by Anthony Bourdain
New York: HarperCollins, 2017 (Harper Perennial First Edition)
312 pages, $ 8.99
“I am often asked what is best in the kitchen for a living,” writes Anthony Bourdain at the beginning of Confidential Kitchen. He gives a number of conventional reasons – “to be part of the subculture”, a “secret society with its own language and customs”, “to do something good with your hands” – before getting to the main reason :
This can be, at times, the purest and most selfless way to give pleasure (although oral sex should be a close second).
It would be TMI for me to provide a direct reaction to the oral sex part, so I won’t. But I can confirm the claim of altruism. For example, I remember the one (and only) time I made a breast. Not the Texas / Kansas City type. The Jewish genre, which I learned about through the Amazon Prime series, The wonderful Mrs. Maisel. The first thing you need to know is that this is not a pot roast, which main character Midge Maisel laughs at as “the Methodist version of the breast.”
I spent hours preparing it for my family: buying ingredients, mixing them according to the complex recipe I found online. Then wait patiently while it roasts in the oven (only six hours, not the billions of hours it takes for the Texas / Kansas City brisket).
It was divine. We feasted that evening and munched on leftovers for the rest of the week. But other than those leftovers, in a matter of minutes, it was gone. Nothing but crumbs and full and satisfied bellies.
I had given pleasure, which for me was the most pleasant part of the experience.
Good food well done
One of my favorite things about Mr. Bourdain in Confidential Kitchen that’s how unpretentious he is. Yes, he was a world-renowned chef who knew how to appreciate (and prepare) a gourmet meal made in the kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant, but what he loved even more was the good, well-prepared meals and with love.
On my day off, I rarely feel like eating out, unless I’m looking for new ideas or recipes to steal. What I want to eat is home cooking, someone’s food — anyone’s food — mother’s or grandmother’s…. My mother-in-law always apologized before serving dinner when I was present, saying, “That must sound pretty ordinary for a chef …” She had no idea how simple her meatloaf was. magical, reassuring and pleasant for me. , what a delight even the lumpy mashed potatoes were.
And there is no time for a cook who approaches cooking as an art, not as a profession. An artist “is someone who doesn’t think it is necessary to show up for work on time.” But in the kitchen, he writes:
… Is a profession, I like to think so, and a good cook is a craftsman, not an artist. There is nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen, but not designed by them. Expertly practicing your craft is noble, honorable, and satisfying.
Cooking as a craft
I’m not halfway yet Confidential Kitchen. Just about every word in this semi-autobiography shows what Mr. Bourdain means by cooking as a craft: how he fell backwards in the restaurant business when he got a job as a diver at a restaurant in Provincetown, in the Massachusetts, one summer; how he learned the ropes in a typical kitchen; how he dropped out of school the following year and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America; the eccentric collection of misfits and geniuses he has come to know as a professional cook, and so on.
Mr. Bourdain spends little time on his childhood, except to recount anecdotes about two key food-related moments, one concerning soup and the other concerning raw oysters (his experience with his first oyster is remarkably similar to mine, although he appreciated it more than I did). He gives the bottom-and-sale on what to order and not to order in restaurants (never order fish on Mondays; pay attention to your waiter’s body language).
But what stands out most, here as in Mr. Bourdain’s CNN series, Unknown partsis love: the love of food; love of craftsmanship; the love of the people he meets in the amazing world of professional cooking, with his testosterone fueled hierarchy of “dysfunctional mercenary fringes” who nonetheless night after night perform “a high-speed collaboration like, at its best , ballet or modern dance.
June 8 marked the third anniversary of the tragic death of Mr. Bourdain. May he rest in peace.