The book’s sections alternate between a non-fiction narrative--comprised of influential moments within the author’s life as a chef--and commentary on the restaurant industry. Kitchen Confidential is best known for its brutal honesty about the often degenerate lifestyles of professional cooks in the 1980s and 90s, when a it was a far more working-class industry than it is today. Bourdain is extremely candid both about his own experiences within the industry, as well as what is it generally like to work in a kitchen. He admits to heavy drug use and living in squalor, and also shares the most embarrassing moments of his career.
The non-autobiographical sections of Kitchen Confidential attempt to paint a more realistic picture of what life is like inside a professional kitchen, as opposed to how it is portrayed in the media. One portion of the book enlightens readers on certain “principles” that they should abide by when eating out, including the day they’re most likely to be served “old” fish. There is another about the rather uncensored “level of discourse” that goes on in the kitchen, as well as others about a few of the more colorful characters Bourdain has worked with over the years.
He is, however, quick to caution readers about making too much of a generalization about the restaurant world, specifically in the section about chef Scott Bryan (“Life of Bryan”). For every Anthony Bourdain who does things his own way there are also serious, focused chefs with quiet and peaceful kitchens.
“First Course” starts with Bourdain’s first food memories as a child, up unto his graduation from the Culinary Institute of America and subsequent first job. After being a very picky eater as a child, Tony first became enthusiastic about food as a way to gross out his parents and brother, something that became a sincere passion as he began to try more and more food. He would get his first restaurant job in Provincetown, RI, as a dishwasher and gradually made his way up the ranks. Tony related to the hedonistic, carefree attitude in the kitchen and quickly decided it was the industry for him.
Arrogance eventually got the best of him, however, and he was exposed as an inexperienced fraud during an audition for a broiler position at a rival restaurant in Provincetown. This incident inspired Tony to attend the Culinary Institute of America to prove his doubters wrong, putting him on the path to professional chef.
“Second Course” serves more to educate on the reader on the inner workings of the restaurant industry, rather than tell Bourdain’s story. In addition to humanizing the types of people that work in a kitchen, he also lists certain principles that diners should adhere to, and provides tips on how to make home cooking closer to restaurant quality. There is also a discussion of what compels someone to want to own a restaurant, as well as someone