Smithsoian’s Ron Rosenbaum sits down with the writer and chef.
Rosenbaum talks about Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, one of the most inspiring books I’ve read, and captures much of what I found appealing about it:
Kitchen Confidential is one of the few books in recent American literature to capture the communal ecstasy of Work. American writers rarely write about work anymore. Not tech work, quant work, digital work, but real work, manual work, crew work, often skilled but sweaty.
Yes! For me, that was a big part of the appeal of Kitchen Confidential: Communal work, as part of something bigger than yourself, even if that something is just a restaurant serving mediocre, instantly-forgotten seafood to tourists on Cape Cod. I’m wistful about that. I’ve worked from a home office for about half my career — that’s isolated work.
Bourdain is passionate for the work itself. I get that sometimes on my job. Not often enough, but sometimes.
Cooking, [Bourdain] says, can “develop this glorious culture that values certain things. Firemen have that same sort of thing—there’s us and f–k everyone else. Cop culture, people who are doing difficult things who are used to being under-appreciated….You develop a unit pride that allows you to transcend the overwhelming likelihood that the mission is doomed, OK?”
Bourdain also talks about America’s growing food culture:
[T]he whole seismic food culture shift isn’t American superficiality but the New World learning what the Old World has known for centuries. “We’re just catching on,” he says. “We are changing societally, and our values are changing, so that we are becoming more like Italians and Chinese and Thais and Spaniards, where we actually think about what we’re eating, what we ate last night, and what we’re considering eating tomorrow. When I grew up in the ’60s, we’d go to see a movie, then we would go to a restaurant. And we would talk about the movie we just saw. Now, you go right to dinner and you talk about the dinner you had last week and the dinner you’re going to have next week, while you’re taking pictures of the dinner you’re having now. That’s a very Italian thing. A lot of the sort of hypocrisy and silliness and affectation of current American food culture is just fits and starts, awkwardly and foolishly growing into a place where a lot of older cultures have been for quite some time.”