9.27.2010

why we (want to be) like anthony bourdain

He's old. He's self-depricating. And his salty tongue has made many a grown man cry.

Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations

So, how did a regular joe like Anthony Bourdain become an international rock star chef who has quite possibly the best job ever (writer, traveler, do-whatever-the-$%#&-he-feels-like TV host, celebrity judge on Top Chef)?

More importantly, how did we, the public, let this happen? Why are we buying his books, watching his shows and eating by the droves at his restaurant, Les Halles, that coincidently he doesn't even cook in any more?

I don't know about the American public, but I can speak for myself. I am a late bloomer when it comes to all things Bourdain. This past summer, a friend of mine sent me a Hulu link to a canceled show called Kitchen Confidential. I was hooked. Having spent my early 20s in the restaurant business, I thought it was cool to see a show capture the high level of backwards debauchery that goes on while people are cooking your food.

I quickly learned that it was a failed show (I blame pretty boy Brad Cooper) about a crazy successful book by the same name. I picked up a copy, read it cover to cover, and unwittingly joined the Anthony Bourdain fan club.

Again, how did this happen? The best I can figure is this:

1. He is a good writer... Scratch that. He's a great writer. People who have no connection to the cooking world love his books because he is a master storyteller. His wicked sense of humor, complete lack of shame and his colorful use of language, whether good or bad, is unmatched. A thousand people can tell you a story, but very few will tell it like Bourdain does.

2. He is the personification of the American Dream. He came from a normal, middle class New Jersey family. He wasn't making braised duck at the age of 9 or winning Pultizers at 25. He was an everyman, working stiff, earning his way up the ladder... from dishwasher to executive chef. Who doesn't love a story like that?

3. Somehow, despite the fact that none of us could afford to eat in his restaurant or travel in his worldly circles, Bourdain manages to look accessible. Perhaps it's the way he's marketed. Perhaps it's how he writes. He just seems like a regular guy. I couldn't imagine having tea with Martha Stewart or eating fajitas with Bobby Flay. But all of his readers, myself included, see themselves sitting in the corner booth with "Tony", shooting the breeze over his beverage of choice. It's accessibility, and it can't be taught.

Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and The People Who Cook

I'm in the middle of reading his most recent book Medium Raw, and it's just as good as everyone says it is. His perspective on life now as a father and part of the celebrity machine that he once mocked is both ironic and witty. I hate being a fan of anything that the foodie masses worship but, whatever, I like Anthony Bourdain. I don't necessarily want to be him, but I wouldn't mind walking a mile in his shoes.

~jennifer.

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