Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Such is human nature that people only pay attention when bad things happen. I’ve always known who Anthony Bourdain was but had never watched any of his shows. After he died, I looked up Parts Unknown episodes on Youtube. I can very rarely sit through 30 minute shows online, so when I ended up watching a couple full episodes, I knew there was something special there and decided to read the book that catapulted him to fame.

1) Bourdain started as a dishwasher at the Dreadnaught in Provincetown.

Everyone starts somewhere. My first real paying job was packaging and mailing pharmaceutical drugs.

2) He went to the Culinary Institute of America and got in with connections.

He has a blue-collar image, so I was surprised that he went to a private high school and had a lot of connections to establishments (e.g. CIA, fancy NYC restaurants) that helped him throughout his career.

3) Brunch is usually done by the B-team chefs.

I already knew brunch was bad. This book gave me more supporting evidence. Food deliveries don’t come on the weekends, and the best chefs work Saturday nights. Probably broad generalizations, but I’ll take it.

4) He learned early on that character is more important than skills or resume.

Based on what I’ve seen so far in my short career, this is very true. Most things don’t take geniuses to do, and brand name schools don’t matter much. The #1 factor is whether you care or not.

5) 86 means to get rid of something/someone.

I had to google this. This book makes a lot of references without explanation.

6) Bourdain once failed a job interview because he heard “What do you know about me?” instead of “What do you know about meat?”

He said “Next to nothing.”

7) He moved between restaurants a lot and often brought his people with him.

Not surprising, but it’s refreshing to see someone talk it point-blank.

8) Some kitchen/restaurant terms:

Walk-in/reach-in fridges, mise-en-place, dupes, salamander, xxx-top, buyback

9) Some kitchen/restaurant personnel:

Sous chef, line cook, pastry commis, runner

10) Some knife cuts:

Julienne, brunoise

Reading it now, Kitchen Confidential doesn’t feel that groundbreaking. The “mean” chef is very much a trope now. Maybe it is because of this book that kitchen culture is part of popular culture now. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised by his commentary on management. I’m sure managing kitchen staff is a completely different beast, but most of the concepts apply everywhere. How do you fire people? How do you let people do what they do best? His most interesting point was that he always wanted to know everything going on. He would talk to different people about the same incident to get different points of view. Another thing that stood out about this memoir is that almost every restaurant referenced is gone now. It’s a sober reminder how things don’t last forever.

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