Anthony Bourdain (YGtCTO #126)

Chef, Author, and Television Personality

Anthony Bourdain

Food television has been a thing for long enough now that Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet seem less quaint than antique. Nevertheless, it was less than twenty years ago that I lay on the sofa dozing while Mario Batali stood in a faux kitchen preparing dinner for three guests who sat at a little table on his studio set. They didn’t go outside and look around. We saw no shots of a wider audience getting worked up every time the chef added an ingredient. The entire thing was carried by Batali’s knowledge and personality.

Around that same time, I read Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. The book provoked visceral reactions to warnings about ill-conceived choices that unwitting or rude diners make, which drove a fair bit of its notoriety. More than that, it made cooking American cool in a way that Michelin stars and gourmet pizza never could. Knowing a little something about the food you eat seemed like a good idea in the same way that James Bond always knew exactly what drink to order under any circumstances.

Anthony Bourdain

As a cursory glance at television schedules will demonstrate, Anthony Bourdain then proceeded to take over the airwaves with innumerable travel/food show hybrids. He proved to be a remarkably engaging host. Bourdain created the archetype of the presenter as put upon guinea pig dragged thither and yon by television producers who inflict weird food and situations followed by a rewarding miracle that reveals something special about food, society, humanity, or all three. Like so many others, I could not get enough. I’ve even intentionally followed in his footsteps simply because he ate somewhere. That is about as trusting as you get when you get down to it.

The miracle here is in Bourdain’s art,

and I don’t mean the culinary kind. While he has demonstrated wide-ranging knowledge over the years, he has done little cooking on camera. That’s fine- he is a writer at heart, as near as I can tell. His prose brought to life something that has been in front of us all our lives and made it exciting. Sure, he had that thrill going for him when the wizard draws back the curtain to reveal the trade secrets, but we really do all know where our food comes from. We have always suspected most of what he describes.

His art is in the presenting. You start one of his books and you’re a hundred pages in before you look up and realize it’s time to eat. Making any act of creation look easy is an extreme talent. Somewhere during all those long days and nights of kitchen work, Bourdain nurtured his writing craft. Food is his passion, probably, but he never lost sight of that other art form that sustained him through all the other work. One fed the other to all our benefit.

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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 174 more to go.

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