RIP Anthony Bourdain

Thursday night was slow one at the shop. The joint I Chef at is located inside a well-regarded resort and as such we are at the whim of the seasons. It’s too damn hot here for people want to spend much time during the summer so we run in a counterintuitive fashion to most of the restaurant world. You can always tell when we have time to burn – the walk in is perfectly organized/properly labeled and dry storage looks as neat as a pin. There’s no residual effluent of spilled Ox tail stock and half broken down boxes around and the back of house staff is in full mahalo mode. Most of our prep team went home early (a welcome respite) and we were down to bare bones on the line. I was catching up on some paperwork and prepping for a small tasting the next day, the other Chefs were tying up loose ends and plating some new menu items for weekend launch. It really didn’t feel like the calm before the storm, more like a respite between Caribbean hurricanes but we’ll take it. Like I said, it was quiet.
Thankfully I’m beyond the hero worship phase of my life, at least non fictional ones and for sure I generally don’t idolize people I don’t know personally. I can dig it, Gandalf and Colonel Klink are rad but outside a few other etherial examples I rarely put anyone on a pedestal. The literal handful I do regard in that fashion are folks I’ve gotten to know and learn from. I figure most public figures are possibly jerks/junkies/sociopaths if you really got to know then despite the outward manifestation of their persona so why not skip straight to knocking them down a few notches. One exception to this was Anthony Bourdain. And for some reason I never thought about him during the excess chaos of a mad kitchen rush, it was always in the quiet moments in between. That’s because I think he would have appreciated a bit of sovereign silence.
I’m sure he wasn’t accepting applications on new friends, at some point in one’s personal journey your dance card is full. But I would have liked to have made his acquaintance. In light of never meeting or getting to know him I won’t refer to Mr. Bourdain as “Anthony” or “Tony” like my Dave Matthews fan troll buddies call him “Dave”. I didn’t know Mr. Bourdain and for sure won’t get a chance to now (at least in this world) so I’ll respectfully address him in the proper fashion. But I did admire the guy and think we would have hit it off. He wrote like he wasn’t trying be anything and I’m fairly confident that – like me – he was a big ego guy without seeming like a big ego guy. That’s tough to navigate. Just ask Big Sandy.
He “spoke with his pen” to use the term and in his case it was extreme. He scribed like he verbalized and you could hear his endearingly snobby yet trashy transatlantic East Coast drawl in every sentence. He was like that rich kid in Junior High that had the car and pills, threw it all away despite his parents protests and went screaming off into the great unknown. In Mr. Bourdain’s case this rocky (and rolly) journey led him rise like a Phenix from his drug fueled past and pull off what would have not been sought possible. Be a bulwark to both foodies AND people in The Biz equally and those two groups are often like oil and water. I would even use the word “dashing” to describe his panache, even though I’m sure he would have rolled his eyes at the thought. I get a lot of it was production and packaging but you gotta admit here was something about the guy. I’ve always heard that people that are good on TV are ones you can’t be around for more than ten minutes in person-they’re just too big personalty wise. Mr. Bourdain seemed to defy this. He was just as big a heavyweight standing silently in a corner.
He stood his ground too and in his case it made a career not destroyed it. So often in our industry we dance around trying not to offend. Like the douchebag restaurant owner in The Big Night said, “I am also a businessman. I am anything I need to be at any time”. In Mr. Bourdain’s case he had free reign to call out all sorts of culinary elitism he found abhorrent, from veganism to perceived value. He didn’t dodge landmines, he stepped right the fuck on them with glee. To freely speak one’s mind in any sense, and on top of that [ay the bills, is out of reach for mere mortals but he made it seem like training wheels.
We all hear the stories about someone “payingtheir dues’ and in many cases it’s true. Bur Mr. Bourdain paid his in spades. The few people that I’ve met that hung out with him said he could actually still cook and had a knife hand, which is rare. Most celebs turn into Rachael Ray or Bobby Flaw and trade their actual skills for a crappy Amazon cookware set or endorsement for a lame chain restaurant. Mr. Bourdain never did this, he never had to. I’m sure he went through his Annakin Skywalker phase but in his case he turned out to b Obi Wan Kenobi and not Darth Vader.
Many years ago when I was Exec at The District Lounge in Orange I had a friend from the Linda’s Doll hut days ask for a favor. She had a TV producer buddy who was looking at some talent for a show called “The Hungry Punker”, for some raggy cable channel filler material. I told her I wasn’t actually very punk rock despite my musical/social affiliations and even then I was aging out in that demographic but took the meeting anyway. I sat down with the guy, I’m always wary of TV producers-they’ll bleed you dry for ideas and forget to cut a check. I asked if they already had anyone in mind and he said they had someone at one point but they had taken the 100k advance money on their contract, OD’d on heroin and died. My gallows humor reared it’s ugly head when I blurted out “Well, that’s pretty Goddam punk rock isn’t it?”. He may or may have not gotten the joke but those Great White Shark eyes of his gave me a blank stare with just a hint of venomous laughter underneath.
I’d like to think some mysterious cadre of restaurant industry Men In Black had Mr. Bourdain offed for telling the truth. In a world of logrolling, glad-handing and collectively jacking each other off in the culinary sense he was sublimely immune to it. My bartender instinct is telling me had been struggling for some time and at least as I pen this it seems to be the case. Fame can be a bitch no matter what the fiscal rewards are. Maybe Mr. Bourdain’s punk rock-ness came full circle, maybe he just felt it was time to punch out. Whatever it was he ended his last sentence not with a semicolon but a period. Period. And he’ll be missed for all the right reasons.

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