Anthony Bourdains Transformation from Journeyman Chef to Food Icon

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When Kitchen Confidential was published in May of 2000, Anthony Bourdain was a burned-out career cook who had spent a pretty unremarkable career bouncing from one New York restaurant to the next.” As a cook, I wasn’t an important chef ,” he told me last year, when I indicated he was being humble about his cook career.” I was not an innovator. I was not a creative cook. I never had a successful restaurant .”

Unbeknownst to most of the diners he cooked for at the time, he wrote mystery fictions on the side and was actively pitching his food writing.( His journalism aspirations weren’t so surprising, devoted his mother was an editor at the New York Times .) At least one major food magazine I know of pass away publishing his early stuff–perhaps as big of a mistake as the Red Sox trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

But after the book “re coming out”, things changed. At first, its salacious tips, racy narratives, uncensored opinions and f-bombs built the biggest impact–including, famously, that you should never eat fish on Monday( it’s from the previous week) and brunch menus are usually a patchwork of gussied-up leftovers.( The book’s subtitle –< em> Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly — didn’t hurt either .) Bourdain suddenly received himself palling around with the most famous cooks in the world, all eager to welcome the supposed bad son to the club.

For his encore the following year, he wrote and released A Cook’s Tour , in which he feed and drank his style around the world. Naturally, a Food Network TV series based on the idea came next. Instead of bringing cooks to a studio( Julia Child-style) or cooking in front of an audience( like so many of the Food Network’s other early indicates had done ), A Cook’s Tour </ em> employed Bourdain’s sudden stardom as an excuse to set out on epic adventures. He visited cooks in their kitchens and homes all over the world, the more exotic the better. And along the way, whether he knew it or not, he changed the course of food TV and food writing forever.

His approach to blending food and travel, as simple as it seems, is now so familiar and permeating, it’s hard to properly devote it the due it deserves. Child induced the work of professional chefs accessible to home enthusiasts, but Bourdain built cooking cool, sexy, a little dangerous and, most important, a means to understand the world. His insider perspectives and engaging writing style constructed him an instant celebrity, but his long-term contributions are much harder to quantify and will be felt for decades.


His books and other reveals (< em> No Reservations on the Travel Channel and Parts Unknown on CNN continued his ventures) helped propel celebrity chefs into a new stratosphere of renown and increased the breadth and depth of food coverage. Publications, newspapers and websites of all kinds abruptly wanted food and drink content similar to his work. Inspired, journalists hit the road aiming for the farthest corners of the food world.

Perpetually armed with a perfect sound bite, which he would drop with gleeful mischievousness, Bourdain knew how to make a headline. But his greatest gift to his audience weren’t his bitingly funny comments or, for that are important, his recipes. It was his boundless curiosity.

That effect can be seen before dawn at the Tokyo fish market, where tourists now flock in search of a Bourdain-like experience of eating unfathomably fresh tuna for breakfast. He pushed Americans to step outside their culinary( and otherwise) bubbles, and they bit.

But it was about more than merely food. Snacks and food prep often jump-started eye-opening debates about culture pride, history and evolution. As the years went on, the food quotient of his shows decreased significantly. It didn’t seem to matter. His influence and star power merely grew, fueled by his willingness to talk–and listen. On Parts Unknown , he tackled topics like the opioid epidemic currently tearing apart western Massachusetts. His pointed commentary continued on Twitter, where he was often a voice of reason even when the world seemed craziest.

Bourdain transcended the food-travel-show paradigm, which prevented him from becoming a caricature, and he was too smart( or too relentlessly real) to accept bullshit. I often think about one scene in which he watches an Italian chef “dive” for fish that someone in a nearby boat flings into the water. It happened to be Bourdain’s birthday; the scene was enough to send him to the bar for the rest of the day.

Cooking presents and food writing generally stayed in their assigned lanes before him, softly revealing other truths if you read carefully between the recipe lines. But what truly aroused him was the dialogue and exploration of other cultures. It was an act of sleight of hand by a master illusionist, who got his hungry spectators and readers to look at themselves and other people in a new light.


In person, Bourdain could be playful and was willing to entertain interesting questions and digressions. A few years ago, we chatted about silly hangover remedies and whether the old rule of drinking brew before alcohol actually runs. Not merely did he seem to enjoy the issues to, but his extemporaneous answers were like a voiceover from his depict.” Use decision ,” he said.” Drink responsibly. If you’ve had a whiskey and then you moved over to wine for dinner, and maybe you have another whiskey or Cognac after, and later at the bar some meathead comes up to you with a tray full of tequila shot and indicates it would be a really good idea to start pounding[ them ]– this is probably going to lead to some bad decision making on your part. You will regret this almost inevitably .”

He was even thinner than usual as he sat across from me, perhaps the ceaseless travelling, long snacks and endless commitments taking their toll. But he had an infectious sparkle in his eye and was unusually unhurried and patient for someone whose time was in such demand.

His generosity is spoken of widely and his generous spirit was one of his greatest characteristics. He employed his star power to illuminate important projects and issues. He championed chefs, eateries and cuisines from around the world. His eponymous volume imprint for HarperCollins published a number of interesting runs that he felt deserved more attention, and his PBS indicate Mind of a Chef , which he made and narrated, used a range of storytelling mechanisms to bring each season alive.

Last year, he created a documentary about chef Jeremiah Tower, which was as much a meditation on the nature of celebrity as it was about cooking. We chatted over the phone about Tower, among other things for my tale about the movie. In true Bourdain fashion, he jumped right in.” I think that he’s changed the world in ways that we take for granted now ,” he told.” Look, it cannot be understated the importance of the simple fact that Jeremiah was the first fuckable American chef .” He continued:” Jeremiah changed the world of restaurants and eatery cook, the worldview of the restaurant chef and the high expectations of the average diner in such a way that few, if any other, American chefs ever did .”

Even though he would no doubt fight me on this, Bourdain did the exact same thing.

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