Chef Anthony Bourdain’s new book, Kitchen Confidential, takes readers behind the swinging kitchen doors for an uncensored look at the restaurant industry and its cast of characters.
In the first chapter of Bourdain’s latest book, the chef explains how childhood experiences with cold soup and oysters changed his life forever.
Chapter 1 First Course: Food Is Good My first indication that food was something other than a substance one stuffed in one’s face when hungry — like filling up at a gas station — came after fourth-grade elementary school. It was on a family vacation to Europe, on the Queen Mary, in the cabin-class dining room. There’s a picture somewhere: my mother in her Jackie O sunglasses, my younger brother and I in our painfully cute cruisewear, boarding the big Cunard ocean liner, all of us excited about our first transatlantic voyage, our first trip to my father’s ancestral homeland, France.
It was the soup.
It was cold.
This was something of a discovery for a curious fourth-grader whose entire experience of soup to this point had consisted of Campbell’s cream of tomato and chicken noodle. I’d eaten in restaurants before, sure, but this was the first food I really noticed. It was the first food I enjoyed and, more important, remembered enjoying. I asked our patient British waiter what this delightfully cool, tasty liquid was.
‘Vichyssoise,’ came the reply, a word that to this day—even though it’s now a tired old warhorse of a menu selection and one I’ve prepared thousands of times — still has a magical ring to it. I remember everything about the experience: the way our waiter ladled it from a silver tureen into my bowl, the crunch of tiny chopped chives he spooned on as garnish, the rich, creamy taste of leek and potato, the pleasurable shock, the surprise that it was cold.
I don’t remember much else about the passage across the Atlantic. I saw “Boeing Boeing” with Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis in the Queen’s movie theater, and a Bardot flick. The old liner shuddered and groaned and vibrated terribly the whole way — barnacles on the hull was the official explanation — and from New York to Cherbourg, it was like riding atop a giant lawnmower. My brother and I quickly became bored, and spent much of our time in the “Teen Lounge”, listening to “House of the Rising Sun” on the jukebox, or watching the water slosh around like a contained tidal wave in the below-deck salt-water pool.
But that cold soup stayed with me. It resonated, waking me up, making me aware of my tongue, and in some way, preparing me for future events.