BY ARTHUR MCCULLOCH
So I’m on a desert island. John Donne be damned. Of course, my first concern is to check that I’ve packed the one and only book I’ve been allowed to bring. Luckily, I’m prepared and I whip out my copy of Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain.
Arriving at this choice was much more difficult. First posed with the question of what to take, my immediate ideas turned out to be rubbish. I considered the Bible. What better choice for a man in need of some serious faith? Almost immediately, my selection starts to break down. Most of the New Testament is about relating to other people, which is no longer pertinent given my current circumstances. The Old Testament still seems to hold some merit. That’s the kind of god that would get a kick out of sticking some poor bloke out on an island to let him rot. But once again, I’m alone on this island. And in the absence of another human consciousness, I’m now my own god. So, to hell with the Bible.
A nice bit of pornography comes to mind next. A little good morning sunshine in the form of an inviting nude might get me through my rougher moods. But while an improvement over developing an unhealthy relationship with a volleyball, the prospect of having conversations with a tattered, wind-blown pin-up is too sad to contemplate.
Next, I think I really have got it. I’m a writer, right? I’m the literary type. What would I want if I were me? I consider a really monumental work, like, say Ulysses. Or some 1,300 plus paged behemoth of an epic – something sweeping, intellectual yet moving, thought-provoking yet tearfully funny. Similarly, I consider a collection of short stories, a Norton anthology, or any other big book that I’ve always wanted to read, like The Tunnel, by William Gass. But who wants to lug around any of these heavy books, especially in the desert? I don’t want the spine of some five-pound tome pressing into my gut as I lay baking in the sand.
I’m stuck on a desert beach. It’s hot. The sun will bounce off the pages in a migraine-inducing glare. And, frankly, who reads Ulysses at the beach? If I were steaming along on the ocean and discovered some poor fucker marooned on the beach and reading “greatness,” I’d probably consider the guy a douchebag and leave him there to waste in his salty grave.
So, instead I’m going for something visceral.
Food is something I’d definitely miss. But schlepping along a cookbook would be a pointless act of sadomasochism.
Kitchen Confidential is about food, but not in a way that will make me ravenous, or suddenly smell bacon. And it’s funny. A New York Times Bestseller and a hell of an entertaining read, this is my final beach read. It’s light and humorous and exposes me to a gritty part of human life and subculture that is fascinating and unfamiliar.
I first experienced Anthony Bourdain while watching Top Chef. He’s often a guest judge on the show and his comments simply kill. I had to get this book and it’s one that I’ve always wanted to read.
There’s sex, drugs, and food. I’ll certainly miss these as I’m pining away for civilization.
So far I’ve read the preface, the appetizer, and the first course. I’m hooked. Bourdain’s journey is wild and terrible. Full of raw living, his is the kind of alive I’ll hunger for on my desert prison.
The writing is straightforward prose. Often unflinching and in your face, he’s not afraid to reveal the nastier aspects of himself and his less than pure motivations that fueled his culinary desires. A thrill seeker, a sensualist, he exposes the seedy side of the restaurant business in a way that is truly captivating.
The new celebrity chef culture is a remarkable and admittedly annoying phenomenon. While it’s been nothing but good for business – and for me personally – many of us in the life can’t help snickering about it. Of all the professions, after all, few people are less suited to be suddenly thrown into the public eye than chefs.
Witty, sardonic, and irreverent, I can’t help but feel a wonderful combination of admiration and repulsion. Frankly, he’s a jerk. But my kind of jerk. I don’t know if I’d really like to meet him or would prefer to be regaled from a nice comfortable distance. He’s a dark and funny bastard and that’s the kind of voice I want to hear when I’m stranded and alone.
I’m asked a lot what the best thing about cooking for a living is. And it’s this: to be a part of a subculture. To be part of a historical continuum, a secret society with its own language and customs. To enjoy the instant gratification of making something good with one’s hands – using all one’s senses. It can be, at times, the purest and most unselfish way of giving pleasure (though oral sex has to be a close second).
Am I selling myself short by not reading a, to borrow a phrase, breathtaking work of staggering genius or a monumental work of philosophy and religion? No.
I don’t want a book I need to cherish, to keep out of the weather and sand. I want a book that’s new to me and one that I’ll be content to read numerous times. In the end, I want a book that I’m not going to be afraid to tear the pages out of – to populate the ocean with bottled notes, to use as kindling, or sadly, in the end, to wipe my ass.