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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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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.

Bourdain on creative control

Anthony Bourdain, remarking on the last season of my favorite travel show:

Seven new episodes of NO RESERVATIONS left—interspersed, I’m afraid, by three (count them, THREE) shows made up of “repurposed” material—aka clip shows. Seven shows seemed like enough to me. Especially since knowing they were to be our last, we put our heart and soul into them. Austin , Burgundy with Ludo Lefevbre, Emilia Romagna with Michael White, Sydney, the Dominican Republic, Rio de Janeiro and Brooklyn. I like the idea of going out on a high note—still doing strong work. But smarter minds than ours insist that seven is not enough. And that audiences either love—or won’t notice—old footage reedited to look like new—aka “special”— shows. This, apparently, is what passes for creativity in the stratosphere of executive thinking.

I think it is clear why Anthony & Co. are leaving The Travel Channel. I hope CNN allows Anthony and his team to do whatever they think best with their show – sink or swim.

I blame Crocodile Dundee

Make no mistake. No Reservations is a show primarily about food. That doesn’t mean that every episode is only about food or that the entire length of the program is centered around food. Sometimes an episode focuses more on the people, culture, history, geography, or various other aspects of a location – instead of only the food.

No Reservations Australia was about food. Not necessarily Australian food either. More like food that happened to be made in Australia. Like so many other places on this planet, globalization is in full effect in Melbourne, Australia. The food is heavily influenced, if not outright made and served by, people from other cultures around the world. This episode, rather than focusing on the Australia we all think we know (shrimp on a barbie, Aborigines eating bats in the outback, and kangaroos) it focused on the side of Australia we probably never knew was there. I blame Crocodile Dundee for my skewed view of Australia.

I suppose Tony’s little black book being chocked full of amazing chefs all over the world helps – since we undoubtedly saw a side of Melbourne cuisine that most of us probably couldn’t afford. But I’m ok with that. No Reservations is the world through Tony’s eyes – not mine. Through Tony’s contacts, budget, and experience – not mine. And every single week I look forward to that… whether or not it depicts an experience that I could ever have or not.

I decided to make something a little different for this episode. Yes, I made shrimp but I decided to add a little bit of an Italian flare (read: make my own basic tomato sauce and throw it over pasta). There was no indication that Italy has had any real effect on the food in Melbourne, Australia in this episode (although I’m sure it has)… but there was a lot of showing many other areas that obviously have had a huge impact. British, Lebanese, and Sichuan influences were highlighted the most. I need some Sichuan food at my next opportunity.

When No Reservations focuses on food everything else seems to fall into place.