I first learned who Anthony Bourdain was when I was in college in 2012 and took a seminar on Food Culture. We would watch episodes of his show No Reservations and I pretty much instantly fell in love with everything about him and the show.
Watching Tony travel the world, try new foods, integrate himself into the local communities, and work to show that there are far more similarities than differences between people around the world seemed like the ideal lifestyle. As a broke college kid, I was envious of how much travel he got to do, and I would escape whatever was going on in my life by watching his shows. Anytime I visited my sister, and we were trying to find something on the TV to watch we would invariably choose one of Tony’s shows as we could always agree on that.
When my sister visited me in London a week and a half after Tony’s death, it was a copy of Kitchen Confidential that she bought in the one of the many bookshops to which we went. As the pandemic raged and I found myself working from home, I would turn on the familiar comfort of Tony and watched all the seasons of Parts Unknown. However, I had never read any of Tony’s books until this year. And once I started, I didn’t want to stop.
To parcel them out, I’ve decided to postpone reading more of them so that I can savor them as new experiences for a while longer. But thus far, I have read A Cook’s Tour and then proceeded to read/listen to both Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw. Sarah’s Bourdain Day post is on her bookstore’s blog today.
To be honest, I was slightly disappointed by A Cook’s Tour, but I thought that would be the case going into it, as my sister had warned me Tony hadn’t quite hit the mark with this first book of his travels. That’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable or that I didn’t love hearing about all the places he went on this trip and the people he met along the way. The story of traveling back to France with his brother and realizing that sometimes we have rose-colored glasses on about our past was particularly moving. It just didn’t quite sound like Tony. I’m glad I started with this one though, as it would have been a bit of a letdown had I turned to it after the superior Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw.
Rating: 7 out of 10 stars
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with Kitchen Confidential. I really only knew Tony as the traveler, not as the chef even though I knew that was where he had started his professional career. I listened to the audiobook of this, which is read by Tony himself, and I absolutely LOVED it. I loved hearing his stories about finding his place in the world of New York City’s culinary circles and all of the assholes he dealt with along the way.
However, one of the things I love most about Tony is that he is fully aware when he’s the one in the wrong and owns it. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat his actions or make excuses for his behavior when he recognizes that he’s the one who screwed up. It’s a lesson everyone can learn I believe, and that simply acknowledging our own mistakes is the first way to moving past them. His unflinching honesty about his experiences as a chef in NYC made for a delectable read, even if Tony has made me never want to eat meat again after learning how it’s been processed. So fair warning, this book might make you into something Tony didn’t really have time for: a vegetarian.
It seemed like an immense privilege to get to listen to this book in Tony’s own voice. Personally, that’s how I would recommend it; to hear it how he meant it to be read with his inflections, talking more quickly to illustrate the speed at which things happen in the kitchen and why suppliers should not call in the middle of a lunch rush, and to also get to hear one more new set of stories from him if you’ve never read it before.
Rating: 9 out of 10 stars
You would think that after having read A Cook’s Tour, Kitchen Confidential, watching all of Parts Unknown, and the few seasons of No Reservations available for streaming that I would be tired of Tony. Not at all! I went to my indie bookseller sister and asked her to order me a copy of Medium Raw, which I learned was her favorite of all his books. I did a hybrid of reading and listening to this one. I started reading it but didn’t want to miss out on hearing him read it aloud again as I had enjoyed that aspect so much with Kitchen Confidential.
I found this one to be extremely emotional, particularly right near the beginning. Knowing how Tony’s life ended, in the beginning of the book where he talks about dreaming about driving over a cliffside as his first marriage had ended made me cry for the inner demons he had long faced and that he had eventually succumbed to them. You can never truly know what is going on inside another person’s head at any given moment and it’s a stark reminder that just because someone appears okay on the outside, doesn’t mean they are truly okay on the inside.
While that kicks off the book, the rest is more of an amusing set of stories of the people he’s met around the world and the chefs with whom he has either had the pleasure or displeasure of having interacted. I loved hearing the stories of when he met his second wife and they decided to have a kid. The stories from Tony about fatherhood were some of my favorites in the book. Overall, this has been my favorite of Tony’s books thus far and I know it’s also one I will eventually return to and reread when the time is right.
Rating: 10 out of 10 stars