PLAYBOY: But vanity and self-regard won’t do it for most addicts. If they drink or smoke, they’re likely to relapse.
BOURDAIN: I had a long and extraordinarily painful relationship with heroin and, following that, methadone. Having physically kicked it, I would greatly prefer not to have to go through that again. When I remember the good times and the good feelings on heroin, sure, but when I think about the bad, it hurts and I don’t ever want to go through that again. I’m clear about it. Same with cocaine. Honestly, it’s not a day-to-day struggle. No. It’s fucking bad. I don’t want to do it again. It was humiliating; it brought me low. Some people make personal decisions; others don’t think they deserve to get well. Just about everybody I know who got out of dope went into 12-step programs and now don’t do anything. That is the way it works for most people, just about everybody.
PLAYBOY: How bad did it get for you?
BOURDAIN: I had a lifelong relationship with cocaine starting when I was like 13, 14 years old. My whole life was about, Let’s get some coke. Who’s got the coke? Do I have enough coke? When I was fucking done with it, I was done with it. Same with heroin.
PLAYBOY: Did you stop using because you were arrested or were taken to an emergency room?
BOURDAIN: Oh, I’ve been arrested.
PLAYBOY: Did that stop you from using?
BOURDAIN: I finally stopped because it’s fucking embarrassing. Like I said, self-regard. It’s fucking humiliating. And I didn’t have any money. I was whining and whining and begging and lying to people. I look at some people who are still doing it, who have been smoking base for 30 years. I don’t know how they still do it. I reached a point where I thought, This is horrible. I’m not saying it’s any particular strength of character or anything like that. I’m definitely not saying that. This notion that I’m so fucking tough and such a badass that I can kick dope without a 12-step program—that’s not what I’m saying. I don’t hold myself up as an example or an advocate or as anybody, okay? I made my choices. I’ve made fucking mistakes. I made it through whatever confluence of weird, unique-to-me circumstances—I’m not going to tell anybody how to live, how to get well or any of that shit.
PLAYBOY: You mentioned that you want to stay sober for your daughter. A while back, before you had a child, you said you’d make a shitty parent. What changed?
BOURDAIN: I remember the precise moment it changed. I was living in a crummy walk-up apartment in New York, above Manganaro’s Hero Boy, and I’d met this woman who’s now my wife—a woman like me, who came out of the restaurant business. We were lying in bed spooning, as I recall, and for the first time in my life I thought, Not only would I like to make a baby with this woman, but I’m up to the job. I could actually be a good father. I thought, I’m at that point in my life for the first time, and I think it would be a beautiful thing to have a baby with this woman. I’ve finally grown up enough to be a good dad. And I’ve loved everything about it. I loved living with a pregnant woman. This was something I never would have understood before, not having done it; it just didn’t sound good. I loved it. I miss it. I loved the entire process, loved every minute of fatherhood, all of it, every fucking second. It’s very hard leaving, hard being away.
PLAYBOY: Where did you meet your wife?
BOURDAIN: It was my first and only blind date. She was general manager of a restaurant and was insanely busy. I was traveling all the time. We’re both type-A personalities. The last thing on our minds was getting involved in a serious relationship, but six months later we were already talking about having a child.
PLAYBOY: Do you cook for your daughter? What do you make for her?
BOURDAIN: My wife does most of the cooking for our daughter. She eats organic food for the most part, to whatever extent we can provide it, because we can afford it. She likes pasta and butter and grilled cheese and hot dogs and mashed potatoes, but she’ll eat out of her zone. She’s an ordinary kid who every once in a while surprises us by eating a raw oyster. She also spends a lot of time in Italy. Mom’s Italian, so what we have on our table is often very different from what ordinary families have. She eats anchovies, capers, olives and pecorino, and she knows prosciutto cotto and prosciutto crudo.
PLAYBOY: How about when you were a child? What did your parents make for you?
BOURDAIN: It was not just 1950s food—you know, mac and cheese and frozen dinners. My mom also had a small repertoire of dishes, mostly out of Craig Claiborne or Julia Child, that she did very, very well. For company she had a tight repertoire of credible French dishes.
PLAYBOY: Was it a special occasion for your family to go to a restaurant?
BOURDAIN: No, fairly common. Or we’d order in. First I was in New York, but I grew up in New Jersey. What was New York–New Jersey food? It was Chinese, Italian or deli, and every few weeks to go into New York City to try something, like a Chinese place, a smorgasbord.
PLAYBOY: How would you characterize your childhood?
BOURDAIN: I was born in Columbia-Presbyterian in New York, then whisked off immediately to a little bedroom community in Leonia, New Jersey. For the first couple of years we lived in an unimpressive house, then moved across the street to a much nicer one. I was something of a reading prodigy. I grew up in a house full of music and books. I was a shy, awkward, terribly insecure kid who overcompensated. I learned early on that the baddest, most dangerous, reckless kid who seemed sure of himself got the good things in life. I suddenly portrayed myself as the baddest, most reckless and most sure of himself. Clearly not giving a fuck or pretending to not give a fuck was a successful strategy to gain popularity and girls, and that was my act, honestly.
PLAYBOY: Did it work?
BOURDAIN: Yeah. You get the things you think you want.
PLAYBOY: What was your first restaurant job?
BOURDAIN: It was a dishwashing job in a crappy vacation, seasonal fish house on Cape Cod. It was okay to get fucked up in the kitchen. We all did. In restaurants from when I started, we were all working for cocaine, essentially through the 1970s, 1980s and well into the 1990s. It was the way the restaurant business worked. In the 1990s things changed.
PLAYBOY: What caused the change?
BOURDAIN: I think it was when working in restaurants got a prestige about it, when chefs started to be noticed, when people in the restaurant business started to get wind of the fact that, Wow, I might actually have a fucking future in this. I might make some money. I might have health insurance someday. I might get some respect. So it changed.
PLAYBOY: And the era of celebrity chefs began. What has been the impact?
BOURDAIN: The better chefs feel about themselves, the more hopeful they are about their future, the better they do, the better we all eat, the better we all live. It’s all good. I say that for selfish reasons, and I say that because I believe it.
PLAYBOY: Is the elevation of chefs to movie-star status a passing phase?
BOURDAIN: I hope not. Actually we’re just catching up to the French. Over there people know who’s cooking for them, and they pay attention. In America we haven’t done it, but we are now. We should. Who better than chefs? Food is important in our lives, even at its silliest.
PLAYBOY: What’s an example of silly?
BOURDAIN: At some point you saw a lot of excessive behavior, like a giant plate with a tiny little fan of poached chicken breast in the middle of a slice of kiwi.