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The late Anthony Bourdain.
When the conversation is held about important people in the advancement of the popularization of the culinary arts, you should quickly hear such names as Auguste Escoffier, James Beard, Julia Child, Justin Wilson, Emeril Lagasse — people who in one form or another raised the bar for cooking. These are people who, through their writing, teaching, television shows and multimedia, paved the path for budding chefs and novices, easing us into learning the classics meanwhile flooding the market with talent thus making it more difficult to become a “celebrity chef.”
And then there is Anthony Bourdain.
We didn’t quite know what to think of him at first, but we knew we liked him. He was ruggedly handsome, painfully intelligent, fearless. You could tell women adored him and men wanted to be more like him. He was open about his addiction struggles, exposed the less than glamorous side of the game of cooking. He was blunt to the point of coming across as an asshole. In a nutshell, he was rock ‘n’ roll.
What made and makes his shows and books great was that you felt he was on your side. Any one of us could be eating chilis in New Mexico or splurging on a shirt in Hawaii. It wasn’t a Robin Leach scenario where it’s all about the money. After pulling back the curtain and showing us the dangerous side of the kitchen lifestyle, Bourdain built a strong foundation on the attainable. Certainly the camera work of “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown” played roles in the success of his two most popular shows, but the real attributor was his writing.
Make no mistake, these were food shows, but rather than recipes the focus was more on food as part of a different culture, the locals who prepare it and the human condition. The way he conducted interviews was impressive, getting to the heart of the matter rather than burning time with fluff. Even a drunken night ending with Waffle House (my favorite) had Bourdain’s signature no-nonsense take on our guiltiest of pleasures and showed his gratitude toward his host. Why is that one so important? Because it’s real. If it wasn’t real, he wasn’t having it. Because of that reality his writing was at the top of the food chain.
Bourdain was free to turn a phrase often more poetry than prose, with a rhythm and melody that worked well onscreen. But it was his voiceover work where this soothing linguistic style really shined, rivaling that of Paul Winfield or Morgan Freeman. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read my columns in his voice, hoping to somehow infuse a bit of the magic he had. I hope you’re reading it in character now.
Often creativity and mental illness run hand in hand. It knows no social status nor race nor gender. To lose the talented is no more significant than the man down the street, it just hurts more because you admire them. We may never know his reasons, but in the end we all die from a broken heart.
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National Crisis Hotline 1-800-273-TALK