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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Review: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

March 2, 2009

For the past several weeks we’ve been interviewing for various positions at Viddler. We’ve gone through several resumes, conducted a few interviews, probed referrals for information about the interviewees, sent follow-up questions, and generally debated the fate of our would-be potential new team members for what seems like weeks. This is an interesting process on both sides of the table. I’ve been on the other side of the table more times than I care to recount, but it really is an interesting process to pour over one’s career (or lack thereof) to somehow build an opinion of someone.

It is somewhat disingenious to be sure. We could never really, really get to know this person based on a one-page document that they probably threw together the night before their interview. “Experiences? Why yes, I have those! X, Y, and Z. I’m familiar with them.” Seldom do resumes reveal the extent of that familiarity. Did the person take the time to prioritize the things they are experienced in based on the amount of time they’ve spent with them? Or, did they list them in order of the supposed importance for the job at hand? Or, did they write down anything they thought might be good to know for the job? No one can be sure – really – at least for the first few weeks they are on the job.

Then there is the entire struggle to really get to know who someone is. To peel away the nerves, the front they are showing in order to impress us, the bullet points on the resume, and the clothes they wore to the interview to reveal who the person is after they’ve known us for a few years. Do they like to cook? Have they traveled? Do they want to? What do they think about family? Religion? The state of the economy? Are they really a morning person or are they just saying that they are? Time, it seems, is the only tool that can be used to find out the answers to these questions.

Sorry. I’m ranting. That isn’t what this post was supposed to be about.

I wanted to review Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I just finished it the other day. The book reminded me of this process. Kitchen Confidential, it could be said, is the resume of Anthony Bourdain – a New York City chef that has 30 years experience working in what he calls “The under belly”. The book begins with his first experience eating a raw oyster in French waters when he was just 9 years old. That one, raw, delicious oyster changed his entire life. I’m guessing it would be the first bullet point on his resume.

But this book serves as something much better than a resume. Resumes are cold, factual, and do not leave room for too much expression. The “story”, if there is really a story in this book, is revealed to us in a rather haphazard way. He bounces around through his career to slowly describe who he is through what he experienced. Want to know his thoughts on meat? You’ll slowly begin to draw that picture based on several experiences he had at many of his jobs. Tip: Don’t ask for your meat to be well done. Want to know when to order seafood? Learn from the guy who buys the stuff in the hundreds of pounds. Hint: Not on Monday or Tuesday. What about his thoughts about personal work ethic? Immigrant labor? Race? Gender? Or even about who should or should definitely not own a restaurant? You’ll need to read the entire book to find out.

I’m not sure what I find fascinating about Anthony Bourdain other than his style of thought. It is obvious, when he’s given the opportunity, that he chooses his words fairly carefully. I suppose I see an older version of myself somewhere in there. Someone who notices the little things, enjoys the fine things, can only afford the not-so-fine things, and yet has the privilege to once and a while dip my hand into the “fine things cookie jar”. A self-reflective kinda dude. It could be that I would love to have his job (not the chef bit, but the traveling eater raconteur bit). Either way, I’m enjoying my attempt to glean as much experience vicariously through Anthony Bourdain as I can. His show, his books, his blog are all my tools in building my own food, travel, and writing resume without the expense.

Kitchen Confidential, for some one that even remotely enjoys food, the restraunt business, or interesting people, is an essential addition to the book shelf. It has inspired me to continue to do what I love, to be willing to have my mind madeover later in life when my ideals are proven incorrect, to learn as much as I can from every single job that I do in order to make the next one better, to build a list of hard working people that I wouldn’t mind working with again in the future, and to eat weird in hope of epiphany.