Some books come into our lives too late. Suddenly and unexpectedly, a £2 second-hand copy lands loudly on your floor, vigorously (or furiously?) pushed through the door by the postman. Or maybe this was the right time precisely? Maybe I had to spend the past almost-thirty years in the sweet state of unknowing, oblivious to the mind-blowing things happening right under my very nose?
The book is, of course, Kitchen Confidential. Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain. How on earth is it possible, that I have never come across his inspiring (for lack of a better word) openness and ready-to-go mindset for any adventures in sight? I knew of him, of course. I read some of his articles, seen some of his shows during (too many) Netflix&chill nights in our tiny flat in England. But somehow – I was not hooked. I was, perhaps, unprepared for Bourdain-like what-the-hell/we-only-live-once attitude.
How ironic, really, that I only got my hands on the copy of Bourdain’s book now. And it wasn’t even an emotion-informed impulse buy, upon learning the news about his death. As often happens during the clouded-minded, ridiculously late hours, deep into the night, I was browsing ebay, fishing out pearls and bargains from the never-ending list of books that appeared under the search: food. Bourdain’s book was amongst them, mixed into Chinese, Spanish and Persian cookbooks, treaties on why it’s important to eat your greens, and pseudo-scientific volumes on yet another supposedly-miraculous diet. My thumb decided on the purchase, before my brain had a chance to even consider. Your order was placed, checkmate. I am still not quite sure, why would anyone sell Bourdain’s book for almost naught, but here I am – benefiting from someones decision.
It’s almost 2am now. I’m sat crossed-legged on the floor, using the sofa as my laptop table, drinking chokeberry “tea” (it’s said to be good for heart aches, and mine is aching a lot lately, haunted by the phantom of the dissertation, far from done), listening to Maanam and being pretty much wide awake. This was not the plan for the night, let me say this much. The plan was to finish my tea, look through some photos for the next blog post and sleep, as would befit a respectable member of a society. But no. Kitchen Confidential kept me up and interested; it offered a fresh perspective, a non-pretentious, non-prejudiced voice I have been unknowingly waiting for. It offered a permission to be unruly.
“We are, after all, citizens of the world – a world filled with bacteria, some friendly, some not so friendly. Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonald’s? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, Señor Tamale Stand Owner, Sushi-chef-san, Monsieur Bucket-head. What’s that feathered game bird, hanging on the porch, getting riper by the day, the body nearly ready to drop off? I want some“.
Bourdain’s book is a true pleasure to read. He speaks with honestly not many of us allow ourselves to ever express, and yet: there is no insult, no judgement. The stories of his days as a chef in various establishments bear no trace of attention-seeking storytelling. There is no desire for cheap sensation, either. He calls things by their true name, describes hitherto indescribable, he makes shit real.
There isn’t a great deal of books out there that pull you out of the warm and cosy duvet in the middle of the night, make you sit in a (by now) painful position, stare at the merciless light of your laptop screen – and all this to share the (for many of you probably yesterday’s) news: Kitchen Confidential is a great book.
“But if I have one chance at a full-blown dinner of blowfish gizzard – even if I have not been properly introduced to the chef – and I’m in a strange, Far Eastern city and my plane leaves tomorrow? I’m going for it. You only go around once.“
And that, Dear Reader, is a spirit!