Why I Admire Anthony Bourdain
….and Seek to Become My Own Version of Him
As a speaker, journalist, and nomadic curiosity seeker for nearly 30 years, I have traversed 46 of the 50 U.S. states along with a number of Caribbean countries. This has afforded me the opportunity to live life on my own terms — car-free, off the grid, as a freedom-loving philosophical Taoist who’s passionate about books.
Today as the Global Ambassador for “Great Books, Great Minds,” the late food critic Anthony Bourdain remains a major inspiration for my journey. Known for his highly acclaimed work as a food documentarian, Bourdain’s path in exploring the intersection between global cuisine, travel, and culture is something I deeply resonate with.
By the time of his unfortunate death in 2018, Bourdain had become best known as the host of Parts Unknown, the award-winning CNN travel series. Displaying a free-spirited flair amid an unapologetically nomadic lifestyle, Bourdain’s popularity and audience reach were vast.
What I loved most about Bourdain is the way he lived his life with such reckless abandon, heart, and presence. Viewing episodes of his television series felt cathartic, akin to what I often experience when entering a bookstore.
His impact on the food industry has been an endless source of inspiration relative to my own desires of becoming…..
……the “Anthony Bourdain of the book world”
Bourdain, whether indulging in a meal with locals in some remote town to waxing poetic about street food, was notorious for stirring the pot in the food world. He traveled, documented, and even talked smack about the restaurant industry— the latter consisting of random reflections that made his legions of worldwide followers always hungry for more.
In his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which I am currently re-reading, Bourdain takes license in capturing his adventures as an iconoclastic lover of food, chef, and self-admitted addict. Leaving no stone unturned, he steers the readers along a series of blind alleys and back kitchens that reveal what you didn’t know you didn’t know about the underbelly of the food and cuisine world. As he notes in an early segment of the book:
“I had, as yet, no plans to cook professionally. But I frequently look back at my life, searching for that fork in the road, trying to figure out where, exactly, I went bad and became a thrill-seeking, pleasure-hungry sensualist, always looking to shock, amuse, terrify and manipulate, seeking to fill that empty spot in my soul with something new.”
I read Kitchen Confidential for the first time back in 2014, seeking to learn more about this rare figure, and it certainly didn't disappoint. My interest in cooking and its social and cultural implications had just begun to take root, all amid a newfound intrigue with learning how to craft healthy, delicious meals.
Bourdain’s book exquisitely captures his rambling discourses about any and all things culinary. One of my favorites was about how much he despised knife sets, explaining that home cooks should steer clear of all of this fuss in favor of one really badass tool: the Global G-2 Chef’s Knife.
Culinary chops aside, Bourdain over the years became an accomplished book author. Few, in fact, know that he was a prolific writer with 13 published selections in both the non-fiction and fiction space to his credit. Bourdain was a highly literate guy, very skilled in story narrative and prose. Books like “Kitchen Confidential” allowed him to put his often oversized bravado on display, an arrogance that some found to be quite nauseating.
As a lover of those with a rich vocabulary and lexiconic knowledge, Bourdain's penchant for using rare, esoteric words throughout his book was of pure delight. Words like….
Vichyssoise — a soup made with potatoes, leeks, and cream and typically served chilled.
Roux — a mixture of fat and flour used to make sauces.
Rancatour — a person who tells anecdotes in a skillful and amusing way.
It was also fascinating to hear (or not) his behind-the-scenes revelations about what actually goes on in a restaurant kitchen, noting at one point in the book:
“I never order fish on Monday, unless I'm eating at Le Bernardin — a four-star restaurant where I know they are buying their fish directly from the source. I know how old most seafood is on Monday — about four to five days old!”
Like Bourdain, I seek to be fully raw and transparent in what I share — in my case to an audience of rabid book enthusiasts. I, too, desire to be no-holds-barred, authentic, and witty – totally unafraid to speak my mind even if doing so may mean rubbing someone the wrong way.
Kitchen Confidential shows Bourdain in his full glory — a man with a soulful passion for food and humanity who refused to get lost in trappings of success like consumer food brands, namesake restaurants, fancy merchandise, and swag. He understood a fundamental truth about life, namely, that one’s life becomes exponentially richer when you put the effort into compassionately understanding more deeply what life is like for others.
Like food, books have the power to inspire, astonish, and bring a fresh set of perspectives to someone’s life. It’s here where Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential has re-inspired me to bring more of my provocative perspectives to the table around non-fiction books and the book industry. For what Anthony Bourdain was to the culinary world, I aim to become to the book world.
Great Books, Great Minds is my passion project, a labor of love where I put endless hours of work into researching and writing these pieces. So if you enjoy this digital newsletter, find it to be valuable, and believe in investing in people like me who share their innate gifts, then please consider becoming a paid member supporter.
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Diamond-Michael Scott, Global Book Ambassador, Great Books, Great Minds