Unraveling Anthony Bourdain’s Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

It should be noted that my reasons for reading this book were two-fold. First and foremost, I wanted to honor the death of the man who authored this book by reading it. I felt, as I do with most artists who pass before their time, that I should read their words in an effort to understand them and to pay homage to the life they’ve led on this earth.

Second, I myself spent eight years in the restaurant industry and felt that there was much I could potentially glean and relate to in this book. My experience in the restaurant industry was nowhere near as glamorous or as rock-n-roll as Anthony Bourdain’s, but I still have an unending fondness for the food industry. It has taught me many things and has enabled me to wear many hats, but most of all, it has taught me about the love of food.

It is clear throughout his book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” that Anthony Bourdain also has that same love of food. His love of food began in a curious way involving the sea and fresh oysters and traipses through the rest of the book with descriptions that make you want to lick the page. His obvious love of food and the way he describes it had me bookmarking pages and looking up similar recipes to some of the dishes he tried, made, and described. For a self-proclaimed foodie like myself, his descriptions of food and dishes is a food lover’s mental paradise.

But it wasn’t only his passion for food that I enjoyed in his book; it’s also packed with incredibly helpful tips that are useful in your own kitchen. I very nearly threw out my woodblock knife set after the compelling argument Anthony makes for only needing a decent chef’s knife. He claims that the specialized knife set in various sizes is a con, which upon hindsight and in my case, he’s right. My most used knife in my “specialized” set is my chef’s knife. Score one for Anthony.

He also gives away one of most savory secrets for why most restaurant foods taste better than how you try to make it at home: butter. And after substituting butter with my go-to olive oil when making my spinach, tomato, and feta cheese omelet this past weekend, I gotta say: he’s right. I was feeling a bit poorly about my kitchen skills nearing the end of that chapter in which Anthony tells you how you’re doing it all wrong and how to do it right, but was pleasantly rewarded at the closing of it with a delicious seafood recipe. Anthony you’re doing me right.

However make no mistake, this is not a book on how to help you become a kitchen pro or how to open up your own restaurant. This book is predominately about the life of Anthony Bourdain, the characters that influenced him the most, and even more so about the culture that exists behind that swinging kitchen door. And like the state of a kitchen at the end of a rush on a Saturday night, sometimes it is gritty, dirty, and contains some unexpected things.

Indeed if you are easily offended by disparaging, homophobic, and insensitive gender discourse, proceed cautiously with this book. However, as you proceed do appreciate the fact that Anthony is being completely honest in regards to how some kitchens, especially his, operates. And the sometimes questionable discourse he describes in his book is not necessarily meant to be taken at face value. As with most kitchens, there is a culture there and a code by which those who exist and operate within it, abide by. And that is what makes it fascinating.

It’s clear in his book that Anthony lived a rock and roll life and found himself more than a handful of times in questionable situations. However, it was interesting when he describes in his book his decision to get clean and, more or less, out survive his friends. Because, as he states “I didn’t care what it took, how long I’d known them, what we’d been through together or how close we’d been. I was going to live. I was the guy. I made it. They didn’t.” And I guess at the time during his writing of the book, he was making it.

Anthony openly admits that during his life he’s left a lot of destruction in his wake and has closed a lot of restaurants, though, to his credit, he made a genuine effort at keeping them open. But he confesses that despite the chaos, the casualties, the things that were broken, the things that were lost, it was an adventure and something he wouldn’t have missed for the world. His love of food made him eat without fear of the unknown or the price he might have to pay. His motto: “I want it all. I want to try everything once.”

One of the best takeaways from his book has to be this: “Like I said before, your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” And as I finished reading that last chapter, I closed the page hoping and very nearly certain that Anthony Bourdain had enjoyed the ride.

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