Why Anthony Bourdain Would Kill Himself

Food for Thought

Today is Anthony Bourdain’s birthday. Joe DiStefano invited me to join the #BourdainDay celebration he organized for a small group of foodies at Golden Mall that Anthony Bourdain made famous. He was such an unlikely character to touch the hearts of so many people.

I read his Kitchen Confidential before he became a celebrity, and one of the memorable remarks he made in the book was about the TV chefs; he did not have kind things to say. In my view, after the massive success of his books and TV shows, he spent his career trying to resolve the contradiction he unwittingly created. Because he hated the idea of being equated with the likes of Mario Batali and Bobby Flay, he had to think of a different way to use his celebrity status.

Most celebrities who become famous for being anti-establishment rebels have no qualms about exploiting it to join the establishment themselves because their anti stance was only a reaction formation, attacking what they secretly desired. Bourdain was too smart and self-critical for that. He acknowledged in the interview with Jon Stewart that he has the best job in the world, traveling around the world, eating great food, producing shows with total creative freedom. If he produced crap like the Food Network shows he made fun of, what excuse would he have? He inadvertently set the bar very high for himself. What would be the way out of his conundrum? Doing nothing would have been a cop-out too.

So, he spent the rest of his career fighting the injustice he saw in the environment most familiar to him: the kitchen. Without the hard work and talent of the underpaid immigrants from around the world, chefs like him wouldn’t exist in America. He traveled around the world to raise the profile of their own cuisines while also raising awareness of their political and economic predicaments. This is how he touched the hearts of so many people.

But what was he doing for himself? He presumably had the best job in the world. If he were to complain about anything, it would have been an insult to the very people he was fighting for. Despite the leisurely facade, he was no longer living for himself. It was a life of servitude, for the underdogs.