A professional tourist, Bourdain used his fabulous command of the English language to capture our attention and consistently deliver compelling television centered around food and eating.
A TV staple for nearly two decades, Bourdain seemed to have it all when he hung himself in a France hotel room last week.
A fascinating, one-of-a-kind character, Bourdain failed at least as many times as he succeeded.
He dropped out of college before graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978. He filed bankruptcy before becoming one of the most influential people in the world.
Often his own worst enemy, the raconteur and roustabout danced with heroine and other narcotics as he bounced from restaurant to restaurant.
Anthony Bourdain’s epic failure
After his Times Square area restaurant went under in a big way, Anthony Bourdain turned on his own industry to publish an article titled, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” in The New Yorker.
His writing was tight, dramatic and grabbed your attention like a bacon appetizer:
“Gastronomy is the science of pain. Professional cooks belong to a secret society whose ancient rituals derive from the principles of stoicism in the face of humiliation, injury, fatigue, and the threat of illness.
The members of a tight, well-greased kitchen staff are a lot like a submarine crew. Confined for most of their waking hours in hot, airless spaces, and ruled by despotic leaders, they often acquire the characteristics of the poor saps who were press-ganged into the royal navies of Napoleonic times–superstition, a contempt for outsiders, and a loyalty to no flag but their own.”
The article was loaded with dirt from the restaurant business:
- Sub-prime cuts of beef were served to diners who ordered their entree’s “well done” because they wouldn’t know the difference anyway
- On six days of the week in most restaurants, “fresh” fish is anything but
- Butter is the first thing and the last thing in the pan if the chef knows what he’s doing
- The better the restaurant, the more people are touching your food
- The people touching your food are a motley crew of misfits and miscreants who you might not want in the kitchen
An infamous article led to a book deal
Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly was released in 2000. Bon Appetit magazine awarded him “Food Writer of the Year” in 2001. There were more books and Bourdain eventually started his own publishing imprint.
The success of Kitchen Confidential led Bourdain to television. A Cook’s Tour ran on the Food Network in 2002-2003. The Travel Channel produced Bourdain’s No Reservations from 2005-2012. His show about being trapped in Beirut, Lebanon won an Emmy in 2007.
Bourdain arrived at the top of the TV food chain when CNN offered him near total autonomy with Parts Unknown, which ran from 2013 until his death.
Anthony Bourdain’s public image was that of a simple, common man, but he could be complicated, as well.
He came off like a rogue, but was raised a citizen of culture. His father was a classical music industry executive and his mother an editor for the New York Times. As a youngster, Bourdain vacationed with his family in France before he started at Vassar College.
Bourdain liked his beer but spoke with the elocution of a sober judge.
The chef-turned-journalist developed a reputation for openness and truth, but chose not to talk about his apparent anguish and pain.
Tony Bourdain was a guy who seemed like he wouldn’t back away from a street brawl and picked a few fights of his own. He smack talked everyone from fellow chefs Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri to musicians Billy Joel and Elton John.
He despised vegetarians in general.
A man known for his incisive and sensitive commentary on the human condition, he left behind a nine-year-old daughter. It’s reported that Bourdain quit smoking for the sake of his daughter.
Later in life, he admitted that he was more of a cook than a chef, but in this day and age, titles don’t matter. We know what we like.
The late Anthony Bourdain prided himself on being prompt. He was certainly right on time for us and he left too soon.
The Jackson Pollack of food painted the truth about how things are and more importantly, how things can be.
Jerry Lewis also died recently. Read this article about his one-of-a-kind comic career.
What was your favorite Anthony Bourdain TV episode? His visit to the Waffle House? The famous Beirut show? I welcome your comments below…