Anthony Bourdain’s Candor Turns Me On
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By the time Anthony Bourdain published Kitchen Confidential in the year 2000, I had fourteen years of hash-slinging under my apron strings, and I had the calves to prove it. I started my waitressing career as a freshman in high school working at a family friend’s breakfast joint, and gradually upgraded to bigger checks and better tips at an assortment of pubs, grills and steakhouses throughout college and graduate school. Granted, I never worked in a fancy French brasserie in New York City, but when I read Bourdain’s first memoir, I had never before experienced such frankness, in writing, about what really happens behind the scenes in many American restaurants.
From the start, Bourdain offers a titillating caveat that his book will uncover, in sometimes horrific detail, the “dark recesses of the restaurant underbelly.” When he advises his reader not to order fish on Monday, I remember the time I threw my cash-filled apron on the bar and stormed off the job after catching the line cooks soaking bad chicken in a sink filled with water and Clorox “to get the smell out.” When he catalogs the rampant smoking, snorting and shooting that took place in his kitchens, I think of the time a terrifyingly angry chef chased after me with a knife when I wiped his coke off the bar with a damp dishrag, thinking it was the confectioners sugar we used to make our brandy milk punch. When he dismisses the rarely-there and therefore clueless restaurant owner, I am reminded of the lawyer who once handed me a five-dollar-bill as a bonus during the staff Christmas party; I had worked there nearly six months and had never met the owner before that moment. These stories may be shocking, but they are true, and it feels so good to have someone speak the truth.
What’s also true is that I have a thing for salt-and-pepper hair, laugh-crinkled eyes and leather jackets, all of which Bourdain sports. I admit to having a tendency to fall for chefs, which I suppose, is one clichéd result of spending so many of my formative years as a waitress. I’m overly fascinated by scars and the stories they tell, which is Bourdain’s specialty. When, in the last chapter of Confidential, he philosophizes about how all that hard work and even harder play resulted in the deteriorating condition of his body, I long to rub my fingers over his every callous, knife wound and burn mark.
The biggest turn-on of all is the unrepentant candor with which Bourdain wrote Kitchen Confidential and which continues to be the hallmark of his public persona. In a recent interview with Jonah Flicker of Town and Country, Bourdain offered some thoughts on recent food trends. The Starbuck’s Unicorn Frappuccino? “It’s the perfect nexus of awfulness.” The ubiquitous Kobe beef slider? “An indication of a douche economy that’s threatening to me personally.” President Trump ordering well-done steak and eating it with ketchup? “It hurts me…Something died inside me.” He’s assertive, snobbish and crass. He speaks his mind, not worrying about whom or what he offends, exposes, insults or jettisons into the dumpster like last night’s dinner rolls. That’s the part I find sexy and I want more of.
I can justify my Bourdain crush by discussing his raw culinary talent or describing the pride he takes in his work, but ultimately I’m into him because he’s an outspoken, down-and-dirty badass. Case in point: In 2013 I saw him in a live stage show with Eric Ripert, Good vs. Evil. An audience member asked what his “guilty pleasure” was. He answered, “I like sub-par greasy disgusting fried chicken from a disreputable establishment. I don’t feel dirty. Oh yeah. Take me home and treat me bad. Whatever restaurant serves that, I want to OD on their cold tiled floor.”
How I would love to be down on that floor next to him.
Amy S. White is a freelance food writer living in Manchester, Connecticut. She develops recipes inspired by seasonal ingredients, writes feature articles on regional food and agriculture and is currently working on her first memoir.