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Open kitchen 

Everything you ever wanted to know about restaurants but were afraid to ask

To hear Anthony Bourdain tell it, the most popular ingredient in any major restaurant's kitchen is testosterone, with cocaine or marijuana vying for second place. The executive chef at New York's Brasserie Les Halles, Bourdain tells almost all in Kitchen Confidential, giving away tricks of the culinary trade and proudly recounting the highs and lows of his life in New York's four-star (and no-star) pressure-cookers.

Feeding hundreds of mouths a meal and working from dawn to midnight, Bourdain says that chefs, line cooks and other kitchen professionals must combine the toughest qualities of air traffic controllers, emergency room personnel and rock stars, and comprise crews who play as hard as they work. Brash and profane, he recounts the transcendence of eating his first oyster and vichyssoise and eventually embarking on a career as a cocky, ambitious but drug-abusing chef.

Bourdain has been scolded for giving away chef secrets, such as that well-done steaks tend to be the worst cuts of meat. He'd never order fish on Mondays or seafood frittatas at Sunday brunch, because the seafood has probably been sitting in a refrigerator all weekend. He takes us through his myriad daily duties, provides warning signs for eateries soon to fold and gives such advice to would-be chefs as to learn Spanish, since a huge number of first-rate kitchen personnel are Latin-American.

A two-time novelist, Bourdain has a lively, gonzo prose style ("Luis screamed like a burning wolverine"), and his accounts of restaurant failures and kamikaze hedonism are morbidly fascinating and hilarious. Kitchen Confidential has narrative gaps, with Bourdain being more forthcoming about his misspent youth than his responsible adulthood. Some bits of kitchen slang and jargon he leaves undefined until late in the book, if ever, and his macho posture becomes repetitive by the book's end. A few of Kitchen Confidential's revelations may kill your appetite for dining out, but remember, if you can't stand the heat ...

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