"Don't Be Afraid. Be Smart, But Be Open to The World."
A cook's farewell.
June 8, 2018 ● 2 min read
By Richie Nakano | ChefsFeed
It's never a good thing to wake up to 35 text messages on your phone.
As much as cooks will try to tell you they started cooking because of Bocuse or Pepin, the truth is it's because they read Kitchen Confidential, saw themselves in it, and went to culinary school. If you don’t fit in anywhere else, he told us, you can always find your place in the kitchen. And he was right.
When Kitchen Confidential came out I was adrift, like most people who would come to cherish it were. Trying college and failing, trying different jobs and failing, and generally watching the world move past me while I was standing still. Now, my copy of Kitchen Confidential is literally bloodstained from all the times I paged through it while nursing grievous kitchen wounds. Same goes for A Cook's Tour.
Those books informed us what the code of the kitchen was, but more than that, they let us be seen. Bourdain let the world know that Latino cooks are the backbone of the restaurant industry. He didn’t do this in passing either — he wrote about them constantly, and featured them on his shows. Tony, unlike so many celebrities, actually walked the walk.
In the beginning, I was absolutely enamored with him, as he inspired and advised me through his writing. As I got older and more confident (more like cocky), I saw him less as one of us, and more as someone who no longer cooked but benefited from our world. I was like a bratty, petulant teen. In recent years, I’ve looked at him and realized that without his writing, I would’ve never started. I wouldn't be sitting here, writing this on this terrible day. He gave and gave, and I took and took, and looking back now at the lopsided nature of that relationship, it makes me appreciate him in new and profound ways.
Tony wasn’t one of the great chefs of our generation, but that only added to his legend. If you were passionate, fearless, and able to articulate your curiosity about the world in a way that people could relate to and be inspired by, then you too could see everything the world had to offer.
But that travel, as glamorous as it might seem, is hard. Fame, as glamorous as it might seem, is hard. Both can be extremely lonely. One glance at Tony's Instagram photos, taken alone in far-flung hotel rooms, were proof. His entire television career was centered around him hanging out with new friends, seeing new places, eating meals and making new memories…but when the cameras were off, it was just him and a hotel room.
I had the privilege of eating lunch with Tony and Laurie Woolever while they were on the press tour for Appetite: A Cookbook. There was no lavish spread prepared for him by some famous Michelin darling chef. There were no cameras, no bodyguards, no PR people. We ate in a hotel lobby, sitting in the corner. Tony had a club sandwich and fries. It was the most normal meal ever. And when people asked me what he was like, I would say just that. He was the most extraordinary, yet normal man. He didn’t ever try to flex that he was famous or powerful. He had a quiet humility, a razor-sharp wit, and was nice. He was really, really fucking nice.
We needed Anthony Bourdain. He taught us that it was okay to have a strong opinion, as long as we believed in it. He showed us how to let go of our fears and open our hearts through food, and that people mattered first in life.
I hope we're better because of him. Thank you, Tony. You are sorely missed.