Hey! Remember When Kitchen Confidential Was a Show?
Let's go watch it!
January 12, 2018 ● 5 min read
By Richie Nakano | Image via Photofest, Art by ChefsFeed
2005. Remember 2005?
Sweet, simple George W. Bush was President, Beyoncé was still in Destiny’s Child, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of The Sith was in theaters, and Anthony Bourdain’s literary smash hit, Kitchen Confidential, was made into a TV show starring a baby-faced Bradley Cooper (who, weirdly, would return 10 years later, a little more banged up, in Burnt.)
And not just any TV show: a sitcom on FOX, produced by Darren Starr, of Sex & The City fame. SATC had just finished its run on HBO, which freed Darren Starr up to do…this! Kitchen Confidential only lasted one season, and only ever aired four of its 13 episodes. So how does it hold up over a decade later? Glad you asked.
Like I said, this is a sitcom, so there’s a general structure at play in every episode. Think Scrubs meets SATC, but its intended audience is a frat house where three of the brothers have been taking weekend cooking classes at Sur La Table.
The general rhythm is something like: Bradley Cooper gives you some kind of insider information about #cheflife. Something zany happens. The lead waitress yells at Bradley Cooper. Sex joke. Running gag of the intern spilling a bag of onions. Bradley Cooper makes out with someone, possibly while shirtless. Sex joke. Something zany happens. Sex joke. Running gag of Ramon the dishwasher threatening the lead waitress with physical harm. Bradley Cooper doubles down on his bad behavior, receives little to no comeuppance, problem resolved, he makes out with someone.
The show, against all odds, gets some things right:
• Bradley Cooper gives a loud, shouty lineup. I absolutely used to give those, and have also been the person that got shouted at during them.
• Some of the guests are creeps! Ah, so nice to see that hasn’t changed AT ALL.
• Drama with a street vendor! It’s like they predicted the great food truck wars of 2011!
• There’s a creepy bread guy. We have all met a creepy bread guy or a spooky pastry chef. That level of precision and attention requires a certain amount of psychosis.
• The computers go down! It's chaos. This just needs to happen every other episode to ring true.
• There’s a montage of BC getting fired from several jobs wearing a selection of earth-tone chef coats. Remember these? They looked so good with chili pepper chef pants.
• The owner of the restaurant calls sweetbreads “vanity meats.” He is correct. Only chefs enjoy sweetbreads, they’re impossible to move, and tbh nine times out of 10 they taste like, well….thymus glands.
• There’s an uproar in the kitchen over brunch service. All of a sudden this show is a documentary.
• The servers attack a plate of food like wild animals. One time I put up THE ENTIRE MENU and it was gone before I got through the second item. I had to start making certain servers stand right next to me so I could police their eating.
…but also after 13 years, certain things are out of date:
• BC has knife tattoos! On his forearm. Man, that's cute.
• The show just has like, a lot of mild racism and not so mild sexism.
• The title sequence features a bra hanging from a pan rack. Bras are not restaurant decor—even Applebees would never.
• So much white asparagus. One dish has it arranged into a pyramid!
• All of the plates are square. Remember those days? They made plating really hard, kinda like arranging food inside a picture frame.
• Lindsay Lohan reference! This being 2005, we are solidly pre-basketcase LiLo.
• Denim chef coats!
• They reference Zagat. Twice! And seem to know how the rating system works!
…and certain things have straight up changed over the years…:
• BC offers dental insurance and work visas under false pretenses to get cooks to work for him both of which will probably be nonexistent if Trump stays in office another week.
• Three words: rosemary sprig garnish.
• The kitchen hazing involves throwing food on the ground, stabbing someone in the leg, locking a guy in a fridge, and also drugging him. Locking someone in a fridge is no laughing matter—didn't they see that very special episode of Punky Brewster where Cherie hides in an old fridge during hide-and-seek and almost DIES?
• Investment bankers come in and rack up an $18,000 bill, which today is the daily budget for Mark Zuckerberg's personal raw water and Soylent consumption.
• So. Many. Fried. Leeks.
• They comp some other chefs 5 entrees and dessert, which every chef does once, then gets grilled at the P&L meeting about “the $400 in comps”
• There is one chef in the kitchen with tattoos. ONE.
• They get delivered a case of live rabbits and it's a real problem because, you know, rabbits are cute. These days if you were known for slaughtering your own rabbits in-house it would probably land you your own episode of Chef's Table.
• Guests call to cancel their reservations. No one in the world has had the courtesy to call and cancel their reservation since 2009.
…and certain things just were never a thing to begin with:
• BC says “ever since the age of eight, I knew exactly what I wanted to do." Remember being eight? Unless “what I wanted to do” involved riding my bike and throwing rocks into a creek, I wasn't interested.
• During a montage, they do cocaine through a piece of penne. Penne is barely suitable for eating, much less as a vehicle for consuming drugs.
• The pilot has BC about to take over a kitchen with no staff, no food, 300 on the books and set to open in 48 hours. Look, Gordon Ramsay wouldn’t even take this kitchen nightmare on. C'mon guys.
• The sous chef gets his finger chopped off, it winds up in a critic's food, they catch it just in time, and she writes them a raving review that same night. IN A PRINT EDITION. Twitter doesn’t even move that fast.
• WHY DOES NO ONE BUTTON THEIR CHEF COAT UP ALL THE WAY. When you don’t button a chef coat, it flops open like a giant butterfly collar. It looks terrible. And all of these idiots are doing it.
• In one scene there are FOURTEEN COOKS in the kitchen. Fourteen cooks? In this economy?
• A scene: in a voiceover BC says, “In the kitchen, there are no men, no women, only chefs.” The female CDC takes off her clothes in the employee changing area, the intern stares at her, so she forces him to grope her. Then they present him with a cake, with what looks like boobs. This all happens in the first 90 seconds of the show.
• The restaurant gets robbed and they take the cook's wallets. Jokes on you dude, ALL of those bank accounts are overdrawn.
• Jim asks for burn cream and is told there is no burn cream. This is not accurate. There is always burn cream. What there isn’t is: band-aids, finger cots, aspirin, gauze, or anything else you might actually need for first aid in a kitchen.
The thing about Kitchen Confidential is that it's like, 45% good intentions—a smattering of good jokes, set in what looks like a real professional kitchen—and 55% crass jokes, ass-grabbing, overt sexual harassment, and gratuitous cleavage. It’s both a highly embarrassing trip down memory lane and a stark reminder of how far we have to go.
And now I'll never get those hours back, so you're all welcome.