A few months ago, I sat down to write an article about Anthony Bourdain but didn’t want it to seem like I was a ‘fan boy’, so I didn’t write it. Instead, I wrote an article that was inspired by his book ‘Kitchen Confidential’, that you can read here. The reason why I didn’t write the article about Anthony was because I didn’t know how to write things down without sounding like said ‘fan boy’.
With the sad news of his death, I thought it would be apt to reflect on AB and how he influenced us at Wined Up. This is the article I wanted to write six months ago.
I will be honest. Up until about 18 months ago, I hadn’t watched any of his TV shows or read his book. I knew the name Anthony Bourdain but wasn’t overtly familiar with him. It wasn’t up until a friend of mine insisted that I read Kitchen Confidential that I gave his work some attention. As soon as I started reading it I was hooked. Kitchen Confidential was a book that said more about the restaurant scene than any other book, tv show, review or blog ever could. It was real. I’ve seen some funny, weird and messed up stuff in my time in this line of work and I’ve met every kind of character that AB mentioned in his book.
Anthony mentions in his book that he went from job to job and experienced some really shady situations which I think encompasses a lot of people’s experience in the restaurant industry. I, personally have worked in several establishments and experienced some weird situations… from the time I worked in a bakery/cafe and the owner made me go down the street to our nearest competitor, buy all their bread and then put it on our shelves (that seriously happened!) to when I worked in a restaurant which on a Friday night would put more chairs and tables out than they legally were allowed to (for fire hazard reasons) because they knew that health inspectors only worked 9-5 Monday to Fridays. We would keep the extra tables and chairs underneath the top deck as there was a gap between there and the roof of the kitchen. We would put them back on a Monday morning before lunch service. One day, the health inspector comes, bright and early on a Monday morning so everyone was scrambling to put these tables and chairs away. Honestly, I remember being on the roof literally getting chairs drastically thrown to me and looking down to the courtyard while the managers were there trying to distract the health inspector. If only he had turned around and saw what was going on above/behind him.
I read Kitchen Confidential and it instantly reminded me of these things. The stupid things people do and the risks that we take in this industry. Anthony just spoke sense, despite the book reflecting his personal demons with drugs, this guy just had a great understanding of what it takes to run a kitchen/bar/restaurant. I’ve always wanted to own my own bar and it used to be this dream of mine. Like most people who dream of owning a bar, they want to do it out of love and because they have a ‘vision’ of how they would run it and it’d be this cool escape that everyone would love, but I learned over the years that to open a bar under these pretences is short sighted and naïve. When I was reading Kitchen Confidential it just reaffirmed my thinking. When I eventually own my own place, it won’t be short sighted or naïve or out of love, it will be because I have found a good location and seen a gap in the market to which I can use my wealth of experience and contacts within the scene to run it right and make it a success. As I mentioned, I came to the conclusion years ago that you should never open a bar or restaurant without prior experience or business sense, Anthony Bourdain confirmed this for me.
Kitchen Confidential was amazing, but I have to say that his TV shows were equally as revolutionary. He made shows that would have belonged on Vice/Munchies but instead got away with doing it for CNN and the Travel Channel. I especially love the series ‘The Layover’. It just cut through the bullshit and showed you the things you wanted to see about a city. My favourite episode is his guide to Paris. I’ve been to Paris many times over the years and done the tourist things but never been too enthused by it. The Eiffel Tower for example is nice but is it really worth spending twenty euros to take a crowded elevator up to the top, only to get out and battle against a crowd of people at the top to see a view, albeit a nice view but still, a view. In my opinion, not really. Tony capitulated this thinking when talking about the tourist things in Paris “Yeah, got to Notre-dame, take two minutes to look at it, take a selfie and then go to a bar and get a drink” (or words to that effect). The layover gave us the guide in which most of us want… The best places to eat and the best places to get drunk.
Dublin was a great one too. He just spent the whole episode drinking “The black stuff” and eating Irish food. This kind of show speaks more to me than the archaic format that so many travel-shows have and to be honest I think you get to know a culture of a place more by eating the food than sitting through a boring presentation at some over crowded tourist attraction.
This kind of TV show has clearly inspired others. Shows like ‘F*ck That’s Delicious’ and ‘Dead Set on Life’ travel the world doing alternative things. He had this ‘no bullshit’ style of presenting and never minced his words about things he didn’t like, especially vegetarianism and veganism. He wasn’t necessarily offensive about it, well actually he was but it was in such a charming manner.
This guy was just cool to be honest. How many chefs have sat down to a dinner with Barack Obama that came to $6, but also sat down in a fully privatised restaurant and gorging on a series of ‘bourgeois’ food with Marco Pierre White which I can only describe as one of the most pretentious scenes on TV I’ve ever seen (mostly because of MPW’s demeanour). Anyway, it just always appeared that Anthony didn’t care what setting the food was in, just if it was good or not!
It’s hard to imagine what was going through Anthony’s mind lately and this article isn’t about to delve into that. This was merely just celebrating the life of a man who loved food, drink, punk rock and travel, much like all of us at Wined Up.
Rest in peace Tony
– J A M ES