Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kitchen Confidential

This weekend, our bookclub met in Orillia, Ontario to discuss Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. The ironic thing about this is that our book club consists of four near-vegans, one vegetarian who doesn't eat wheat, and one omnivore nutritionist, and Mr. Bourdain is one of the more notorious anti-vegetarians out there, as discussed in this post on my veggie blog.

Out of the five of us who finished the book, three of us quite enjoyed it, while the other two got bored halfway through (he does mine the same ground a bit too often). Another fault of the book is that a few of the chapters near the end seemed out of place... articles he'd written for magazines which got lumped into this book for the hell of it. Overall though, if you take a deep breath and ignore his vegetarian views, this is a very enjoyable book.

Here are some discussion questions, or book club questions, I put together for this book:

a) In an interview attached at the end of the book, Bourdain's publisher gushes "writers have the voice or they don't have it. You have it in a big way. you could have written a book on flower arrangement and people would have been as admiring and fanatic about it."
How good a writer is Bourdain? Were there any moments when you were wincing and wanting to skip ahead a few paragraphs?

b) Does this book have a climax? (For example the "Day in the Life" chapter?)

c) Dismissing the restaurant/food focus of the book, does Kitchen Confidential work as a bildungsroman? A story of a boy's growth into manhood?

d) In the introduction, Bourdain talks about how his book has scared some people AWAY from being a cook, and inspired others to say "yeah that's for me!" Does K.C. make you feel more or less attracted to this profession?

e) Kitchen Confidential is marketed as being the "sex drugs and rock and roll" story of life as a cook - does Bourdain actually make being a cook sound cool?

f) Bourdain positions himself as a champion of the Latin American migrant cooking staff. Do you believe this? Does he really strike you as being compassionate towards his staff?

g) Did you learn anything that you're going to keep in mind and remember the next time that you eat out? Anything that surprised you? For example, the "don't eat fish on Mondays" story, or the "don't order a well-done steak," or "your bread was probably recycled from another table."

h) Does Bourdain make you envision cooking as a type of artistry or as a type of mindless manual labour? Is Bourdain an artist or a mechanic?

i) On page 4, (second page of the Appetizer chapter, Bourdain outlines what he wishes to accomplish with this book. For example... I'd like to convey the strange delights of the language, patois, and death's head sense of humor found on the front lines.
Does he succeed with the goals he sets out for himself on this page?

j) On vegetarianism:
Does Bourdain really understand the vegetarian argument? For example, the three big ones of going veggie for personal health reasons, environmental reasons, moral reasons regarding the treatment of animals? Does he really understand these arguments, and disagrees with them? Or does he have a preconceived notion of vegetarians as whining pussies, and finds it funny to attack this stereotype of vegetarians and conveniently ignores their true reasons for being vegetarian?