This book is a total whirlwind to read. I first picked it up one winter break in college, and it immediately grabbed me until I was done just a day later – it was just impossible to put down. I’ve since come back to it a couple times (especially interesting as the restaurant industry has overhauled itself in the past decade or so) and recommended/gifted it to countless people, and I have to say, it’s still as good as it was that first time through.
So, one of the most interesting things I learned early on in the book is that Tony Bourdain wasn’t a great chef – by all means, he was more than competent, and you had to be, to run your own restaurant for so many years. But even by his own reckoning, he wasn’t on the same level as the revered, top-of-the-industry Great Chefs we hear about today – David Chang, Thomas Keller, Gabrielle Hamilton, and so on. That was news to me. Because he was so famous, I’d always thought it was originally because he was a stellar chef first and writer second, but it was strictly this book that catapulted him to fame.
Secondly – how WILD is the restaurant world?! His narrative sure doesn’t spare on the drugs, swearing, sex, relationship issues, and all the baser things in life. Some might find it too much – and I skirted that threshold a few times – but on the whole I found it all mesmerizing to read. In my mind it’s like, you know how the movieWolf of Wall Street basically showed off every possible stereotype people have ever had about finance? Well, Kitchen Confidential is exactly like that except for the grungy, dirty, foul-mouthed restaurant world of his day. He doesn’t hold anything back – and it’s this very honesty and punk rock brand of rebelliousness that made the book so raw and enthralling in the first place. The public had never seen such a book and maybe never imagined the food industry’s underbelly to be so raucous, and then along came Bourdain airing out all its dirty laundry. (Though he repeatedly stated that he wrote the book for other industry insiders and never expected it to become the dizzying success that it was)
For better or worse, the restaurant industry has changed immensely since the Bourdain era. Fewer and fewer chefs scream all day at their cooks, kitchens prize sterility and cleanliness over all else, servers and staff are increasingly college-educated and genteel rather than the unkempt, unwashed societal outcasts of before, a plate of Eggs Benedict can now run you $25+ at brunch in Manhattan. But no matter how much it evolves, this book will forever be a throwback to a certain era in the industry’s development – and I’m glad Bourdain was the one to immortalize it all.