I am not, nor have I ever been, a foodie. I wish I was. I wish I had a more adventurous palette that loved encountering new things. But alas, such is not my lot in life. However, I’ve always loved cooking shows and food-based travelogues for reasons that honestly elude me. I still remember watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the Travel Channel when I was in high school and losing myself in daydreams of exotic locales and finding my way off of their beaten paths and into locals-only areas. I thought Bourdain had one of the most fascinating jobs on the planet. Because of this, I was intrigued by his early life and decided to read my first ever foodie memoir about how he got started in the business.
“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure.”
Bourdain’s story was incredibly addictive. This was a no-holds-barred look at the industry and the people who populate it, written when such tell-all stories were far from the norm in the food world. I loved Bourdain’s honesty here, both about the kitchens and people who have such a huge place in his life and about his own failings. He didn’t try to show himself in a better light than he felt he deserved, and he had no qualms about confessing his own shortcomings. He also had no problem sharing the shortcomings of others or peeling back the curtains to let the outside world see the seedy underbelly of the food industry. I could have done without some of that knowledge, especially about certain hygienic issues, but the fun was worth the cringing.
“…your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
I love Bourdain’s passion for food and for the people who prepare it. He passionately praises the people he’s worked with, from executive chefs to busboys and everyone in between. If you’re passionate about your job and give it your all, Bourdain loved you. Also, I had no idea that drugs and sex were such a huge part of the food scene in the 70s and 80s, and reading about Bourdain’s escapades with his fellows in the industry was wild.
“Writing anything is a treason of sorts.”
What I wasn’t expecting was Bourdain’s writing chops. The man really knows how to string together words in ways that not only entertain but inform and transport the reader straight into the heat of the kitchen. With this book, Bourdain launched an entire subgenre of memoir. Food memoirs are now hugely popular, and I honestly don’t think those would be as prevalent or as honest had Bourdain not written Kitchen Confidential. (Side note: If you’re an audiobook fan, Bourdain narrates this himself.)
“I’m not going anywhere. I hope. It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost.
But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Have I ever thought about chefs being the rock star, pirate equivalents of the culinary world? Nope. Will I think of them as such from now on? Probably not. But Bourdain sure as hell was a rock star in the food industry, and the world lost him far too soon.