I first heard about Anthony Bourdain via his No Reservations show on the Travel channel. It was immediately clear that Bourdain not only loves food, he loves words. That’s possibly even more apparent in his autobiographical digressive exegesis about the restaurant trade. I read the second, updated edition published in 2007, not the original version published in 1997.
By the time Bourdain published the first edition, he was the Executive Chef at New York’s Brasserie Les Halles. The book describes his first realization, mid-oyster, of the power of food, and moves through his entire culinary history. Bourdain’s love for good food, from all manner of sources, shines through this book, as does his respect for his colleagues, and his love of the restaurant trade. His love for language shines through as well; take this passage wherein Bourdain confesses that he loves the special invective of the kitchen:
The goads, curses, insults and taunts of my wildly profane crew are like poetry to me, beautiful at times, each tiny variation on a classic theme like some Beat-era jazz-riff: Coltrane doing “My Favorite Things” over and over again, but making it new and different each time. There are, it turns out, a million ways to say “suck my dick.” Most of the people in my kitchen can do it in Spanish, French, Italian, Arabic, Bengali and English. Like all great performances, it’s about timing, tone and delivery—kind of like cooking.
Early on in the book, Bourdain relates an anecdote about a summer job he had in a kitchen in his teens, and a broiler man whose ruined, burned, scarred hands—and his ability to take the heat, quite literally, both impressed and mortified the young Bourdain. Near the end of the book, Bourdain enumerates his own scarred and ruined hands, noting that he has lost count of the the specific causes behind most of his scars and calluses. It is that rueful admission, that yes, he got where he was going, combined with Bourdain’s genuine love for his vocation and his colleagues, and, not least, for good food, that makes his simple statement at the end of the Preface to this updated edition of Kitchen Confidential ring even more authentic:
This is for the cooks.