Chef, television personality, and author
B orn June 25, 1956, in New York, NY; son of Pierre (a record-company executive) and Gladys (a copy editor) Bourdain; married Nancy Putkoski, c. 1985 (divorced, 2005); married Ottavia Busia, 2007; children: Ariane (from second marriage). Education: Attended Vassar College, c. 1973-75; graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, 1978.
Addresses: Home—New York, NY. Office—Brasserie Les Halles, 411 Park Avenue S., New York, NY 10016.
W orked in the kitchen of The Dreadnought, Provincetown, MA, early 1970s, and in the following New York City restaurants: The Rainbow Room, c. 1978-80; Work Progress after 1981; Gianni’s; The Supper Club, started as sous-chef, c. 1988, became chef; held executive chef positions at the following restaurants: Vince and Linda at One Fifth, after May 1995; Coco Pazzo Teatro, summer of 1996; Sullivan’s, after October 1996; Brasserie Les Halles, c. 1997. First novel, Bone in the Throat, published by Villard Books, 1995. Host of the television series Cook’s Tour, 2002, and Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, 2005—, both for the Travel Channel.
C elebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has produced just one cookbook in his career, and vows he will never host his own television cooking show. Instead he travels around the world sampling the most exotic—and at times, stomach-turning—fare available for his popular Travel Channel show, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. He no longer supervises the nightly dinner rush at the popular Brasse-rie Les Halles in New York City, but admitted in an interview with the London Observer’s Euan Ferguson that he sometimes missed the camaraderie of the kitchen. “Cooking is such an intimate thing,” he reflected about his longtime profession, which he detailed in a 2000 bestseller, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. “There’s no lying in the kitchen. You can’t massage or spin your ability; you can’t even lie about your personal life, because problems come through.”
Bourdain was born on June 25, 1956, in New York City, and grew up in Leonia, a town in New Jersey’s Bergen County. His father was a record-label executive, and his mother was a copy editor with the New York Times. When Bourdain was a child, the family spent a summer in a fishing village in southwestern France where his father had grown up. One morning, they joined a local oyster fisherman on his daily trip, and it was aboard that boat that Bour-dain sampled his first oyster. “It tasted of seawater of brine and flesh and, somehow of the future,” he wrote in he wrote in Kitchen Confidential. “This, I knew, was the magic I had until now been only dimly and spitefully aware of.”
In the early 1970s, Bourdain went on to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, though he later admitted he lacked the discipline necessary for academics, and dropped out after two years. He spent the summer of 1974 working at The Dreadnought, a seafood restaurant in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Here he found his future career, recalling in an interview with Newsweek’s Jerry Adler the awe with which he viewed the restaurant’s cooks, who “carried these huge dangerous knives, they wore tattoos and headbands and they drank like madmen, stole everything they could get their hands on and slept with all the waitresses and half the customers . That was the life I wanted.”
In 1975, Bourdain enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, a renowned training ground for chefs in Hyde Park, New York. He graduated in 1978, settled in New York City, and began the first of his many Manhattan restaurant jobs. In 1981, a friend of his became chef at a SoHo eatery called Work Progress, and hired Bourdain as well as a pal from their Provincetown restaurant days. “Hardly a decision was made without drugs,” Bourdain wrote in Kitchen Confidential. “We worked long hours and took considerable pride in our efforts—the drugs, we thought, having little effect on the end-product.”
Bourdain’s substance abuse progressed through marijuana, cocaine, and then finally heroin, and he held a number of successively less prestigious chef’s jobs after he left the failing Work Progress, including a new place on Bleecker Street whose ex-convict owner had been set up in the business by organized-crime figures whom he had refused to rat out to federal authorities; the restaurant was a gesture of gratitude from the mobsters. When the restaurant finally opened, they were packed, but short-staffed. “Guys I’d read about later in the papers as running construction in the outer boroughs, purported killers, made men, who lived in concrete piles on Staten Island and Long Beach and security-fenced estates in Jersey slathered mayo and avocado slices on pita bread behind the counter, and bussed tables in the dining room,” Bourdain recalled in Kitchen Confidential. “I have to say I liked them for that.”
Bourdain’s career prospects improved after he finally gave up the hard drugs. “I’d be the last person in the world to say don’t take drugs for moral reasons,” he reflected years later in an interview with Gaby Huddart for Caterer & Hotelkeeper. “But when cocaine is the main priority in your life, it’s not conducive to making good food.” His career trajectory took him from sous-chef at a place called The Supper Club in the late 1980s, to executive chef at a dining room called Vince and Linda at One Fifth. In between jobs, he wrote two novels, both set in fictional restaurants with ties to the underworld. The first was Bone in the Throat, published in 1995, which Marilyn Stasio of the New York Times called a “satirical and prodigiously self-assured first novel.” He followed it two years later with another tongue-in-cheek crime thriller, Gone Bamboo. By this point, Bourdain had changed jobs yet again, this time to a Manhattan landmark called Sullivan’s located inside the Ed Sullivan Theater. Asked by Enid Nemy in the New York Times if his co-workers knew of his second career as an author, he said that “my cooks view my writing career with suspicion. It isn’t tangible. There’s something a little shady about it.”
Bourdain eventually landed at Brasserie Les Halles on Park Avenue South, as executive chef of the French-bistro-fare provider. Back in 1997, he had told Nemy that he fantasized about writing his first work of nonfiction, a behind-the-scenes tell-all book. In April of 1999, the esteemed New Yorker published what would become one of the chapters of that book. Headlined “Don’t Eat before Reading This (The Workings of a Professional Kitchen),” the article divulged several sneaky cost-cutting practices even the best New York City restaurants were known to employ. Bourdain advised against ordering fish on a Monday, for example, revealing that it had probably been delivered three days earlier by the seafood supplier. Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly was published in the spring of 2000 and spent 14 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Writing in the London Observer, Ferguson said it is a book “written with magnificent flair” as well as “the first real account of proper life in a restaurant kitchen, the cheating and the burns and the drugs and the shortcuts and the sex and the threats, and the tears, and the savage triumphs.”
In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain recounted his experiences as a dishwasher at The Dreadnought up through his success at Les Halles, detailing his period of drug abuse and the camaraderie and insults the line cooks, sous-chefs, and assorted other kitchen employees commonly hurl at one another in the chaotic atmosphere of a restaurant kitchen in full-swing dinner rush. Of the brutal bullying that new hires were usually subjected to, Bourdain explained to Huddart in Caterer & Hotelkeeper that it was simply a way of testing the person’s mettle. “Better to find out early if someone can handle the pressure of the kitchen by yelling at them, than to discover they freak out on the first busy Saturday night a few weeks in.”
Bourdain’s tell-all caused such a stir that filmmaker David Fincher (Fight Club) optioned the movie rights, and there was talk about Brad Pitt starring. Meanwhile, the chef returned to writing, crafting Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical for the Blooms-bury publishing house in 2001. He retold the tale of a notorious public-health incident in New York City in the early 1900s, when an Irish immigrant cook named Mary Mallon infected some 33 victims with the deadly typhoid fever virus, three of whom died. He also wrote another nonfiction work published that same year, A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal. For this joint project between his publisher, Bloomsbury, and the Food Network, Bourdain spent several months traveling to exotic locales to sample the local fare. In Morocco, he ate sheep’s testicles and, in Vietnam, he ate the still-beating heart of a cobra snake, as well as more standard fare such as the 20course meal he enjoyed at the acclaimed French Laundry restaurant in California’s Napa Valley. Acamera crew traveled with him, and the 22 episodes of the first season began airing on the Food Network in January of 2002 as Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines.
Bourdain was adamant that he would never host his own cooking show. Not long after Kitchen Confidential was published, he told Entertainment Weekly writer Karen Valby that “I really hate the concept of celebrity chefs. I know chefs who are getting voice coaches now! I have enough reasons to hate myself without looking at myself in the mirror and saying ‘I employ a hairstylist.’” At times, he has publicly derided the most popular television chefs. In an Esquire interview, he told Manny Howard that one popular Cajun-cuisine Food Network star was “the Antichrist. I’m consumed with fantasies of causing him harm. His food is crap. His act is crap. He’s an offense to everything I stand for.” Mario Batali, however, “strikes me as a line cook,” Bourdain said. “That’s the highest compliment you could pay a chef.”
Bourdain did produce one cookbook, Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking, which appeared in 2004. A year later, in July of 2005, he debuted with a new television series on the Travel Channel with the title Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. It repeated much of the premise of his earlier international tour, taking a camera crew along with him with the mission of eating as the locals do. “What I do is not complicated,” he told David Carr in the New York Times. “Any stranger who shows an honest curiosity about what the locals think is the best food is going to be welcomed. When you eat their food and you seem happy, people sitting around a table open up and interesting things happen.” Bour-dain and his camera crew sometimes experienced less-than-idyllic conditions, however, such as the time in the summer of 2006 when they were filming in Beirut, Lebanon, and were stranded amidst a military conflagration between Lebanese and Israeli forces that went on for several days. They kept filming, however, showing the behind-the-scenes drama, and the episode was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Bourdain remains with Les Halles, but has delegated the daily operations to another chef. He continues to write for a variety of publications, including Gourmet and the New York Times, and several of his articles were collected in a 2006 volume, The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones. “Bourdain is a vivid and witty writer, but his greatest gift is his ability to convey his passion for professional cooking,” asserted Bruce Handy in a New York Times review. “With one eye on the kitchen and the other on the dining room, he never loses sight of how the terrestrial inevitably informs the divine.” In 2007, his memoir of the past three years of travels for No Reservations was published by Bloomsbury as No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach. He recounted stories that never made it to the air, accompanied by photographs of many of his most memorable journeys.
Bourdain married for the second time in 2007, just days after the birth of his first child. For Ariane, his new daughter, Bourdain finally gave up his long-time cigarette habit. Somewhat improbably, the man once dubbed the “bad boy chef” seemed to mellow a bit. “I regret saying a lot of those things now,” he told Fresno Bee reporter Joan Obra about the barbs that made Kitchen Confidential so controversial. “First of all, a lot has changed. Since cooking became a glamour profession, there’s a lot more hope and pride in kitchens . A lot of that nonsense would be looked down on that used to be standard operating procedure.”
Bone in the Throat, Villard Books (New York City), 1995.
Gone Bamboo, Villard Books, 1997.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Un-derbelly, Bloomsbury (New York City), 2000.
Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical, Bloomsbury, 2001.
A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal, Blooms-bury, 2001; published in paperback as Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, Ecco/ HarperCollins (New York City), 2002.
The Bobby Gold Stories, Bloomsbury, 2003.
(With José de Meirelles and Philippe Lajaunie) Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking, Bloomsbury, 2004.
The Nasty Bits: Collected Varietal Cuts, Usable Trim, Scraps, and Bones, Bloomsbury, 2006.
No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, Bloomsbury, 2007.
Caterer & Hotelkeeper, November 1, 2001, p. 44.
Entertainment Weekly, December 7, 2001, p. 29.
Esquire, June 2000, p. 38.
Fresno Bee, February 14, 2007, p. E1.
Guardian (London, England), August 12, 2000, p. 6.
Newsweek, May 15, 2000, p. 54.
New York Times, August 6, 1995; September 10, 1997; September 17, 2005; May 28, 2006.
Observer (London, England), April 30, 2006, p. 44.