Chef, author and TV host Anthony Bourdain was famous for nearly two decades. He was famed for his bad boy tell-it-like-it-is persona. And that was first made known to the public in his breakout hit of a memoir called “Kitchen Confidential” (first published in 2000). I had just finished reading this memoir (decades late to the party) when the news broke last year that Bourdain died by suicide (on June 8, 2018). Even though I was late to reading the memoir I had followed Anthony Bourdain on TV as a host (“No Reservations” on Travel Channel from 2005-2012 and “Parts Unknown” on CNN from 2013-2018) and chef for years. I am sad that Mr. Bourdain didn’t get to live and tell more of his story. He was a talented storyteller and surely had more to say. However, I’m glad he did write “Kitchen Confidential” and I would like to discuss it for my October book review.
I’m not entirely sure why I picked up Anthony Bourdain’s memoir from 2000 and decided to read in the Spring of 2018. The book had been out for 18 years. It had been made into a short-lived fictional show starring Bradley Cooper before “The Hangover” made Cooper a bankable movie star (I also didn’t watch the show but meant to). Bourdain had hosted two successful TV shows (which I watched periodically) and made a name for himself. But there was nothing in the Spring of 2018 that really brought him front of mind. And yet I sought out his celebrated 18 year old memoir and decided I was finally going to read it.
As any book lover knows, you have a loooooooong list of books you want to read. I have classics on my “To Read” list that are shameful I haven’t read (to me, anyway). I honestly think I was just browsing through the free selections for Amazon Prime for my Kindle and found it. Since I was thinking of buckling down and writing my own memoir (word count of my memoir at the end of this post) I perused the memoir section and saw Bourdain’s book. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m purposely not reading brain injury memoirs so as to not color my own experience. Instead I’m reading memoirs written in a strong and clear voice. Like the previously mentioned “Liars Club” by Mary Karr. When I saw “Kitchen Confidential” I knew Bourdain had the kind of writing style and voice I wanted to take inspiration from. And so I picked it up and was not disappointed.
Before he wrote his memoir, Bourdain was a New York City chef who had started off in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher in Provincetown, Massachusetts and eventually went to the Culinary Institute of America. At the time of his writing the memoir Bourdain was executive chef at NYC restaurant Brasserie Les Halles (which went bankrupt in 2016 years after Bourdain had stopped being an executive chef there). Once he wrote an essay in The New Yorker in 1999 entitled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” he was immediately set on a path to become famous. After the essay he wrote “Kitchen Confidential” that served as both a professional memoir and a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant industry. In addition to being brutally honest about himself he was also brutally honest about how a professional kitchen runs. And because of that honesty, he was attributed with some truths that were eye opening to the average restaurant goer.
I will say reading Bourdain’s memoir months before his death was something that made me think about what it means to write a memoir. Obviously when he was writing it in 1999/2000, Bourdain didn’t know how many years he had left to live. None of us do. Obviously. And his memoir wasn’t about life and death. It was about life. The life of a chef. His life. And that’s what I got from reading this memoir. That a memoir is a snapshot. A point in time. A reflection of a point in time. And anyone who reflects on a point in time enough to write a memoir is in fact writing about life.
Yes, my memoir of surviving a near fatal accident is about surviving. It’s also about living life in close proximity to death. Something that a lot of people have done and will continue to do. I don’t know exactly what Anthony Bourdain wanted the reader to learn from his book. I learned about cooking and being a professional chef and the restaurant industry but I also learned a little bit of Anthony Bourdain’s life story, world and ethos. And really that’s usually the objective of most memoirs.
Writing My Memoir: Update
I still haven’t had that super productive day that I’ve dreamt of since I started this memoir journey. Currently I’m at: 40,002/50,000+