For me, it wasn’t about the “bad-boy rock star chef” image, although as a one-time, wannabe rock star myself, I can’t deny his genuine swag had its appeal.
It wasn’t about the TV shows even though I shouted with glee when he plopped down at a little plastic table in Vietnam and slurped up a bowl of noodles with President Obama.
It wasn’t the brutally honest way he told the tale of kicking dope, a plight of which I am all too familiar.
It wasn’t his wit and razor sharp humour although any man who can rip to shreds the all-American obsession with “non-food” food items by writing lines such as, “…’I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter??? I can!!!…'”, should immediately proceed to the comedy hall-of-fame.
It wasn’t his outspoken advocacy for undocumented workers, LGBT people, the Palestinians, or the #MeToo movement, even though thank God somebody in this day and age had the balls, and the global reach, to effectively say what he said.
It wasn’t his 1 zillion Instagram followers or his millions of dollars or his badass tattoos. Hell, it wasn’t even the food, even though his cookbook did teach me how to make proper scrambled eggs (tip – read his cookbook because you’re still doing it wrong)
For me, it was always the writing.
Anthony Bourdain was my hero because he made me pick up a pen and write. It may sound cheesy to you, even trite, but it’s true. Bourdain’s writing empowered me to face, and conquer, my monstrous demons of resistance and simply write. Now, I’m no global celebrity or cult of personality politician, but I, too, have a story to tell and with Bourdain’s words as my guide, I finished my memoir this year. On my blog I posted one chapter a week, for 40 weeks in a row, and then submitted it to a publisher a short time ago. We’ll see what happens. The odds are ridiculously slim that my little tale will grow to the heady heights of Bourdain’s memoir, but that is irrelevant. What matters is that I wrote it, and Bourdain is the main reason why.
Having said all that, I’m aware that there’s a tendency to eulogise a revered artist and turn him into some kind of saint, especially when he took his own life. But that’s what I love about Anthony Bourdain, he was not, and never claimed to be, a saint. He was a pesky, flesh and blood human, warts and all. He admitted to contributing to the toxic culture in kitchens. He admitted that he may have unknowingly glamourised heroin and cocaine use. He also admitted that he was wrong to do those things. That is heroic and it’s pretty rare these days too.
So now, the questions. Why? How could he? After all, he had everything. What fucking happened? Hopefully we will never really find out because that kind of intimacy is for his family. But we all have our theories. Could it have been temporary depression brought on by some kind of personal tragedy? Could it have been a slip with dope? Could it be he was sick of the constant pressure? Who knows? Dominique, my girlfriend, said something that makes as much sense as anything I’ve heard so far. She said, “his flame went out”. In other words, he lost his hunger, his reason to get out of bed. He’d written the books, done the TV, won the awards, met the President, made the cash, got the girl, had the child, traveled the globe. Anything he desired, he could have. I don’t know how that feels, but it’s conceivable that a 61 year-old man could arrive at that elusive destination, find himself in another lonely hotel room, slip on the dope – knowing all too well where that will end up, and think to himself, “fuck it. I’m done”. I can see how that could possibly take him out to the precipice. Just a theory, obviously, as I’m just trying to make sense of it all.
For now though, all I’ve got is the writing. Kitchen Confidential is the only book I’ve ever owned both in paperback and on Kindle. I’ve re-read the paperback so many times that the pages are all dog-eared. I guess going back to its pages, and Bourdain’s words, are as comforting as any refuge we could hope to find.
Rest in peace, chef.