I worked in restaurant kitchens for 10 years before I became a writer. I don’t think I could have even conceptualized that career path had it not been for the dog-eared copy of Kitchen Confidential that came into my life at the beginning of my days as a cook. Back then, the food media landscape was bare; for the food-obsessed (like I was), there was Cook’s Illustrated and Martha Stewart Living, and there was Emeril and others of his ilk on the new Food Network.
The wild west of kitchens has existed as long as the restaurants they fueled, but never had it been written about so perfectly. For us—his fans, the cooks and chefs of the world—Anthony Bourdain was our MFK Fisher, our Julia Child.
Bourdain democratized food in a way that the glossy rags and TV hadn’t. Instead of getting a man in chef whites to show us how to make ramen on a soundstage, we saw a hardscrabble cook out in the world with an endless curiosity and an open heart.
Bourdain democratized food in a way that the glossy rags and TV hadn’t. Instead of getting a man in chef whites to show us how to make ramen on a soundstage, we saw a man we knew—a hardscrabble cook out in the world with an endless curiosity and an open heart, exploring how other people lived with every sip of camel milk and bite of pungent durian. This was not some grinning talking head, no spoiled gourmand. This was our guy, someone who’d been in the same trenches, who knew poverty and hard work, who knew the beauty of sitting around a table, tablecloth be damned.
Who else would have chosen, for the highest profile interview of his career, to take out the president of the United States for beers and noodles at some unknown joint in Hanoi? He was a real person, and we loved him for it. What a lucky bunch we are to have had Bourdain for the time we did.