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Kitchen Confidential

July 23rd, 2011

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Kitchen Confidential reveals what Bourdain calls "twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine." Last summer, The New Yorker published Chef Bourdain's shocking, "Don't Eat Before Reading This." Bourdain spared no one's appetite when he told all about what happens behind the kitchen door. Bourdain uses the same "take-no-prisoners" attitude in his deliciously funny and shockingly delectable book, sure to delight gourmands and philistines alike. From Bourdain's first oyster in the Gironde, to his lowly position as dishwasher in a honky tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown (where he witnesses for the first time the real delights of being a chef); from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, to drug dealers in the east village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain's tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable. Kitchen Confidential will make your mouth water while your belly aches with laughter. You'll beg the chef for more, please.Anthony Bourdain is the author of Bone in the Throat. This is his first work of non-fiction. He is the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City. 'Benedict Arnold. Alger Hiss. Anthony Bourdain.'-London Evening Standard'With equal parts wit and wickedness, Bourdain [does] the unthinkable by revealing trade secrets that chefs and restaurateurs cringe to read.' -Restaurant Business magazine


Book Review

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out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12796 user reviews
History Books Kitchen Confidential reveals what Bourdain calls "twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine." Last summer, The New Yorker published Chef Bourdain's shocking, "Don't Eat Before Reading This." Bourdain spared no one's appetite when he told all about what happens behind the kitchen door. Bourdain uses the same "take-no-prisoners" attitude in his deliciously funny and shockingly delectable book, sure to delight gourmands and philistines alike. From Bourdain's first oyster in the Gironde, to his lowly position as dishwasher in a honky tonk fish restaurant in Provincetown (where he witnesses for the first time the real delights of being a chef); from the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, to drug dealers in the east village, from Tokyo to Paris and back to New York again, Bourdain's tales of the kitchen are as passionate as they are unpredictable. Kitchen Confidential will make your mouth water while your belly aches with laughter. You'll beg the chef for more, please.Anthony Bourdain is the author of Bone in the Throat. This is his first work of non-fiction. He is the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City. 'Benedict Arnold. Alger Hiss. Anthony Bourdain.'-London Evening Standard'With equal parts wit and wickedness, Bourdain [does] the unthinkable by revealing trade secrets that chefs and restaurateurs cringe to read.' -Restaurant Business magazine
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  1. Laura Hamilton
    July 24th, 2011 at 07:12 | #1

    Rating

    I laughed out loud at least ten times while reading this book. Tony Bourdain is SO very witty and has such an amazingly conversational style of writing, it’s like sitting around having drinks and swapping anecdotes with a very funny old friend. I have a friend who is a chef in San Francisco and I always thought that it was just *him*, but now I realize that most, if not all cooks are like him! I can’t wait to give him this book. He’s a filthy-mouthed pervert who speaks constantly of sex and drugs, dishes out the crudest Spanish slang I’ve ever heard from a white guy, works six days a week, changes restaurants every few months, dresses like a pirate, has a shaved head, usually *stinks* of onions and body odor, and makes the most wonderful food I’ve ever tasted. He has more knowledge of, and passion for good food, than anyone I’ve ever met. So it was with him in mind that I read Tony Bourdain’s account of his life, the kitchens he’s worked in, the characters he’s met along the way, how things *really* work behind the kitchen doors of most restaurants. Absolutely fascinating read. I give the book 4 stars, not 5, simply because the chapters are kind of schizophrenic at times, though all are good. One is about a friend of his, the next will be about kitchen slang, the next about some other seemingly unrelated subject. It’s all kind of thrown together hodge-podge, but it never annoys,and it all does work quite well in the end. A definite recommendation.

  2. Anonymous
    July 25th, 2011 at 11:29 | #2

    Rating

    As a seasoned veteren of the culinary trenches, one thing comes clear from reading the on-line reviews for this book: The people who didn’t like it are completely clueless when it comes to restaurants and food! Yes, Chef Bourdain is arrogant, self serving, and foul mouthed, but that type of personality is simply a byproduct of the cooking industry. Massive egos, high stress, and horrific working conditions are par for the course.

    Whatever faults the author and the book may have, this is a knee-slappingly funny account of what really goes on in kitchens, and anybody who wants to be a chef should be forced to read this book before attending cooking school. Those of you benighted souls who have no interest in fine cuisine and four-star restaurants probably won’t understand the truth and humor that underly Chef Bourdain’s cutting prose.

  3. Magnus D. Hines III
    July 25th, 2011 at 21:23 | #3

    Rating

    Although not a universally likeable book by any estimation, Bourdain’s narrative voice, as crass and straightforward as one would believe the man himself to be, is definitely endearing. He makes few attempts to describe for the lay person the many digestibles he hints at in the book, relying on the wit and sheer perusability of the rest of his work to grasp the reader. And it does, for over 300 pages. Kitchen Confidential is a must read for anyone remotely affiliated with the hospitality industry and well worth reading for those with at least a passing interest in the inner-workings of the kitchen from hiring to the way to make one’s purveyors arrive on time. A person with generally no knowledge of fine cuisine will find the first half of the book fine, but the second half less friendly as it delves into the more specific nuts and bolts of the restaurant business. The book is really part culinary textbook, part biography, with a few eye-catching treks into hedonism. It’s uneven in parts, but this is altogether in keeping with the life of Bourdain, as the reader will come to find.

  4. Emily
    July 27th, 2011 at 11:41 | #4

    Rating

    Anthony Bourdain, self-proclaimed “thrill-seeking, pleasure-hungry, sensualist, always looking to shock, amuse, terrify and manipulate, seeking to fill that empty spot in my soul with something new,” gives a sampling in this book of his life as a chef. He begins by explaining his first experiences really noticing and appreciating food at a young age on a trip to France. Bourdain goes on to explain how him and some hoodlum friends find themselves in the food business, and get involved in quite the trashy lifestyle. Then he has a realization that he wants to be a chef and heads to the Culinary Institute of America. He goes on to tell about the dark recesses of the restaurant underbelly, including struggling at the bottom of the “food chain” in many restaurants, making and learning from many mistakes, and revealing the the true nature of the rough crowd that thrives in restaurant kitchens.

    Some of the highlights include chapters on how to cook like the pros (where he gives some good tips and advice for all of us in the ignorant populace), what to be warry of on restaurant menus and what type of restaurants to avoid (including his soapbox speech on vegetarians and why they are “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit” – I am a vegetarian by the way and you can tell that I am so offended), and of course the hilarious chapter on why people who want to own restaurants are sick in the head. The first paragraph of this chapter is a classic.

    This book does contain quite a bit of foul language. Also, a few sections of this book can drag on with a ton of detail about absolutely everything that goes on in the kitchen, but all in all this book is quite amusing. There are many more highlights that those I pointed out, and I do recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about the realities of the restaurant world.

  5. Steve Guardala
    July 27th, 2011 at 19:05 | #5

    Rating

    This is Bourdain’s memoir that chronicles his adventures as a newbie in a fish restaurant in Provincetown, to his life at Les Halles in NYC. He is blunt, coarse, yet his honesty is refreshing. He gives the reader the often true impression that disturbed folks are attracted to the cooking industry. From drugs, mobsters, booze, etc this is not a dull read. His disdain for tv chefs like Emeril, Flay, & Rachael Ray may be overstated? But, he shows high reverence for the 3-4 star chefs who work hard & rarely get any attention or credit. This is the loudest part of the book.

    He is equally honest about his own faults, drugs & his distaste for authority. Two chapters shine through the most. “Bigfoot,” practical info for the reader on dining out, & “Cook like the pro’s,” on the art of managing people. All in all a fascinating look into an industry that only a small percentage of people ever experience.

  6. Mary Vogt
    July 27th, 2011 at 21:40 | #6

    Rating

    You’ll learn some kitchen slang, a lot of new obscenities, a couple of cooking tips. You’ve already learned all the restaurant survival tips, like “don’t order fish on Monday,” from reading the reviews.

    The main draw here is Anthony Bourdain his own bad, raunchy self. He is Not A Nice Person. I wouldn’t want to be him, or even particularly close to him. I’m not sure I even want to eat his food – maybe I know a little too much about his kitchen for comfort. But: man, he tells a good story. Some parts of the story drag, as the various doomed restaurants of his early career start blending together. That costs him a star in my rating. Otherwise, it’s an exciting, morbidly fascinating view into Bourdain’s life as a sensualist, and the “dysfunctional family” of his kitchen.

    I “read” this book as an audiobook from audible.com, which I highly recommend. Bourdain himself does the reading, adding life and dimension to this character study. Also, it gets you past the unfortunate editorial flaws mentioned in a previous review.

  7. D. L Harris
    July 28th, 2011 at 17:00 | #7

    Rating

    This book should be required reading at every culinary school in America. It should be the book you bring as a hostess gift when your friend (who’s a fabulous chef) has another dinner party but won’t stop talking about how, someday, she wants to open ‘a little restaurant.’ In short, it is 100% the real deal when it comes to what it’s like to be a professional chef. It captures the excitement, the misery, the pain, the anger, the pride and the abuse that is part and parcel of cooking in a restaurant. As a pro-chef-turned-pro-writer, it is the book that I always wanted to write but never did because, frankly, I wasn’t in the life long enough to do it justice. In that short period, I had a freakish ascent from prep cook to bistro sous chef (and w/out the benefit of cooking school). During that time, I witnessed everything that Bourdain writes about – and quickly realized that I didn’t love the world of 24/7 back-breaking work in someone else’s restaurant to make it my calling. And as for the idea of opening my own place – as Bourdain himself said in a recent online chat, ‘NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER.’ Not only do 80% of restaurants die a horrible death within 5 years of opening, but those that survive extract an incredible toll on their owners. (You’ve got to be a little of a masochist to be chef, but you are a victim of psychosis if you become a chef-owner.) Bourdain is justifiably proud of his current post as a journeyman chef as NYC’s Brasserie Les Halles, but I think he should be even prouder that he managed to capture everything it means to be a chef in his first nonfiction book – something that The ‘BAM!’ Food Channel, with its dozens of programs, doesn’t even begin to understand. Bravo, chef!

    PS: Bourdain advises that the quickest way to find out if you *really* want to be a chef is to become a restaurant’s dishwasher for six months. And he’s absolutely right.

  8. Anonymous
    July 29th, 2011 at 13:26 | #8

    Rating

    I work as a sous chef in a three star restuarant(name withheld) in downtown Chicago, and let me just tell you that Tony knows what he’s talking about. From the disgust of being demoted to cooking brunch to the fact that a fish special on Monday means you’re eating at least five day old fish, Mr. Bourdain lets his reader into the sometimes scary glimpses of what professional kitchen life is really like.
    Mr. Bourdain also allows the non-professional to see what actually goes into cooking lunch for a hundred plus guest and then turning around and doing two hundred for dinner (don’t forget they’re different menus). The amount of prep and the realization that at one time or another you will be in the weeds, especially if your mise is out of sorts, is felt in this read. And though some want to romanticize about the Chef’s life, Mr. Bourdain has been doing this for twenty-five years and he’s still cutting his own shallots and doing inventory every week.
    Bourdain also takes a good look at the people who work in this industry. From the “actor” servers to the great line cooks from just south of the border(that’s you, Juve), the amusing and different people you’ll find are quite astonishing. The life is really for the people who could never do the nine to five but who aren’t afraid to put in a twelve hour day. Bourdain describes us characters as sociopaths or anti-social, and he might just be right. The production that the kitchen goes through daily has to be ran by people who truly love food or just people who can make risotto taste the same way fifty times a day, otherwise it just won’t work. Don’t forget there’s always the ever present barracho somewhere in upper managment.
    For anyone who is serious about getting into the industry, this book is worth while to see what you’re getting yourself into. Did I mention that I’ve worked over forty hours the last three days, thirty hours split between Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It’s the life and you either love it or hate it and Bourdain makes a strong commentary for both.
    The read is also very friendly and if you have a good reading spot it might only take one sitting.

  9. Erika Mitchell
    July 31st, 2011 at 00:52 | #9

    Rating

    This book recapitulates the life of Anthony Bourdain, a New York City chef. Bourdain describes how he decided to become a chef, and his training, from washing dishes for a Provincetown surf-and-turf, to studying at the Culinary Institute of America, to boot camp with Bigfoot, an unnamed New York City restaurateur from whom he learned how to survive in the big leagues. He introduces us to the backrooms of a busy restaurant kitchen, where we meet the people who prepare the fabulous food, learn about their tools and slang, and begin to get an inkling about the daily responsibilities of a head chef.

    Thanks to his French heritage, Bourdain had learned to appreciate superb food as a youngster, and his parents had the resources to send him to any college he chose. Bourdain, however, likes to live on the edge, and his desire to live life to the fullest and push the limits soon led to multiple drug dependencies and heavy alcohol usage that kept steady employment difficult to maintain for a time. Remarkably, though not detailed exactly how in this book, Bourdain managed to beat his addictions, and has gone on to become not only a talented executive chef, but also a successful novelist and writer in his spare time. How anyone could even find spare time in a chef’s life as he describes it is unfathomable- -Bourdain obviously thrives on stress and challenges.

    The pace of the book is relentless- -it’s one of those volumes that you can race through in a single day, not allowing anyone to interrupt you. Bourdain’s language is not for everyone though- -he accurately records the words that are said behind the kitchen doors, so if you are squeamish about sex or take offense easily, this book is not for you.

    This book confirms the importance of knowing who is cooking your food. After all, food is something you put inside your body, so it is a real act of trust to consume something that someone else has prepared. It’s remarkable that many people are quite content to let total strangers prepare their food. Why would anyone frequent fast food restaurants where most of the cooks are teenagers with no talent or interest in food preparation, doing it all for minimum wage? At least in kitchens like Bourdain’s, although some of the cooks may be oversexed drug addicts with filthy mouths, only those who can consistently achieve high cooking standards manage to stay on. Bourdain also reminds us to use our heads when placing our orders. After all, when you tell the waiter what you want, the food isn’t just going to appear on the plate out of thin air when the cook snaps his fingers. If the fish market isn’t open on the weekend, then Monday isn’t a great day for ordering fish. Today’s luncheon special may indeed contain leftovers from last night’s menu. Some items take longer than others to prepare- -hence shouldn’t be ordered at five minutes before closing. This book provides a fascinating perspective on what it’s like to study at the CIA, how an executive chef spends his time, and what may be happening behind those closed doors at your favorite restaurant.

  10. Stephen Sykes
    August 1st, 2011 at 02:03 | #10

    Rating

    The first 253 pages of “Kitchen Confidential” would certainly give one pause before ever choosing to dine out again. Author-Chef Anthony Bourdain describes the professional kitchen as a collection of drunks, derelicts and drug addicts the likes with which you would never want to have a close encounter. And as chef de cuisine of Brasserie Les Halles in New York, you’d certainly think he’d know. But on page 254, Bourdain begins to show the other side of the street by describing the kitchen of chef Scott Bryan at Veritas, an upscale restaurant down the street from Les Halles. In this comparison the ultimate lessons are revealed, and what had been up to that point just an amusing ‘tell all’ book, becomes something considerably more. We learn that Bourdain’s world is one of his own choosing, and other chefs at other restaurants can be very different. While Bourdain was propelled thru his early years by drugs and alcohol, Bryan was more serious. While Bourdain reached for the top right out of school and ultimately fell on his face, Bryan carefully refined his craft by working in the kitchens of one expert chef after another. For Bourdain it’s about the pace of life leading a hectic restaurant kitchen; for Bryan it’s all about the food. The lessons come together in the penultimate chapter entitled “So You Want to Be a Chef?”, which spells out the rules for kitchen success as clearly and as vividly and any would-be chef would want. This chapter along with Michael Ruhlman’s “The Making of a Chef” (ISPN 0805061738) should be required reading before any student begins Day 1 at culinary school. The rest of us might just want to chose our restaurants more carefully. Oh, yes…and avoid the fish on a Monday.

  11. J.A. Davis
    August 2nd, 2011 at 10:10 | #11

    Rating

    Oh, you are really going to enjoy this book…while you’re reading it, that is. Then afterwards you’ll be torn between the memories of the hilarious antics Bourdain describes in his book…and memories of the disgusting things that go on every day in restaurant kitchens. Believe it or not, it IS worth reading! (And take it from a former restaurant manager, it is, unfortuately, true – the after-hours shenanigans, especially!)

    Bourdain has put together a truly gonzo collection of restaurant tales that aren’t all depraved…but, like his restaurateur/chef subjects, most of them are! Kudos to him for a book that is this honest while being this hysterical. If you have the, um, stomach for it, this is a book you’ll remember fondly. Well worth digesting!

  12. Anonymous
    August 5th, 2011 at 08:15 | #12

    Rating

    I don’t think you’re going to regret reading this book. But when you’re done, you might find yourself wondering what exactly you just read. Just be aware beforehand that it’s much more about the author than it is about cooking or restaurants.

    I was surprised at the incredible coarseness of the book, but I thought, OK, that’s real life in the restaurant world, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen so to speak. But then towards the end he shows you that actually that’s NOT how it is all through the restaurant world. Forget the last couple hundred pages.

    So maybe he’s just a jerk. Do I feel good about giving my money away to some jerk? But then again, he’ll gladly TELL you he’s a jerk. That’s almost his point. Isn’t the view of a crude, wild, hedonistic lifestyle that most of us would never live but still find fascinating why we buy these memoirs in the first place?

    I found myself saying, “Wow, what an SOB (turn page) I can’t stand this jerk (turn page)…” And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, although it did leave me wondering whether I could really say I “liked” the book. What bothered me more was the poor structure of the book and the almost total lack of editing. Really weird things, like commas constantly popped up at random in the middle of, sentences. Like that. It grew more than a little annoying. And it was almost the last chapter before he actually defined all the cooking terms and the slang he had been using for hundreds of pages. People showed up whose significance he didn’t explain until a number of chapters later.

    So he’s annoying, in many ways the book is annoying, but it’s a fun and wild ride that will definitely give you something to talk about with your friends.

  13. Anonymous
    August 6th, 2011 at 15:42 | #13

    Rating

    In this book, Anthony Bourdain, executive chef at New York’s Brasserie Les Halles, takes us on a wild ride through that city’s food supply industry that includes surprises such as heavy drinking, drugs, debauchery, Mafiosi and assorted seedy personalities.

    It is clear that Bourdain enjoys a true passion for both food and cooking, a passion he inherited from the French side of his family. He tells us he decided to become a chef during a trip to southwestern France when he was only ten years of age and it is a decision he stuck to, graduating from the Culinary Institute of America.

    Kitchen Confidential is a surprisingly well-written account of what life is really like in the commercial kitchens of the United States; “the dark recesses of the restaurant underbelly.” In describing these dark recesses, Bourdain refreshingly casts as many stones at himself as he does at others. In fact, he is brutally honest. There is nothing as tiresome as a “tell-all” book in which the author relentlessly paints himself as the unwitting victim. Bourdain, to his enormous credit, avoids this trap. Maybe he writes so convincingly about drugs and alcohol because drugs and alcohol have run their course through his veins as well as those of others.

    The rather raunchy “pirate ship” stories contained in this fascinating but testosterone-rich book help to bring it vividly to life and add tremendous credibility. The book does tend to discourage any would-be female chefs who might read it, but that’s not Bourdain’s fault; he is simply telling it like it is and telling it hilariously as well.

    In an entire chapter devoted to one of the lively and crude characters that populate this book, Bourdain describes a man named Adam: “Adam Real-Last-Name-Unknown, the psychotic bread-baker, alone in his small, filthy Upper West Side apartment, his eyes two different sizes after a 36-hour coke and liquor jag, white crust accumulated at the corners of his mouth, a two-day growh of whiskers–standing there in a shirt and no pants among the porno mags, the empty Chinese takeout containers, as the Spice channel flickers silently on the TV, throwing blue light on a can of Dinty Moore beef stew by an unmade bed.” Apparently Bourdain made just as many mistakes at the beginning of his career as did Adam, but the book however, doesn’t always paint and bleak picture.

    Another chapter entitled “The Life of Bryan,” talks about renowned chef Scott Bryan, a man, who, according to Bourdain, made all the right decisions. Bourdain describes Bryan’s shining, immaculate kitchen, his well-organized and efficient staff. It’s respectful homage, but somehow, we feel that Bourdain, himself, will never be quite as organized as is Bryan, for Bourdain is just too much of the rebel, the original, the maverick.

    Kitchen Confidential can be informative as well as wickedly funny. Bourdain is hilarious as he tells us what to order in restaurants and when. For instance, we learn never to eat fish on Mondays, to avoid Sunday brunches and never to order any sort of meat well-done. And, if we ever see a sign that says, “Discount Sushi,” we will, if we are smart, run the other way as fast as we possibly can.

    Kitchen Confidential isn’t undying literature but it’s so funny and so well-written that no one should care. It made me hungry for Bourdain’s black sea bass crusted in sel de Bretagne with frites. It also made me order his novel, Bone in the Throat. If it is only half as funny and wickedly well-written as is Kitchen Confidential it will certainly be a treat.

  14. Anonymous
    August 6th, 2011 at 19:40 | #14

    Rating

    I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book more! From the first page to the last, this brutally honest testament of a life as a chef is an absolute “can’t put it down” page-turner.

    It’s wicked, funny, touching and fascinating. I went on errands with my wife, so that I could read to her while she drove — it’s so good that you want to call up strangers and just start reading pages to them — any page will do.

    The best writing is honest writing — and it doesn’t get more honest than this.

    What a geat read. I’m sure that Les Halles, where he works his craft, will be “booked” to infinity because of this book — as it should be.

    Anyone who loves food will devour this with greed…and wish it were longer.

  15. abt1950
    August 7th, 2011 at 01:00 | #15

    Rating

    This is a fascinating, alternately hilarious and appalling account of one chef’s career in the restaurant buisness. Bourdain, now the Executive Chef at Les Halles in New York, regales the reader with a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchens of “gourmet” restaurants he has worked and the characters he has known. To call his account (and his fellow workers) “colorful” is an understatement.

    There is much to like in this book. Occasional insights into why ordering fish on Monday is not such a good idea (it’s left over from Thursday’s delivery) and the logistics of running a major restaurant are fascinating. Also, the anecdotes about management style and successful vs. unsuccessful restaurants make for interesting reading. Bourdain demolishes the mystique of cooking as an art to be mastered by only a few. From his perspective, cooking is a craft that can be learned through grit, endurance, and hard knocks. As he points out, the mainstays of his and many other kitchens are immigrants from Ecuador, Mexico, Bengal and elsewhere who are taught how to recreate consistently and under pressure dishes as directed by the chef. Restaurant work is not easy, and only the strong survive. It’s a war out there–and the kitchen is the combat zone.

    That said, “Kitchen Confidential” is an uneven book that should have had a good editing. The individual chapters have the feel of freestanding pieces, and some of their content is repetitious. Much of the jargon and some of the details of how a kitchen is organized aren’t explained until late in the book, even though he’s been referring to them from the beginning.. By the time he finally does explain the slang and the esoteric details, the astute reader has already figured it out.

    My major complaint about the book, however, is that the book seems to be as much about the author and his excesses as about the places he’s worked. Bourdain was a heavy-duty heroin addict and coke sniffer during the 70s and 80s, and he conjures up the craziness of the period with zest. He’s always worked in kitchens where the culture was testosterone-drenched and the language beyond macho. Although I didn’t find the coarseness particularly shocking considering the primarily male crew and the amount of pressure under which they work, it did get a little wearisome after awhile. Towards the end of the book, Bourdain gives examples of chefs and kitchens with entirely different ways of doing things. As he himself admits, his testosterone-drenched kitchens may be as much an offshoot of his own personality and experiences as restaurant culture itself. In the end, Bourdain comes across as a kind of kooky romantic–the kitchen staff is his family, albeit a dysfunctional one, and he loves their quirks and idiosyncrasies, even (and maybe especially) when they veer off into the criminal.

    Overall, I can’t say I disliked this book–in fact I enjoyed parts of it immensely–but Bourdain’s “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” attitude began to lose its appeal toward the end. This is quick, revealing and at times funny read, but take it with a grain of salt (fleur de sel of course). 3.75 stars.

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