Bloomsbury, £16.99 stg
'Kitchen Confidential' is a highly entertaining romp through the murky netherworld of restaurant kitchens in New York. But don't think that the same thing doesn't happen here in Ireland, albeit on a smaller scale. Be prepared to be amused, fascinated – and disgusted.
Currently working as the executive chef at the New York restaurant Brasserie Les Halles, Anthony Bourdain had already written two novels before he ventured to write about the non-fiction (although sometimes you'd wonder) world behind the restaurant swing-doors. His breathless, often hyperactive writing style (lots of italics) is a good reflection of the sometimes not-very-well controlled hysteria that exists in a busy kitchen. Having been in the business for twenty-five years, Bourdain is well placed to give an overview of the dirty business that is food preparation.
Falling into a job as a dishwasher one summer, he was sufficiently impressed with what he observed (namely the chef getting to know a newly-wed bride amongst the kitchen rubbish while the wedding reception continued, all unknowing, in the dining room) to study in New York's Culinary Institute of America. Armed with book learning and streetwise savy, Bourdin plunged into a world populated by mobsters, psychos, alcoholics and drug addicts.
That Bourdain managed to come out the other end of what he calls "The Wilderness Years" alive, and (half) sane is testament to his arrogance and awesome stamina. During "The Happy Time" of his career, he and his fellow chefs spent most of their time out of their heads with drugs, alcohol and exhaustion: "we might be tripping out of our heads on blotter acid, sleepless for three days and halfway through a bottle of Stoli, but we were professionals, goddammit!"
Bourdain pairs tales from his career as a chef with an overview of how a restaurant works, careers advice and a crash course in kitchen argot. His kitchen sounds like hell on earth but it is blatantly clear that he revels in the absurd mixture of machismo and madness that surrounds him. Far from being kitchen confidential, this book destroys any illusions the reader may have about the experience of fine dining. Unmissable.