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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Ottavia Bourdain Incites ‘Steakgate’ in Vegas

July 19, 2012

By Karen

But first… Congratulations to Anthony Bourdain and No Reservations on 4 Emmy nominations. I didn’t notice any other Travel Channel blockbusters on the nominees list; they must be eating their hearts out at TC about Tony’s defection to CNN. The categories are:

  • Outstanding Nonfiction Series
  • Outstanding Writing – Cuba
  • Outstanding Cinematography – Mozambique
  • Outstanding Picture Editing – U.S. Desert

Back to Ottavia’s brouhaha… It all started when Grub Street innocently published her “week in the life of” guest blog post. What that woman eats is mind-boggling, but it was her description of a bad steak in an unnamed restaurant in Las Vegas while attending a UFC event with her husband that lit up the ‘Net.

So this guy named John Curtas rebuked Ottavia’s unsophisticated palate in his column at Eating Las Vegas, and Tony leaped to his wife’s defense on Twitter, calling the column “idiotic” and “based on a false premise” (which was where they stayed, which supposedly housed the offending restaurant) — and Tony even stooped to spelling the columnist’s name “Curtass.”

The foodie world went into overdrive trying to ascertain the chef, throwing names around that included Tony’s pal, Mario Batali. But finally the culprit revealed himself to be Charlie Palmer. Since Ottavia didn’t send the steak back, Palmer rued being unable to make things right on the spot and apologized.

On the other hand, you have to appreciate Ottavia’s dilemma. Sitting there with the well-recognized Bourdain, she either had to choke down that steak or earn herself the reputation of being Tony’s picky-eater-bitch-wife.

Personally, I think she took the high road. There’s no sin in describing a bad meal, yet much virtue in concealing who prepared it if the intent isn’t to slam the chef.

And there’s nothing more amusing than watching foodies work themselves into a lather over a freaking steak, how it was cooked, and who cooked it. If the words “GET A LIFE!” have any significant context, this is it.

Moving on to the must-see Web TV department…

Eric Ripert has a new web series, On the Table, on the Reserve Channel, and Tony was his first guest. Without a doubt, it’s the most candid, natural, and informative interview I’ve ever seen Bourdain do. Eric knows Tony so well, he provided the perfect atmosphere (they cooked together in a home-like kitchen), asked the right questions to get Tony on new ground, and provides a bit of commentary on his best friend. It’s in 3 parts for about 22 minutes.

As a sidebar, talking to Grub Street with Eric about that show, Tony revealed that Ariane is a big Katie Perry fan and has a crush on Ripert’s son, among other things.

Other news…

If you’re interested in Get Jiro! (which took the No. 1 spot on the NY Times Bestseller List for graphic novels), Tony talked to MTVGeek about it at San Diego Comic-Con recently.

Here’s another Comic-Con interview.

July 30-Aug. 5, Bourdain will be hosting “Mob Week” movies on AMC in prime time.

Treme Season 3 begins September 23 with 10 episodes, and Tony is back, writing the New Orleans restaurant subplot for Janette.

And if owning one copy isn’t enough for you, a new edition of Kitchen Confidential is coming out this fall, with Bourdain’s handwritten margin updates.


Book Review: Blood, Bones & Butter

May 12, 2011

By Karen

I’ve been churning this because every time I look at it, it just revives my lingering annoyance.

People who make food the all-consuming (pun intended) theme of their lives, which Gabrielle Hamilton glorifies in her memoir, Blood, Bones & Blather Butter, bug the crap out of me.

I never would have read BB&B, except that when an exceptional writer like Anthony Bourdain claims it’s the book he wishes he’d written, attention must be paid.

It’s easy to see where Hamilton’s life resonated with Tony:

1. As a teen, she developed a tough façade and a drug habit, and overcame them.

2. She began her restaurant career as a grunt.

3. She married an Italian and grew enamored with Italian family life.

She managed to top Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential descriptions of restaurant kitchen hell only because he never worked nine months’ pregnant.

For me, that’s where similarities ended. Bourdain should be thankful that, like her, he’s not an emotional cripple.

Hamilton’s MFA in fiction certainly paid off — she knows her way around clever similes and metaphors. But since most rhapsodic descriptions of food look to me like…

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

… on the page, I was more interested in Gabrielle the person. I really wanted to like her.

The book is marketed as “memoir,” but she only sprinkles glimpses of her adult life as garnish. The sin of omission is so chronic that very little about her personality adds up — except her obsession with food.

She claims a woman she met at grad school was probably “the love of her life,” yet gives her no more than two pages of ink, and never bothers to humanize her with even a fake name.

Then she marries a man she’s been screwing but professes not to love so he can get a green card, but decrees they live separately — then has not one, but TWO children with him.

I wonder how many years her kids will spend in therapy, trying to figure out Mom’s relentless, white-hot hatred of Grandma, and why they had to commute to see Dad for years because Mom insisted they all pretend she was single?

On the other hand, she loved her husband’s family in Italy (when she wasn’t furious at them for making her feel enslaved by the care of her children or by cooking meals after she commandeered her mother-in-law’s kitchen).

In 7 years, she never learned enough Italian to communicate with her in-laws beyond food terms, and then kvetched about how alienated she always felt.

I don’t know how any reader could not have been left with a strong urge to slap the shit out of her and wish she would just GROW UP.

I thought Hamilton ended the book on the implication that divorce was probably coming (well-deserved and long overdue, IMO). But NPR interviewed her in March, and she talked as if she’s still married and things are fine.

Who knows? Even if she brings it up, unless the topic is food, don’t expect candor from Gabrielle Hamilton.

One more Bourdain connection: They’re both represented by the same literary agent.

Other reviews:

Josh Ozersky fawns in TIME.

Frank Bruni largely agrees with me in the NY Times on the autobiographical angle.


Bourdain Meets Tomas, Up Close & Personal

November 8, 2010

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain’s been busy making television. He returned from Cambodia in time for Halloween, and wife Ottavia tweeted that he became Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas to escort his daughter, Little Red Riding Hood.

Yet Tony claims he has no interest in “stretching his range” as an actor.

This past week, he flew to Haiti during a cholera epidemic to rendezvous with Hurricane Tomas, so we’ll probably see another breakout episode of No Reservations next season.

I think I smell an Emmy nomination…

I just hope Tony and his crew didn’t drink the water, stayed in one piece, and get home safely (tonight, according to Ottavia).

The HarperCollins Medium Raw essay contest wrapped with 1,949 entries. Michael P., a mover by profession, won for writing “Late Nights.” It only garnered 3 reader votes and was ranked #834 among all entries. None of the runners-up ranked lower than #383 in reader votes, and the first runner-up was #2.

The methodology would make you think the winner would have been #1 in reader votes, but that would have been a crock because many entrants campaigned online for votes, even if their essays were crap. So it’s no surprise that Bourdain’s people dug deeper into the pile for the winner.

But here’s the promo blurb for the essay, which I assume Michael P. also wrote:

On those late nights after moving you peoples stuff all over the city all I need is a home cooked meal and a beer.

When I saw that, I had a “WTF?” moment. No offense to Michael P. — he wrote about what he knew and from the heart — but I’m surprised the essay won because exactly one sentence in 300 words mentions food. It says…

The arroz con pollo is cooked perfectly and a small side of tostones is topped with a spicy pico de gallo.

But Michael P. sounds like Tony’s favorite kind of downtrodden working stiff, albeit not a kitchen slave, who will be truly grateful to win the $10K Bourdain personally pledged.

Just as Kitchen Confidential spawned a new genre of culinary tell-all, Bourdain’s upcoming graphic novel, Get Jiro!, is being credited with inspiring knockoffs even before its publication, like The Dirt Candy Cookbook.

Here’s an interesting post from Catalan Cooking, although only the opening and third-from-last paragraphs are about Bourdain. First, she calls Kitchen Confidential a male Eat, Pray, Love, and in relating a personal appearance anecdote near the end, says Bourdain has “a drawl.”

Yeah, just like Fran Drescher’s and Woody Allen’s.

Later this week, several Cats Working readers and I are having a personal brush with Bourdain at an evening of great food, the DC Capital Food Fight, hosted by Tony and José Andrés, with Eric Ripert and Tom Colicchio. Stay tuned…


Bourdain too Profane for Small Children?

October 11, 2010

By Karen

Nuvo revealed an interesting little tidbit from the Q&A of Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert’s joint appearance in Indianapolis on September 30. The last paragraph of the article tells how an irked mother apparently called Tony out for using the F-word to a child who asked a question. Keep scrolling, because commenters weighed in on what he most likely said, and rightly questioned why anybody would bring a child to see the guy whose show carries a warning about its appropriateness for children on every episode.

To MorganLF: I thought of you when I saw this post on Real Estate Resuscitation. You’ll know what I mean.

Bourdain sold out Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on October 2 for their Wine and Food Festival. The link’s here to document that, but there’s no new ground there.

Tony revealed to Jimmy Fallon on October 5 that he once collected comic books and wanted to be a cartoonist. That explains his ease with drawing his chef skull logo.

DC Comics imprint Vertigo offers a sample of illustrator Langdon Foss’ work on Tony’s new graphic novel, Get Jiro. His co-author is Joel Rose. It’s coming out in late spring/early summer.

Bourdain went yet another round with novelist Jonathan Safran Foer on the joys/evils of eating meat on Canadian radio. (Warning: It seems only a few minutes long and keeps repeating. I heard the same stuff 3 times before giving up, and I was only 11 minutes into the 24.)

Tony seemed to be in Toronto much of last week (maybe to film that new episode of No Reservations?). The Globe and Mail got Tony to describe his first 3 romantic dates with Ottavia (tats were involved), but they got her age wrong by 10 years.

Tony also did Toronto TV, talking to George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC. The quickfire Q&A during the last 3 minutes were the best. And for the love of God, would somebody PLEASE hide Tony’s hair gel! It’s clearly become his new addiction.

Knife Tricks reviewed Medium Raw mostly by quoting hunks of it, but it was the rather nasty assessment of Bourdain leading up to it that got my attention. However, I think there may be some truth in his theory on how Kitchen Confidential came to be. Tony was shooting for the top when he withdrew his article languishing at an indie newspaper and sent it to the New Yorker, so to say now that he didn’t expect anybody to read the resulting book does seem a bit disingenuous.


Bourdain’s on the Road – Again

September 20, 2010

By Karen

We’re fresh out of new episodes of No Reservations, but this week Anthony Bourdain is making personal appearances in Houston (tonight), Toronto (9/22), Fredericksburg VA (9/23), and Springfield CT (9/24).

The Houston Chronicle got an advance interview. Among other things, here’s what Tony had to say about food writers…

“I can hardly imagine that this brave new world of bloggers can be worse than the agenda-driven, overprivileged, entitled class of dottering old farts who currently occupy the top tier of food journalism. It’s a pretty appalling bunch of bent, angry people who despise their subjects and hate their jobs and have been going through the motions for a long time.”

NowToronto published a 2-part interview with Bourdain, where he describes himself as an “’ex-cook who tells stories.’ Essayist maybe?” In Part 2, he says he doesn’t hate Paula Deen, and describes his upcoming graphic novel, Get Gyro (spelling? Ottavia spelled it Get Jiro on Twitter) as “Yojimbo meets Big Night and Babette’s Feast, an ultra-violent slaughter-fest over culinary arcana.”

Earlier, he told the Omaha World-Herald it’s “a gourmet slaughterfest, sort of like Fistful of Dollars meets Eat Drink Man Woman.”

Whichever it is, it sounds like an orgy of food, blood, and guts that may make his animated Alternate Universe seem tame.

When Bourdain was recently in London pushing Medium Raw, he told Metro that he doesn’t see food writing as part of his future path. He said he’s “kind of pushing himself” out of it because he’s becoming jaded, and has shelved plans to move to Vietnam because of No Res.

Hey, you read it here first. I’ve been saying that all along.

He also said something I take issue with. That is…

“I don’t think my writing has evolved. I mean I haven’t been working at it.”

By virtue of his output since Kitchen Confidential, he has unconsciously been honing how he expresses himself, even if he thinks he writes like he talks.

Tony, here’s the test: If you can read anything you wrote at least 6 months ago and find anything you’d like to revise, your writing is evolving.

On September 13, Bourdain appeared at the 92nd Street Y in NYC with David Chang and Eater.com provides a thorough account of what sounds like a strange and awkward night. Chang is weird. Tony mentioned that Cuba, Haiti, the Congo, and Kurdistan are on his short list for NR Season 7.

Bourdain did an interview with Submerge before his September 17 Sacramento appearance and said that daughter Ariane and Alice Waters are a lot alike because Ariane eats only organic food and likes Paris.

CTnow got a really good interview with Tony before his September 24 Springfield appearance where he mentions that Ariane behaves herself in restaurants.

For some reason, I want to give Ottavia most of the credit for making sure Ariane’s never a whiny, fidgety brat in public, like the ones we’ve all had the misfortune of sharing meals or airplanes with.

On a side note…

Chow.com selected the still-unidentified Ruth Bourdain as one of the Chow 13 in their 2nd annual recognition of the food world’s movers and shakers. They even got an e-mail interview with the elusive, yet always hilarious, tweeter.


Bones to Pick with Bourdain

August 9, 2010

By Karen

In another new episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain shows us around Dubai for almost 5 minutes before plunging his fingers into mush that looks like vomit. Except for one scene in a deserted Gordon Ramsay restaurant where he wields a knife and fork, it’s finger food everywhere else, even if it has the consistency of sour cream.

My highlight is Bourdain on skis on a snowy slope manufactured from desalinated water in the Mall of the Emirates. His well-honed sense of the absurd also gets a good workout.

But I still can’t wait for him to get to Rome and Paris, where people don’t eat every meal like toddlers.

Must confess I finally abandoned The Best American Travel Writing of 2008, which Tony edited, due to its everywhere-but-Europe emphasis. I understood why he was drawn to the essays he picked, but enough’s enough.

I call “Bullshit!” on “Where it All Began” when Bourdain asserted he hardly considers writing a “craft” and has learned nothing about it because he just writes the way he talks.

Yeah, and all his first drafts are publishable.

Tony originally aspired to be a novelist with Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo. He had to know something about plotting, pacing, character development, dialogue, description, point of view. There’s much more to crime fiction than “writing the way you talk.”

Granted, he finally hit one out of the park with Kitchen Confidential, which he just called his first “real” book on his blog. Of the 7 books he’s produced since, 6 have been nonfiction (The Bobby Gold Stories is the exception).

But his next book will probably be a novel, since he’s got personal appearances here through at least February 2011 and the Vietnam book still seems iffy.

And now for my coup de grâce…

The other night I caught about 20 minutes of Samantha Brown in — guess where? — Vietnam. I hadn’t seen her in while, and she seems to be over her “Golly, gee, I’m just a dumb American, but ain’t everything lovely!” phase. She met people and tried things most tourists would probably never do. She ate bun cha, but didn’t dwell on it. Vietnam through her eyes seemed more appealing than Tony makes it.

There, I said it.

Tony and family have been enjoying some much-needed R&R in Italy, but there’s a little news…

Jonathan Sorof at The Improper Bostonian did an interview some time in June with Tony where I learned that Brussels sprouts are part of his Thanksgiving dinners. Yeecchhh!

Here’s the article and photos of the Bourdains in the July 5 People, in case you missed it.

Eater.com collected Bourdain’s best one-liners from “Where it All Began.”

Blogger Scott D. Parker did write a review of the Medium Raw audio book, which he devoured. Scott, just for the record, No Reservations’ 100th episode isn’t until September 6, and it will be in Paris, returning where Tony filmed the first episode. Travel Channel is advertising for tributes.

Village Voice reports that a panel of editors will select the finalists from which Bourdain will choose a winner in the Medium Raw essay contest, which is now up to 1,300 entries. He was checking the site and commented on a few in the beginning, but the chances of him reading your essay now seem pretty slim.

The New York Post, still referring to Les Halles as “Bourdain’s flagship brasserie,” reported that the restaurant received a B grade on a recent Health Department inspection for “evidence of mice, problems with plumbing and food left out unprotected from contamination.”


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