Unintended Consequence of Silence RE: Bourdain’s Suicide

November 27, 2018

By Karen

CNN has eked out its last moments of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. His apartment has new tenants. His condo is on the market because his wife and daughter have moved elsewhere.

In spite of his books, reams of interviews, TV shows and movie appearances still available to read and watch, because his voice is gone on current events, he’s inexorably blurring and slipping into irrelevance, like a dream remembered.

It’s been nearly six months, and not only do I still feel no closure, but I’m troubled by how his suicide is morphing in a way he never would have intended.

On November 13, The Wall Street Journal ran an article, “The Dark Side of the Restaurant World.” It led with a Chicago restaurant manager, Charles Ford, deciding “he would no longer be silent about his three suicide attempts,” and discussed the physical and emotional toll of restaurant work — long hours, abysmal pay, never-ending physical demands.

But the sentence that got my attention was, “Through Mr. Bourdain’s literary manager, Kimberly Witherspoon, the late chef’s family declined to comment for this article.”

On one hand, that made sense because Bourdain hadn’t worked as a chef since 2000, when he began filming A Cook’s Tour for Food Network.

On the other hand, his family’s silence let his suicide be used as a consequence of what ails the restaurant industry. This is what they should have said…

ANTHONY BOURDAIN DIDN’T KILL HIMSELF OVER A JOB HE HADN’T DONE IN NEARLY TWO DECADES.

I think by his count, Bourdain spent 28 years slaving in restaurant kitchens. He was proud to pull himself up the chain until he achieved head chef status at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City. He told this story across several books. If there’s someone out there with a better memory, please tell me where he ever mentioned feeling suicidal over working in a kitchen.

What I recall is his pride in having the toughness and stamina for the work. He loved hanging out with co-workers after a brutal shift. Later, when he had a platform, he became their most outspoken advocate, particularly for the immigrants and women.

I truly sympathize with Charles Ford’s struggles, but I wonder what Bourdain would have said in his snarky days about a general manager who worked in a suit everywhere but over a hot stove and couldn’t hack it.

Kitchen workers have grueling jobs, but I think they’re mistaken to make Bourdain their poster boy for suicide. It’s just like how people still insist on calling him a “celebrity chef” when he NEVER was.

Pre-Kitchen Confidential, nobody ate at Les Halles because Tony Bourdain was the chef. He’d be the first to say it. By the time he became a bona fide celebrity, he hadn’t been a chef for years.

So far, Chef Daniel Boulud has been the ONLY acquaintance to come anywhere near speaking what’s probably closer to the truth about Bourdain’s death. This month he told Us Magazine Bourdain died because “his heart was broken,” and that his death was “a shock to everyone, absolutely.”

Tony’s mother Gladys said essentially the same about his lack of suicidal tendencies when the news first broke.

In the months since, those of us seeking the truth have taken a closer look at the dark forces that began to consume Bourdain in 2016 when he fell in with Asia Argento and her friends.

This past September, Argento was still giving teary interviews about how she felt Bourdain had abandoned her and her two children (for the record, her daughter is 17 and her son now lives with his father in the U.S.), with no mention of Bourdain’s own 11-year-old daughter.

This month (November), Argento was reported to have hooked up with a paparazzi sprung earlier this year from his second jail stint, they had sex on her table, and he claimed to be besotted with her. Italian media soon reversed course, reporting it was a stunt Argento pulled for money and publicity. Whichever version is true, that’s just a peek at the woman Bourdain considered his “soulmate” until he learned three days before he died that she had cheated on him.

Tony’s family didn’t hold a public memorial service because they didn’t think he’d want one. But memorials are for the living, not the dead. Into the void have grown many pop-up homages, mostly by restaurant chefs, which is great. Bourdain was their champion. His life had become one of showing us restaurants and their menus all over the world that we’d otherwise never know.

He was restaurant workers’ biggest cheerleader, but I think he’d be the last to consider his death emblematic of how hard and hopeless kitchen work can be.

Rather, he was a SURVIVOR of it and proud to be. It was his life AFTER being a chef that killed him. We still don’t — and may never — know exactly what aspects of his life did it.

Unfortunately, this silence has left the door open to whatever spin anyone wants to put on it. I don’t think Bourdain would have approved.

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Bourdain Flirts with His Final Frontier

February 12, 2014

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s final frontier is ocean travel. Sure, we’ve seen him chugging up fetid rivers, snorkeling, and catch a few stunt fish, but he’s never filmed an hour of TV on the ocean.

At the upcoming South Beach Wine and Food Festival, Anthony Bourdain is hosting “An Evening Aboard the S.S. Wolfsonian” with Azamara Club Cruises on February 21 at the Wolfsonian-FIU Museum. At $1,500 a plate, it’s already sold out, but the proceeds go to the Wolfsonian and the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, so it’s all for a good cause.

According to Azamara’s press release, this was Bourdain’s idea, and he got inspiration for dishes from the Wolfsonian ocean liner menu collection. He’ll be overseeing the dinner, prepared by Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, and other celebrity chefs.

Bourdain will share hosting duties with one of Azamara’s captains.

Didn’t Tony make at least one transatlantic crossing to France as a child, possibly on the Queen Mary? Unfortunately, true ocean liners have passed into history, and in his career as a globe-trotter, I’ve never heard Bourdain be anything but dismissive of today’s cruise industry.

Could that be about to change?

Azamara is a relatively unknown, more upscale brand of Royal Caribbean Cruises. Azamara has only 2 ships, and its sister lines most familiar to Americans are Royal Caribbean and Celebrity.

Azamara ships are smaller, and feature a casually elegant experience, with an English butler’s services available to suite passengers. Fares are higher, yet more inclusive than mass market lines (most alcohol is included), yet not as inclusive as top-tier lines like Crystal and Seabourn, who also throw in airfare and most shore excursions.

It’s far from the first time a cruise line has used a celebrity chef to embellish their brand. Jacques Pépin is executive culinary director for Oceania Cruises, another top-tier line.

Norwegian Cruise Line has adopted Cake Boss Buddy Valastro and Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian to design menus for its newest ships, Getaway and Breakaway.

And even Carnival has a celebrity chef — Guy Fieri. He’s perfect for the line that attracts the diners, dives, and drive-in set.

But I don’t see Bourdain planning Azamara’s menus. I see him as their spokesman.

Speaking of Carnival, who could ever forget Kathie Lee Gifford and Richard Simmons dancing on the decks, singing about “Fun Ships?”

If Azamara could get Bourdain to become the face of their more refined brand, he could potentially kick the whole industry’s reputation up a notch (well, not Carnival’s — he’s only human).

Bourdain could help the cruise industry shift the focus away from its ships being floating amusement parks, back to the time when a sea voyage was considered the most special way to visit exotic places.

I could see Royal Caribbean and Norwegian grabbing that life preserver, quickly following suit to distance themselves from the “Do Whatever — We Don’t Care” attitude they’ve foolishly promoted of late, to the detriment of their ships and their reputations.

But Azamara has one big hurdle ahead: They’ve got to get Bourdain on a ship.

I’d love to see a Parts Unknown episode filmed on Azamara. He’s always talking about wanting to make each episode unlike anything he’s ever done before. So…?

Wining and dining Bourdain is a good first move, Azamara. Keep it up.


Bourdain v. Waters: Little Snark or Bite

May 19, 2009

By Karen

Kinder and gentler is becoming chronic with Anthony Bourdain. On May 14 he shared a stage with Alice Waters, the organic food maven he’s compared to the Khmer Rouge — and nothing happened.

The Connecticut Forum’s “Food for Thought” event was so sold out, they ran a simulcast. Bourdain fans must have expected some verbal blood sport, but they got thumb-wrestling instead.

Back in January, Bourdain did start backpedaling on Waters by calling her a “visionary.” Maybe he felt like a rat when Rachael Ray and Emeril Lagasse were nice to him after he’d trashed them, and wanted to avoid déjà vu.

For Jules Pieri of the Daily Grommet, the panel was all about Waters.

And Tasty New England and the New Haven Advocate thought Ace of Cakes star Duff Goldman stole the show. What, did Tony forget to pack his charisma?

However, I found that just when Bourdain was softening in January, the Feedbag lit into Waters for importing chefs and food to those soirées she held during inauguration week, instead of walking the walk by relying on locally grown produce (in DC? in January?) and talent.

The panel moderator, local personality Colin McEnroe, compared Bourdain’s “world-class ego” to Kurt Vonnegut’s, and mentioned that Tony dropped a lot of f-bombs.

Fox61 described Tony’s defense of people who can’t afford organic. I knew he’d stand up for food budgets.

Eat Me Daily revealed what the panelists all ate the night before the Forum, and it wasn’t the gourmet fare you’d expect of culinary experts.

When asked which food trend he’d ban, no one seems sure whether Bourdain said “buffalo” or “truffle oil.” (My guess: truffle oil.) And he called Whole Foods grocery the “Starbucks of organic food.”

When Waters’ expressed her utopian dream of school children getting 2 organic meals and a snack every day, Bourdain said they should learn how to write first.

And in answer to the inevitable “What would you want as your last meal” question, when Waters said she’d like shark fin soup, Bourdain (who gave his usual bone marrow response) observed that her dish didn’t sound very local.

Waters got in one little dig on both Bourdain and Goldman by stating she never watches television.

If you want to read the whole history of Bourdain v. Waters, Evenson.org.uk has it all. Warning: He’s no friend of Tony’s.

In other Bourdain news…

You know you’ve really made it when your likeness appears on lunch bags. If you reuse these, you can watch Tony age as the bag gets wrinklier.

Bourdain-lunchbag-Etsy

Grub Street reports that one of Tony’s old pots will sit on a shelf in Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen and Bar, opening in June in New York City. Apparently, Boulud’s a collector.


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