I recently read Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain’s memoir about working as a chef in the restaurant industry. This was my first book by Anthony Bourdain and I really enjoyed it. His writing voice sounds just like his speaking voice! There were some funny parts and he’s very likeable, despite his disdain for vegetarians and people who order sauce on the side (I’m afraid he wouldn’t like me much because I have a tendency to do the latter).
The book received a lot of press for exposing the dark side of the restaurant business. He does make the typical restaurant kitchen sound like a more savage place than I would have imagined, but somehow I already knew that breadbaskets are recycled and you shouldn’t eat fish on a Monday, so those parts weren’t shocking revelations.
My only gripe about Kitchen Confidential is that I would have liked to know more about Bourdain’s personal life and the gaps between his cooking jobs. He mentions multiple times that he is a recovered heroin addict, but he doesn’t discuss this in depth. I realize Kitchen Confidential is a food memoir and Bourdain has free rein to write about whatever he likes, but it would have been interesting to know more about how he recovered, since so few people survive heroin addictions. I was also curious to know more about his wife (now ex-wife) who he occasionally mentions and to whom the book is dedicated.
On a recent evening I was reading the book when my dinner plans fell through. I was on the Les Halles chapter and had wanted to try the restaurant for a while, so I decided to go there solo. Les Halles is a traditional French brasserie in Murray Hill where Bourdain worked as executive chef until the publication of Kitchen Confidential, which launched his career as celebrity chef/author/foodie extraordinaire. He is still considered the “chef-at-large,” but I doubt he spends much time there.
I arrived around 9PM and was surprised that the restaurant and bar were very crowded, although I took the one available seat at the bar. I’m hesitant to order my favorite French entrée, steak tartare, unless I’m in a very reliable establishment, but Les Halles fit the criteria. I read online that they are known for making the steak tartare tableside and to order. Since I sat at the bar I missed the show, but the bartender did ask if I wanted it hot, medium, or mild. I picked medium and I think it was the largest portion of steak tartare that I’ve ever seen and also the best that I’ve had in NYC. The steak tartare came with a side of French friends and a small salad. Les Halles is known for their French fries and while I thought they were good, the steak tartare was more impressive. After the meal the gentleman sitting next to me bought me a baby Guinness shot (Kahlúa and Baileys). I had never had one before and while I found it a bit overly sweet, it made for a nice ending to a lovely meal.