“Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay,” wrote Anthony Bourdain at the beginning of the sensational New Yorker essay which helped establish the chef as a worldwide literary sensation.
The 61-year-old then went onto reveal the unsavory truth behind ordering fish at a restaurant on Mondays, horrifying people with the revelation that it’s a far cry from the fresh sea fare of their dreams, but rather unhygienic fish that’s been left “under God knows what conditions” since the Friday and most likely mixed with other meats. Delicious.
Prior to tragically taking his own life, Bourdain had a reputation for being not only a talented chef but a straight-talking one who was willing to tell the truth about the restaurant industry, instead of furthering the illusion that high-end kitchens were the glamorous impeccable eateries that other chefs had adamantly portrayed them to be.
However, there’s a lot about Bourdain’s life that people don’t know. Watch the video below to find out more:
Some revelations from Bourdain’s pen included the injuries and addictions that plagued many kitchens, as well as the prevalence of low wages in the industry and how high kitchen temperatures took their toll on workers.
Bourdain was also one of the first chefs to shed light on the importance of Mexican workers, revealing the then-unknown fact that many of New York’s best restaurants would cease to function without their talents.
While this might on the surface appear to be outside the realm of food, it opened up a wider discussion about immigration policy, labor conditions, and racism.
Bourdain’s willingness to tell the truth, coupled with his ability to document not only the industry but other cultures, is what he became known for, rather than his culinary abilities, and in the wake of his death, is why he is being celebrated.
While other travel documentaries portrayed foreign cultures in an idealistic light, Bourdain didn’t shy away from showing fly-covered sheep’s heads in all their glory. He knew where food came from and wasn’t trying to cover it up.
Despite the fact that Bourdain’s willingness to speak the truth was undoubtedly a good thing, it did, on occasion, lead to the chef being characterized as a less endearing bully to other chefs and a lecturer who cursed as often as a sailor.
In a 2008 interview, Bourdain himself admitted, “I do a lot of speaking engagements and sometimes I feel like I’m being paid to curse in front of people who haven’t heard it in a while.”
Bourdain’s last success as a truthteller arguably came in December of last year in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
It caused many people to reflect on their own behavior, present and past, and because Bourdain had celebrated kitchen life for its ability to allow people to belong to a band of misfits and rebels, despite the fact that misogyny and abuse were also overlooked, even tolerated, in the industry, he apologised for his actions.
“To the extent which my work in Kitchen Confidential celebrated or prolonged a culture that allowed the kind of grotesque behaviors we’re hearing about all too frequently is something I think about daily, with real remorse,” he wrote on Medium.
Although the plight of women was something that he did not discuss, he did touch upon the subject of sexual abuse, writing about a kitchen steward who inserted his fingers into Bourdain’s rectum in Kitchen Confidential – an act which, horrifyingly, is a common experience for many male cooks, but one which few have found the courage to openly speak about.
Starting out his career as a humble dishwasher – an experience Bourdain said taught him everything he needed to know about life – the 61-year-old revolutionized the restaurant industry with his willingness to tell the truth – a willingness which reflected wider nuances about life. It’s therefore only appropriate to conclude this article with the words of Bourdain himself: “Life is complicated. It’s filled with nuance. It’s unsatisfying. If I believe in anything, it is doubt.”