Book Reviews

An extraordinary personal account of a life spent in restaurants from the renegade chef Anthony Bourdain.

Reviewed by: Alison Lyons, Director of UNESCO, Dublin City of Literature

Kitchen Confidential is a really interesting glance behind the curtains at the truth of life as a professional chef, where the author takes a scathingly honest look at his life, revealing secrets of the shadier sides of running a restaurant. The reader finds out about reusing Friday’s fish on a Monday, and old end cuts of beef disguised as well-done steak and such tricks of the food trade. We also read on a more personal level of his drug and alcohol dependency and what he described in 2017 as “a culture that allowed the kind of grotesque behaviours we're hearing about all too frequently” , in reference to the Me Too Movement. Bourdain had called the book an homage to George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London and described his own work as being the result of “25 years of sex, drugs, bad behaviour and haute cuisine.”

There’s lot of scandal, but Bourdain’s love of food and humour really shine through. He’s self-deprecating and doesn’t shy away from the toxic masculinity that existed in the kitchens at the time. The reader is still charmed, in spite of the sometimes appalling behaviour! His descriptions of food throughout show his obsession with flavour, from oysters in France at nine, “this glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive” to “ life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living”.

A must read for any would-be chef, showing just how challenging the business is, when even a talented and driven chef like Bourdain ran more restaurants to ruin than to success.

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