|Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018|
"Bullshit!" Such was the first word rendered on the first episode of Anthony Bourdain's 2005 culinary adventure cable TV program, No Reservations. Of course, I was head over heels for the show from that moment on. I'd known the former Les Halle top chef peripherally in crime lit circles in the mid-1990s since he used to write mysteries and was even published at the same imprint as I am in Japan. I never gave much thought to his day job as a cook, until his hugely successful 1999 memoir burst onto the scene, Kitchen Confidential, and entire generations of foodies stopped eating fish on Mondays.
Mine and my then wife's favorite NYC restaurant became Les Halles on the corner of 28th and Park, back when it was still a small bistro where you could get sweet breads, steak frit, and eat at its small bar. The restaurant was expanded later on but it was never the same and more recently it has closed forever. That's sad enough, but to lose it's chef forever...now that's disconcerting. But Bourdain would break the bonds of NYC to become something of a phenom. A culinary adventurer who, and I quote, "... will risk everything...I've got nothing to lose." That risk earned him millions of dollars and world adoration.
After all, back in the early 90's he was a heroin addict reduced to selling used CDs on the side of the road for food money. He had a love affair with alcohol which lasted up until the end. His favorite music was punk rock...New York bands like The Ramones, Patti Smith, Richard Hell and ummm, Suicide. He cut the sleeves off his black CBGBs t-shirt and of course, he loved his Marlboro cigs so much that a chef bud of his invented a custard dish that featured the vague flavor of a Marlboro Red cigarette. Yup, you can't make this shit up.
When he began his first low budget show, A Cooks Tour, back in the early 2000s his heart was breaking while his long time partner and wife Nancy Putkowski and he were breaking up. Some of the early episodes demonstrates his desperation (he jumps off a cliff into the sea at one point). But he had a searing wit, wasn't afraid to call out his fellow culinary pros on being suckups or just plain sucking (he was particularly tough on Emerald and Rachael Rey). After all, Tony was authentic. He was the real deal. He hated the commercialization of anything, especially when it came to food and words.
He inspired me as a writer, so much so that back in the early 2000s I wrote a non-fiction proposal for a book called Construction Confidential, an insiders look at the building business (He, no doubt, would have laughed at it). It was rep'd by the William Morris Agency but went no where (Thank God!). Food is way more romantic and emotional. But when I started traveling not occasionally, but often enough to lose yet another wife, Tony Bourdain was never far from my thoughts. I never travel without looking at his essays and videos first. Just last night I was YouTubing his many visits to Cambodia and his favorite place on God's earth, Vietnam. Little did I know he was in the process of killing himself. I'll be in So East Asia a week from Monday on a research trip. No doubt, I'll dedicate a few drinks to Tony. I wouldn't be surprised to find his ghost bellied up to a bar right beside me.
Whenever a literary hero of mine dies by suicide it shakes me to my core. Brautigan and Hunter Thompson come to mind. The late, Jim Harrison, another lit hero of mine who also considered suicide at one time, said that when he saw his daughter's red bathrobe hanging on the door knob, he knew that he couldn't go through with it. Tony Bourdain leaves behind a little girl from his failed second marriage and that's the saddest thing of all. Jim Harrison also added that the next meal is also worth waiting for. Too bad Tony Bourdain didn't wait for one more great meal. And one more after that, and one more after that. Eventually, he might have changed his mind.