Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly – Anthony Bourdain

Back when I was in university, I knew a person for the length of a semester who actually had the ambition to finish his schooling and become Gordon Gekko. This wasn’t something locked deep in his psychology, but something he was 100% upfront about – he wanted to become a person who works on wall street, does cocaine and is treats women like objects. The year after I met him, the stock market crashed and birthed the occupy wall street movement. I wish I had kept in touch with him to get his take on all that had happened.

For as much as one doesn’t have to like the specifics of what he was after, and his distasteful description of it, what this person had done was iterate some pretty good advice I would receive later on – Choose the work that allows you the life-style you want to live. I don’t think he could have ever talked me into being a stock broker, but I wish I had had the foresight to heed the advice. Anthony Bourdain did.

Anthony Bourdain was a celebrity chef who broke out of his career and went on to do many other things, including working on travel documentaries. ‘Kitchen Confidential’ was not exactly the book people told me it was. It often gets brought up with advice on cooking and restaurants, but I found that to be the painful minimum of the book.

I really feel conflicted over this book. Bourdain got a lot of sympathy after he committed suicide, in that standard ‘took himself from us too young’ way we dish out to celebrities, but I didn’t find it all that surprising after having read this. He didn’t strike me as all that happy a person. The impression I got was that this was a very conflicted person. He opens one chapter with a strong recommendation to throw caution to the wind when it comes to food, only to confirm that he would never eat mussels at a restaurant after one bad experience. He is a person who when it comes to career advice, followed the same road that the acquaintance above followed, being convinced to become a chef principally after watching the head chef of a restaurant he worked for fuck a bride still in her wedding dress with a groom in the other room waiting for her, and tries to balance with a genuine passion for food. Conflicted indeed, and it made me wonder about his suicide.

I’ve worked enough in the American restaurant industry to confirm a few odds and ends of the advice and descriptions Bourdain gives. The spirit of what he says feels largely true. And yet, despite having not worked all that much in the restaurant industry, I have seen enough exceptions to what he says to be able to confidently say that it is not always true. And all this left me confused about Bourdain himself, and this book as well. One ends up mostly wondering why he wrote it. It clearly wasn’t for deep love of food or industry. Was it just bravado? One can’t help but think of the man Bourdain wanted to be, juxtoposed to the man he ended up as.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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