One of the sharpest-looking comedy pilots in recent years, "Kitchen Confidential" is not only an interesting assembly of sauces and vegetables, it's got comedic meat and potatoes on the menu, too. Darren Star has whipped up a crew of intriguing characters and in just 22 minutes, the cast makes them not only real but familiar.

One of the sharpest-looking comedy pilots in recent years, “Kitchen Confidential” is not only an interesting assembly of sauces and vegetables, it’s got comedic meat and potatoes on the menu, too. Darren Star has whipped up a crew of intriguing characters and in just 22 minutes, the cast makes them not only real but familiar.

“Kitchen Confidential” takes its title from the memoir/eatery tell-all penned by Gotham chef Anthony Bourdain, who has since become more of a traveling TV personality than the guy inspecting the meat at Les Halles on Park Avenue.

“Kitchen” doesn’t so much resemble Star’s previous shows — “Sex and the City,” “Beverly Hills, 90210″ — as it does play to his strength, i.e., characters. He has a star in Bradley Cooper who is eminently watchable and as his life intersects with others, those supporting characters leave a residue that will make viewers want them revisited.

Star has swapped the name of Jack for Anthony for his head chef and made him, initially, less caustic and even lovable. Both Bourdains are talented cooks with a big blank spot on their resumes when the booze, drugs and promiscuity took over their lives.

Cooper brings the spirit of a grateful grouch to Bourdain as he escapes the confines of a family Italian joint run by his girlfriend (Andrea Parker) to take over the reopening of a trendy spot titled Nolita. After a quick meeting with dignified Nolita owner Pino (Frank Langella), Bourdain has 48 hours to assemble a staff, buy food, design a menu and serve the 300 guests with reservations on opening night.

He poaches kitchen help with promises of visas, dental insurance and a chance to start over; g.f. has no problem with him leaving her for a new opportunity. Upon his arrival, however, he immediately butts heads with manager Mimi (Bonnie Somerville), whose relationship with Pino is a bit of a mystery. Their conflict suggests one thing: future romantic sparks.

As they get the dining room up and running and Bourdain asserts his personality through the room, everything starts to click — and despite some miscues in the service, Nolita even gets a fab opening review. Subplots with critic and a rookie chef expose personal histories and individual traits in a compact, linear fashion.

Ensemble is attractive but not to the point of distraction. Cooper’s rival for the women is sous chef Steven (Owain Yeoman), whose prankster skills seem second to none. (Surname is Daedalus, but one assumes that’s Star’s nod to James Joyce and nothing more.)

Model-turned-actress Jaime King has fun with the ditzy hostess Tanya; Bonnie Somerville plays Mimi with appropriate rigidity and reserved anger.

“Kitchen Confidential” uses flashback to humorous effects and, like so many comedies, lets the lead speak to the camera. Fortunately, every time this over-used technique is employed, the observations are smart and worthy of a chuckle.

Tone of “Confidential,” from Star’s direction to the look of restaurants, patrons and Bourdain’s home, are spot on. Show has a splendid energy that will allow it to hold onto “Arrested Development” viewers and bring in viewers not yet convinced about “AD’s” genius. CBS, however, will provide a considerable battle with the impressive “How I Met Your Mother” in the hammock between “King of Queens” and “Two and a Half Men.”

Kitchen Confidential

Fox, Mon. Sept. 19, 8:30 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Monkey Proof Prods., Darren Star Prods. and New Line Prods. in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive producers, Darren Star, David Hemingson, Jim Rosenthal, David Knoller; producer, Jeff Morton; director, Star; writer, Hemingson.

Crew

Camera, Tim Ives; production design, Stephen Hendrickson; editor, John Axness; music, Daniel Licht; casting, Deborah Barylski. Running Time: 30 MIN.

Cast

Jack Bourdain - Bradley Cooper Seth - Nicholas Berendon Jim - John Francis Daley Tanya - Jaime King Mimi - Bonnie Somerville Steven - Owain Yeoman
With: Frank Langella, John Cho, Andrea Parker, Sam Pancake, Tessie Santiago, Bitty Schram.
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