The book, released in 2000, is both Bourdain's professional story and a behind-the-scenes look at restaurant kitchens. The book is known for its treatment of the professional culinary industry. The commercial kitchen is described as an intense, unpleasant and sometimes hazardous place of work staffed by what he describes as misfits. Bourdain believes it's no place for hobbyists and all those entering this industry will run away screaming if they lack a masochistic, irrational dedication to cooking.
The book alternates between a confessional narrative and an industry commentary, providing insightful and humorous anecdotes on the cooking trade. Bourdain details some of his personal misdeeds and weaknesses, including drug use and excessive lifestyle. He explains how restaurants function economically and the various restaurateur's tricks of which consumers should be aware. For example, he advises customers to avoid ordering fish on a Monday as the fish for Monday would be likely a remnant from the weekend or earlier. He also suggests avoiding beef well done: the meat is more likely to be from less-than-best grade as the substandard flavor would be masked in overcooking.
The book was well received critically and created a large public following. Bourdain consequently became a celebrity, even though, ironically, he is known for his put-downs of many so-called "celebrity chefs".