A Tribute to Anthony Bourdain: Love and Endless Cruelty

I’m still trying to recover from the death of Anthony Bourdain. I look at his past episodes and the social media which I normally avoid. This was the only time in my life that I wished that someone I loved had relapsed and O.D.’d.

The most pithy comment I saw on Twitter was made by some newscaster at CNN. He said “We all wanted to be him. I wanted to be him. Everyone wanted to be him”.

I certainly did. And I felt…as did a whole lot of people…that my relationship with Bourdain, who I never had a chance to meet, was personal.

In 2001 or so I was not in great mental shape. I’d lost my daughter, my fairly long term boyfriend, and as I had worked underground as a cocktail waitress for several years I didn’t have a lot of career options.

I was about 34. I took an inventory of my wreck of a life and decided that the only thing I liked to do every day was to cook. So I cooked, for a while, and read everything I could find about being a professional Chef. As I recall it, the newly published Kitchen Confidential was the first book I read but that might not be true. It was certainly the most influential book I read. My only resource was the local library.

It took me over a year to find an apprenticeship in a French Kitchen in Baton Rouge, where I was living at the time with a transexual boyfriend, who had cable. To my astonishment, Tony was suddenly on the newly minted Food Channel. Whenever I felt discouraged, he was encouraging. It wasn’t overt cheerleader stuff. That he had had a checkered past and a late career was made clear, however. There was no shaming. He liked, and related to, the underdog, the unlikely, the people classified as damaged losers.

He moved on and so did I but I never stopped following his books and shows. He was my only celebrity hero. My career went fairly well…until I became ill.

As it turned out, I have rare hereditary condition called ‘Wilson’s Disease”. First I quit cooking and led a non-profit. When I was too ill to continue I started to write about food. I re-read MFK Fisher and every one else in my oeuvre but it was Bourdain to whom I turned, once again.

How do you get into the kitchen? He taught me. How do you get out? He taught me that as well. I was never looking for fame and fortune. I just wanted to know that it could be done. He was me as a young, hardworking Chef with a lust for life and me again as I sought success at a later age.

I’d always kept journals and notebooks, largely about food. I was just reluctant to try publishing. Tony simply published stuff. How he managed that I’ll never know. He certainly seemed to have luck on his side but he never shunned the unlucky, discarded people. He loved them. He was a strange and atheistic Gen X Jesus.

Suicide. I still have trouble accepting this. We all wanted to be him. He’d attained all the goals all of us…the wayward, the lost, the straggling, the addicts, the gentle poor of the world, aspired to achieving.

I guess that’s the guilt phase of grief. My first thoughts were how could he do this to us? How could he do it to his daughter and Eric and Asia and Ottavia? An Elton John song, of all people, kept running through my mind. If you’re a bluebird on a telegraph line I hope you’re happy now. I’m pretty sure Tony hated Elton John. His theme song for Parts Unknown ran through my mind too.

Today I’m thinking that maybe he did feel the weight. Maybe psychic strain of so many people depending on him simply broke him into pieces.

I felt angry as well as sad. My logic was, and to some extent still is, that he showed us that there really might be a prize under the rainbow…but it’s worth nothing at all.

Thinking about how much I love M., my dog, and the cats and my shabby apartment isn’t much comfort if an amicable ex-wife and lovely girlfriend and, most importantly, a growing daughter aren’t enough, even when coupled with a huge salary and terrific job. I guess there is never enough.

Tony Bourdain kept so many of us alive and we couldn’t return the favor.

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T.N.Cheshire is a retired Chef with a background in sociology and business. She writes about food, humor and life all around us.

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