Tuesday, 30 July 2002

Kitchen confidential

Listening to:

Bach, Italian Concerto in F, BWV971. Played by Rosalyn Tureck on the piano.

Just read:

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen confidential.

This amusing book is a mixture of memoir and general reflection about being a professional chef. It describes the strange world that exists behind every restaurant, and relates Bourdain's personal development, from teenage trouble-maker to slightly more responsible executive chef at Les Halles restaurant in New York.

I found the book interesting because it describes a long-established trade, with its own traditions and jargon. I've always liked reading about the sociology of what might be classed ‘guilds’, where there is both functional specialisation and differing levels of authority. (Thus, sports teams are less interesting because they have specialisation of roles but don't have any real authority hierarchy (captain is about it). Where you get extra levels of authority, as in the contest between bowler and captain at cricket, things become slightly more interesting.) To add to the general appeal, chefs do something easy to understand and describe, but do it with virtuosity out of the public eye.

Though the description of what goes on in kitchens is occasionally on the disgusting side, there are no stories about people spitting in customers' soup. Instead, the impression is of people attempting to make the best of a bad job. If you make the mistake of ordering steak well-done, or fish on a Monday, then you may find things not to your liking because, one, well-done steak can have anything done to it (zapped in a microwave to make it done in time, say) without really affecting the end-product, and two, the restaurant is very unlikely to have fresh fish on Mondays.

KC is enjoyable and amusing. The circumstances described are novel, the characters are definitely larger than life, and it's all happening just metres from where you're sitting down to eat at a candle-lit dinner.

Now reading:

Jane Austen, Sense and sensibility.