.

I’m also impressed by Bourdain’s writing skills. I assumed he wrote a lot of his on-screen dialog on TV, but this guy murders every page (that’s a good thing). Words, often profane and crude ones, flow out of him with such ease that it actually depresses me as a hopeful writer. He writes like he talks to the point that I was reading the book in his voice instead of mine. That’s how I write in my head, but somehow things get wonky when I start putting them on paper or typing them out.

Lately I’ve been really getting into people like Bourdain who worked hard, got their hands dirty and wound up doing something pretty amazing that a lot of people enjoy immensely. Bourdain fits the bill, obviously, but so do podcaster and comedian Marc Maron whose podcast is currently a favorite, filmmaker and podcast empire-builder Kevin Smith and baker/TV personality Duff Goldman. These guys all saw something they wanted, went after it and have turned that into wealth and celebrity. They worked hard and are reaping the rewards now. It’s nice to see that in the world still.

Anyway, I think anyone interested in cooking, rock and roll, self-made people and bad asses doing bad ass things will dig this book. I tore through it and I’m a pretty slow reader. I want to read the rest of his books and buy his cook book now to learn some French cooking. But, again, this is starting to feel a little stalkerish. I swear, I don’t have a problem.

Cancelled TV Cavalcade: Kitchen Confidential (2005)

Back in 2005, I had no idea who Anthony Bourdain was, so he wasn’t the draw for me when it came to watching Fox’s Kitchen Confidential. It was all about the cast for me. I had seen Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers, one of my all time favorite movies. Sure he played a heel, but you could tell there was a ton of charisma under that douchey role. In addition to Cooper, the show also featured Nicholas Brendon, better known as Xander from Buffy (another favorite series) and John Frances Daley who I first dug in the amazing Freaks & Geeks and later in Waiting… where he played pretty much the same part (kitchen newbie). The cast also included John Cho who I probably wasn’t familiar with yet, Frank Langella (yeah, Skeletor), the lovely Jamie King and Sam Pancake who played Barry Zuckerkorn’s assistant on Arrested Development (another favorite). That’s a lot of goodness all in one package.

After getting really into Bourdain’s show No Reservations and remembering liking the few episodes I saw, I suggested to the missus that we watch the show. It was only two discs through traditional Netflix, but we still burned through them pretty quickly. The title of the show is based on Bourdain’s 2000 memoir and Cooper’s character share’s the famous chef’s name. The plot of the show revolves around Cooper’s washed up rock star chef getting another shot at running a restaurant thanks to Langella’s good faith. Cooper then puts together a team that includes Brendon, Cho and a few others. The key, though, is that Cooper needs to do everything on the up and up because he sees this as his last chance at this kind of opportunity.¬†Another aspect of the show I really enjoyed aside from the performances and comedy, of which there’s a great deal, was it’s various philosophical points about food and cooking. Cooper’s voiceover often reminded me of those scenes in Ratatouille where Remy describes how two different foods taste together. There’s lots of insight from the point of view of cook which I find really interesting. I’m not sure if these things are taken straight from the book (I’ve got my eye out for a copy) or if they were written for the show, but I liked the insight. As my role in our kitchen has gotten more prominent, I find myself drawn towards the world of cooking and restaurants a lot more than ever before, so a kind of insider look at the biz was a lot of fun for me.

We really enjoyed watching the series’ 13 episodes and I highly recommend checking it out. By combining a few well worn elements like a workplace drama and a guy looking to make up for past indiscretions, Kitchen Confidential wound up being something unique and fun. I’m pretty surprised the show didn’t do well, but considering Fox’s past with shows like Firefly and Arrested Development, it should come as no surprise that something with so much potential got the axe so early.