Anthony Bourdain Talks About the Big Break That Changed His Life–at Age 44

In 1999, Antho­ny Bourdain’s career seemed to have stalled. While his “prin­ci­pal voca­tion remained his posi­tion as exec­u­tive chef” at New York’s Les Halles, rest­less intel­li­gence and wan­der­lust kept him look­ing for oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties. “He was 43 years old, rode hard and put up wet,” writes Eliz­a­beth Nel­son at The Ringer, “a recov­er­ing addict with a num­ber of debts and a pen­chant for find­ing trou­ble in fail­ing restau­rants across the city.” He had fought for and won an unde­ni­able mea­sure of suc­cess, but he hard­ly seemed on the thresh­old of the major celebri­ty chef­dom he would main­tain until his death twen­ty years lat­er in 2018.

Then, “in the spring of 2000, his sub­li­mat­ed lit­er­ary ambi­tions sud­den­ly caught up with and then quick­ly sur­passed his cook­ing.” Bourdain’s mem­oir Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial “became an imme­di­ate sen­sa­tion,” intro­duc­ing his icon­o­clasm, acer­bic wit, and out­ra­geous con­fes­sion­al style to mil­lions of read­ers, who would soon become view­ers of his try-any­thing trav­el­ogue series, A Cook’s Tour, No Reser­va­tionsThe Lay­over, and Parts Unknown, as well as loy­al read­ers of his sub­se­quent books, and even fic­tion like as Gone Bam­boo, a crime nov­el soon to become a TV series.

How did Bour­dain first get his win­ning per­son­al­i­ty before the mass­es? It all start­ed with a 1999 New York­er arti­cle called “Don’t Eat Before Read­ing This,” the pre­de­ces­sor to Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial and an essay that begins with what we might now rec­og­nize as a pro­to­typ­i­cal­ly Bour­dain­ian sen­tence: “Good food, good eat­ing, is all about blood and organs, cru­el­ty and decay.” In the inter­view clip above, from Bourdain’s final, 2017 inter­view with Fast Com­pa­ny, he talks about how the sto­ry led to his “huge break” just a cou­ple days after it ran, when a Blooms­bury edi­tor called with an offer of “the stag­ger­ing­ly high price of fifty thou­sand dol­lars to write a book.”

Every­one who loves Bourdain’s writing—and who loved his gen­er­ous, ecu­meni­cal culi­nary spirit—knows why Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial changed his life overnight, as he says. Yes, “food is pain,” as he writes in the book’s “First Course,” but also, “food is sex”—”the delights of Por­tuguese squid stew, of Well­fleet oys­ters on the half­shell, New Eng­land clam chow­der, of greasy, won­der­ful, fire-red chori­zo sausages, kale soup, and a night when the striped bass jumped right out of the water and onto Cape Cod’s din­ner tables.” Bourdain’s prose lingers over every delight, prepar­ing us for the escapades to come.

In Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial, the exhaus­tion, “sheer weird­ness,” and con­stant “threat of dis­as­ter,” that attend New York kitchen life (and life “inside the CIA”—the Culi­nary Insti­tute of Amer­i­ca, that is), becomes fleshed out with scenes of culi­nary deca­dence the likes of which most read­ers had nev­er seen, smelled, or tast­ed. Fans craved more and more from the chef who wrote, in 1999, just before he would become a best­selling house­hold name, “my career has tak­en an eeri­ly appro­pri­ate turn: these days, I’m the chef de cui­sine of a much loved, old-school French brasserie/bistro where… every part of the animal—hooves, snout, cheeks, skin, and organs—is avid­ly and appre­cia­tive­ly pre­pared and con­sumed.”

Read Bourdain’s New York­er essay here and see his full 2017 inter­view with Fast Com­pa­ny just above.

via @Yoh31

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Life Lessons from Antho­ny Bour­dain: How He Devel­oped His Iron Pro­fes­sion­al­ism, Achieved Cre­ative Free­dom & Learned from Fail­ure

Watch Antho­ny Bourdain’s Free Show, Raw Craft Where He Vis­its Crafts­men Mak­ing Gui­tars, Tat­toos, Motor­cy­cles & More (RIP)

Michael Pol­lan Explains How Cook­ing Can Change Your Life; Rec­om­mends Cook­ing Books, Videos & Recipes

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.