If I’m being brutally honest, the very idea of reading, and then subsequently, reviewing this book was proving to be a daunting prospect for me. That’s even before I had had the chance to leaf through a single page of the book. One that sat on my writing desk for almost a fortnight. Still in its brown wrapping paper. Untouched. Unread...
It was the title Bourdain In Stories that was the main contributor to my sense of procrastinative discomfort surrounding it. I was afraid of how my perception of the late AnthonyBourdain (1956-2018)—one of, if not THE most impactful personalities to influence my oeuvres as a food writer—would change, if at all. This, over the course of rediscovering him and unearthing hitherto unknown aspects of his life in the book’s 400 or so pages. “Would it be like meeting one’s idol and then coming back sorely disappointed from the experience?” I wondered nervously.
It was, after all, a collection of stories, memories, anecdotes and musings of nearly a hundred people who once shared his world. People well-qualified to put the spotlight onall aspects of his persona—good or bad. Including the complexities and idiosyncrasies that plagued the man. A man well-known for his droll, often acerbic, always sardonic, but never boring take on life. One that was always seen through the fascinating prism of food and culture.
These would be recollections by his friends, colleagues and family members, including his now 14-year-old daughter Ariane Busia-Bourdain. All woven together in a beautiful and brilliant tapestry of emotions by the book’s author, Laurie Woolever. An important figure in the cast of characters who took up dual roles of being not just Bourdain’s long-time assistant, but close confidante as well.
But after reading...nay,savouring every single such morsel of memory, taking my own sweet time (almost a month!) to finish reading the book, I can safely say that I am only richer in my ‘fan boy’ like obsession and reverence forAnthony Bourdain.
A Life Less Ordinary
It really doesn’t take long for us to get a sense that Bourdain wasn’t exactly known as a chef worth reckoning by his peers. Hillary Snyder, his former kitchen colleague in New York believes that, “Tony was always way more knowledgeable than skilful, in terms of his cooking”.
There is plenty of reference to his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential, a masterful insight into the murky world of New York’s gritty food scene of the 80s and early 90s. This epochal book is what many believe that set him on a new and infinitely more successful career path as a brilliant food writer.And later on as a hot-shot TV show host that the world would go on to fall in love with.
One of the main themes (if you can even call it that!) of the book has got to do with Bourdain’s assortment of addictions. Not least of all his years as a heroin addict-chef often skipping work to seek out a high. Something that’s well-documented and one that lasted way up to his early forties, just before he hit big time and got famous.
Giving us an insider’s perspective on this are Bourdain’s “cheffing” world colleagues like Dave Chang who says that heroin never was replaced and that he tried to fill the void with celebrity and fame. Tom Vitale, a TV show collaborator, feels that “everything in moderation was not something Tony ever mastered”.
As Morgan Fallon—his director-cinematographer colleague at Zero Point Zero Productions, who worked together on iconic TV shows like No Reservations and Parts Unknown recollects, Bourdain’s was a life of on going addictions. If it wasn’t heroin, it was work. If it wasn’t work it was jiu-jitsu. If it was in jiu-jitsu it was relationships.
And speaking of relationships, it was his very last romantic one with Italian actor and director Asia Argento that many of those close to Bourdainbelieve was the proverbial “last straw that broke the camel’s back”. An (allegedly) toxic, intense one. Almost bordering on obsession (on Bourdain’s part), that’s believed to have led him on a downward spiral of further depression and general unhappiness.
Just before he took his own life in June 2018, many believe that his alienation of friends and a protracted sense of wanting to escape from everything (TV show host career, writing et al) was the catalyst to his tragic end. Because like Karen Rinaldi, his former editor and publisher says “loneliness kills”. She also goes on to speak of how Bourdain’s professional bravura and personal coolth were smokescreens of sorts and that it was actually a wail of vulnerability that he often cried. Albeit silently.
Interestingly, there are some like another Zero Point Zero colleague Sally Freeman who are convinced that Bourdain was such a strong force that people used him as a kind of moral compass. “When I heard the news that he’d died, I thought, ‘So many people have lost their anchor’”, she says.
But just like the aim of a good dessert at the end of a wonderful meal is to bring everything to a memorable conclusion, we have Ariane—clearly a young lady wise beyond her years—sum it all up so beautifully. “I want people to remember my dad,” she says. “As someone who makes people not afraid to explore and adventure into new things, and to do new things, and not to be so scared, but to be very open-minded about everything.”
We couldn’t agree more, now. Could we?
(A wearer of many hats in the food and travel space, Mumbai-based Raul Dias is a food-travel writer, a restaurant reviewer, and a food consultant)