11 February 2010

Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential"

One of the books that rode high on the tide of the new American foodie movement of the late 90s - the same trend that transformed the Food Network from a serious hobbyists' channel to a trendy chef-of-the-month showcase - Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential is a great read on its own merits, for the culinary insights, and for appreciating the influence it has had on our culture.

The autobiography is mostly linear as Bourdain describes his long involvement with food and the New York kitchen scene.  He is equal parts reverence and edginess, with loving descriptions of a favored colleague followed by coarse descriptions of drug-fueled outrages.  He never stints with either approach, and effectively communicates the passion that goes into a rediscovered calling.  About halfway through his journey, Bourdain begins to break away from the main narrative into tangential chapters about his associates or particular approaches to food.  One memorable chapter is a delightfully detail-filled description of a single day as an executive chef, where his easy spinning of the thousand worries shows more of his long familiarity and less a concern with impressing the reader.

I find one common flaw with expert-written descriptions of a "scene" is that they tend to be blinded by experience - the way they do it works, and that's the best way in their eyes.  Even experts who admit of alternatives usually spend time justifying their own superiority.  This is understandable.  But Bourdain avoids this pitfall by devoting an entire chapter to worship of a chef that he happily proclaims his superior, and detailing exactly how different is his rival's technique.

The latter portion of the book includes a travelogue about a trip to Japan, and it reads just like one of his episodes of No Reservations, the television show on the Travel Channel.  It even includes the element that makes the early episodes of his show so much better than the later ones: the sense of apprehension and appreciation of the exotic.  It must be hard for Bourdain to be nervous or enraptured after his extensive travels and astonishing experience, so he can be forgiven the loss of his sense of fear and wonder.  But this section of the book reflects not just on his first trip to Japan, but his first real experience with anything Asian.  It's wonderful.

I recommend this book; check it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment