The Nine Books that inspired me to write (7 of 9) # 7_ Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Posted by Robert Craven on Wed, 25 Aug 2021
Kitchen Confidential (2000)
I have a framed autograph over my writing desk, signed by Bourdain. I happened to be sitting with my family in the departure lounge of Charles de Gaulle in 2013, after a week in EuroDisney. He too, it turns out ,was flying to Dublin to shoot an episode of his TV show, The Layover .
They say you should never meet your heroes, but he was gracious and modest, in a certain light, he had the measured gumshoe cool of a young Elliot Gould. Like thousands before me, I uttered, 'I loved Kitchen Confidential', without breaking from signing, he replied, 'thank you.'. I didn't keep him, I just walked away and allowed him some space. We flashed a rueful grin between us when we shared an elevator at Dublin Airport down to the taxi rank. He nodded briefly to us and dived into a waiting limo.
Like Salem' Lot, Kitchen Confidential was the radical shift in my writing. And is the next book of the 9 books that inspired me to write. Like Miles Davis' biography, Bourdain writes witty, short prose other than Davis, the nearest I can think of for sheer chutzpah is Marky Ramones' fabulous biography Punk Rock Blizkrieg.
But its the style of Bourdain's writing that stands out. He makes his culinary life almost a dry aside that Sam Spade would say, a lifestyle (like Musicians) in a sub culture fueled with sex and drugs. There are gloriously laugh out moments, assembling a cake smacked out on heroin, the parade of social misfits that pack a restaurant kitchen, but for me the last chapter, 'Mission to Tokyo' is a riotous, free-wheeling combination of travel journal and culinary observation and I suspect, the germ that became the programme; No Frontier.
I bought the book in 2001. We had just moved into the new house and it was my staple read commuting from our new home across Dublin to my job. It required two buses and a train. It stayed in my coat pocket from August through to the following April, when I left to get a job closer to home.
The other thing I had was a notebook and flicking through Kitchen Confidential, I drafted an imaginary musician named Bup Edsel based on my own experiences as a student of Jazz in the 80's and being in bands through the 80's until the end of the 90's.
On a battered old word processor, purloined from my mothers and my stack of old tour diaries I wrote a novella titled 'Vocals preferred, own transport essential'. Like a musician, I jammed along to Kitchen Confidential, writing passages out lightly in pencil and using a heavy biro, writing my own paragraphs over the pencil. It even got to the stage where I had a professional editor look at it, and they thought it was pretty good.
So I pitched it to a few agents.
I kept the manuscript but never really pursued it any further. But seeds get planted and in 2014, I kicked around a horror story. I wrote a fairly light book titled 'AllUCanEat' about a celebrity chef who turns cannibal. I write under the pen name of W.T. Edsel and you can find it here on Amazon as Dark Appetites. This is my 'spare parts book', anyone who has read my books will recognise many passages, I stripped this story down to the bone. But put it up anyway, banging on a generic Amazon cover (just in case) and changing the title.
It's a combination of 'Vocals preferred...' and Kitchen Confidential, like most punk jams, it has a lot of bum notes, but is more than made up for by the energy and the brevity of prose.
After 16 months of lockdown, my culinary skills too have evolved past Bolognese and stews and I still have a truly battered, stained and dog-eared Kitchen Confidential to hand when I'm waiting for the dinner on the hob.
It is a truly wonderful read made more poignant by his sudden and needless passing. Like King and the next author I'm going to feature, Mick Herron, completely reshaped not only my writing, but how I write.