Don’t die before reading this
Anthony Bourdain, in 1999, writing for The New Yorker:
I’ve been a chef in New York for more than ten years, and, for the decade before that, a dishwasher, a prep drone, a line cook, and a sous-chef. I came into the business when cooks still smoked on the line and wore headbands. A few years ago, I wasn’t surprised to hear rumors of a study of the nation’s prison population which reportedly found that the leading civilian occupation among inmates before they were put behind bars was “cook.” As most of us in the restaurant business know, there is a powerful strain of criminality in the industry, ranging from the dope-dealing busboy with beeper and cell phone to the restaurant owner who has two sets of accounting books. In fact, it was the unsavory side of professional cooking that attracted me to it in the first place. In the early seventies, I dropped out of college and transferred to the Culinary Institute of America. I wanted it all: the cuts and burns on hands and wrists, the ghoulish kitchen humor, the free food, the pilfered booze, the camaraderie that flourished within rigid order and nerve-shattering chaos. I would climb the chain of command from mal carne (meaning “bad meat,” or “new guy”) to chefdom—doing whatever it took until I ran my own kitchen and had my own crew of cutthroats, the culinary equivalent of “The Wild Bunch.”
The piece this excerpt is taken from is the piece that got Bourdain out of the kitchen, onto bookshelves and into our TV sets. He was into his 40s when he wrote this and had a trove of experiences from which to pull for all of his work thereafter.
I found Bourdain’s perspective to be one of my favorite in print and television. I’ve read all of his books, and watched every episode he and his team have produced (yes, even the early stuff). I’ve written extensively about his work both here on my blog and even for the Travel Channel at one point.
To say I’m going to miss him would be understating it a little. I’ll likely miss him as much as I possibly could miss someone that I’ve never met.
He wasn’t my idol. I didn’t revere him. I didn’t look up to him. I didn’t aspire to be him. But I thoroughly enjoyed reading his words and watching his shows. He entertained me, enlightened me, and inspired me in many many ways.
I’m sad he felt that killing himself was the only solution to whatever he was dealing with. I do not understand depression (though I feel I too am a depressed person, and so are others in my family). I do not think he was a wimp. I do not think he gave up. Though I do feel suicide is a selfish act to a degree. It is a battle of emotions and thoughts for me right now.
I’m very glad he spent the last nearly twenty years producing so much work. I’ll be able to enjoy it all for years and years to come. And perhaps each year I’ll make a little something from his cookbook and remember how fun it was to watch him drinking with Zamir.