Kitchen Confidential

February 8, 2012 | Good Reads

It was shortly after I became a fan of Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations that he came to South Lake Tahoe for the first annual food and wine festival.  He appeared on stage in the Harrah’s Tahoe showroom talking about the culinary world, his travels and his show.  He also said how important it is to travel “outside the box,” so to speak, to experience new places to the fullest (eating outside of your hotel restaurant, avoiding cruises and following the tour guide around for the day at all the different ports).  It was at this show that I learned he is an accomplished writer and has published several books.  I was delighted to learn this as I thoroughly enjoy all of his narrations on his show No Reservations.  I bought his book Kitchen Confidential on the spot.  Luckily, we had some “connections” which got us backstage to meet Mr. Bourdain, get my book autographed, and snap a quick photograph.

Now, I will be honest with you and admit I am not an avid reader, so this book did go unread for quite some time.  It was after my first quarter in culinary school over the holiday break when I decided to pick it up… and I couldn’t put it down.

I immediately loved the book because it reads just how he talks (if you are a fan, you know what I mean).  The book takes you from his first real experience with food as a kid to his “adventures in the culinary underbelly” with stories of the inner-workings of professional kitchens and some of the unbelievable events that took place (and probably still take place).

One of my favorite parts in the book is in the very beginning when he is just a young lad.  He describes the pivotal point in what launched his curiosity and lust for the culinary world and all it had to offer:

“We’d already polished off the Brie and baguettes and downed the Evian, but I was still hungry, and characteristically said so.

Monsieur Saint-Jour, on hearing this–as if challending his American passengers–inquired in his thick Girondais accent if any of us would care to try an oyster.

My parents hesitated.  I doubt they’d realized they might actually have to eat one of the raw, slimy things we were currently floating over.  My little brother recoiled in horror.

But I, in the proudest moment of my young life, stood up smartly, grinning with defiance, and volunteered to be the first.

And in the unforgettably sweet moment in my personal history, that one moment still more alive for me than so many of the other “firsts” that followed–first pussy, first joint, first day in high school, first published book or any other thing–I attained glory.  Monsieur Saint-Jour beckoned me over to the gunwale, where he leaned over, reached down until his head nearly disappeared underwater and emerged holding a single silt-encrusted oyster, huge and irregularly shaped, in his rough, clawlike fist.  With a snubby, rust-covered oyster knife, he popped the thing open and handed it to me, everyone watching now, my little brother shrinking away from this glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive.

I took it in my hand, tilted the shell back into my mouth as instructed by the now beaming Monsieur Saint-Jour and with one bite and a slurp, wolfed it down.  It tasted of seawater… of brine and flesh… and somehow… of the future.

Everything was different now. Everything.

I’d not only survived–I’d enjoyed.

This, I knew, was the magic of which I had until now been only dimly and spitefully aware.  I was hooked.  My parents’ shudders, my little brother’s expression of unrestrained revulsion and amazement only reinforced the sense that I had, somehow, become a man.  I had had an adventure, tasted forbidden fruit and everything that followed in my life–the food, the long and often stupid and self-destructive chase for the next thing, whether it was drugs or sex or some other new sensation–would all stem from this moment.”

If you have been working in the restaurant industry your whole life, or never set foot in a professional kitchen before, if you liked this excerpt, you will love this book.

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