Like all great chefs, Anthony Bourdain is a true jack-of-all-trades. Just as a truly skilled chef would not limit himself to, say, cooking risotto, Bourdain has approached his writing career in much the same way. His repertoire consists of comedic crime novels, autobiographical travelogues, exposes, and historical explorations -- not to mention a collection of tasty recipes.
Bourdain's career has been characterized by more unexpected twists and turns than one would find in one of his novels. After the native New Yorker graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, he opened his own classic French Bistro, Brasserie Les Halles. However, never satisfied with simply traveling a single avenue, Bourdain tried his hand at penning a novel. The results were wholly unexpected: A witty, gritty mob tale set in the Little Italy section of Manhattan, Bone in the Throat was published in 1995. Bourdain's second novel, Gone Bamboo, followed two years later, and once again the writer's innate knack for black humor was on full display. Publishers Weekly confidently christened him "a new master of the wiseass crime comedy."
Of course, by the time the public had placed Bourdain in a specific literary niche, he was already on to bigger game. In 1999, The New Yorker published "Don't Eat Before Reading This," his scathing exposé of conditions within certain New York restaurants. The article, which garnered wide attention, would ultimately evolve into the critically lauded full-length book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. Bourdain brought the same cutting humor and confident swagger that marked his novels to his first nonfiction work, establishing a distinct voice that followed him from genre to genre. Jumping from memoir (The Nasty Bits) to biography (Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical) to culinary how-to (Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook), Bourdain served up his smartypants prose with the same skill he brought to his celebrated cuisine.
In the end, even as Bourdain continues to wear many hats -- master chef, restaurant entrepreneur, novelist, essayist, TV star -- his heart still lies in the kitchen. "When you've been a cook and chef for twenty-eight years, as I have, you never really look at the world from any other perspective," he told PreviewPort.com in 2002. "In many ways that's helpful with all the nonsense -- as one tends to have low expectations. For the time being -- I'm making it up as I go along and trying to enjoy the ride while it lasts."
Good to Know
Back to Top
When PreviewPort.com asked Bourdain who he would invite to "the ultimate dinner party," he responded with his typical deadpan flair, "Graham Greene, Iggy Pop, Kim Philby, Louise Brooks, Hede Massing" and would host it in "the squalid back room of the Siberia Bar in NYC."
You can add sitcom creator to Bourdain's long list of accomplishments. In 2005, FOX TV produced a comedy series based on his book Kitchen Confidential only to unceremoniously cancel the series before it even aired.
Bourdain can currently be seen traveling the world in search of the ultimate eating experience in his very own series Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on the Discovery Channel.
Back to Top
In the spring of 2003, Anthony Bourdain answered some of our questions.
What was the book that most influenced your life ?
Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas changed my young life. Its mixture of passion, cynicism, hyperbole, and diatribe and its take on the failures of the '60s mirrored my own worldview. Thompson's language, his sentences, his lurid, violent, evocative prose inspired me -- and clearly influenced my own work.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins -- The perfect crime novel. Told almost entirely through dialogue -- and with spare description -- it was the first crime novel where crooks really talked like crooks, leading the reader through a labyrinth of unreliable narrators. You can smell the beer on the characters. Uncompromising, brutally realistic, funny, and frightening -- it's the truest of its genre. For me, dialogue needs to pass the Higgins Test before use, meaning: Do people really talk like this? Would this guy actually say that?
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov -- Simply the great American novel, and the most precise use of the English language ever. Beautiful sentences, difficult material, razor-sharp satire -- and a romantic tragedy by a master at the peak of his powers.
The Quiet American by Graham Greene -- A book I read over and over. Greene's spoiled romanticism, his intimate knowledge of world events, the exotic locale, and the fact that subsequent events went pretty much the way his protagonist predicted. I don't want to write like Greene as much as I want his life and experiences. A book that helped me fall in love with Vietnam.
Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry -- It's got it all. Exotic locale, tormented protagonist, heavy symbolism, historical backdrop, deeply cynical, wounded worldview -- and brilliant writing.
Hotel Bemelmans by Ludwig Bemelmans -- Semiautobiographical tales from the backstairs, kitchens, and dining rooms of early-20th-century grand hotels. Bemelmans was the original "Bad Boy of the New York Restaurant Underbelly." As funny and as true today as it was then.
The Names by Don DeLillo -- Simply the greatest living American writer. Every sentence is a pleasure to read. Sheer technical mastery.
Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall -- An historical account of the French military experience in Vietnam -- and fascinating, prescient writing from someone who was there.
The Kitchen by Nicolas Freeling -- An affectionate account of the author's experiences as a cook and chef in European kitchens. His descriptions of the hierarchy and personalities of his co-workers and the real toil of a hot, professional kitchen still resonate through the years.
Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil -- The oral history of punk; it describes a heady period of my own life, and is chock-full of memories both good and bad.
The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola -- Sharp social satire and lush, near-pornographic descriptions of food and Belle Epoque Paris. Set in Les Halles, the Parisian central marketplace of the time.
Favorite films?The Conformist -- Bertolucci
The Conversation -- Coppola
Apocalypse Now -- Coppola
The 400 Blows -- Truffaut
Goodfellas -- Scorsese
Mean Streets -- Scorsese
Get Carter (the original) -- Mike Hodges
The Killer -- John Woo
Dr. Strangelove -- Kubrick
The Asphalt Jungle -- John Huston
Favorite music?The Dead Boys
Sly and The Family Stone
The Velvet Underground
Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
I like writers who are passionate, curious, and skeptical, whose characters inhabit a moral gray area, neither completely good nor completely bad. So that would have to include Graham Greene, Hunter Thompson, George Pelecanos, the amazing Daniel Woodrell, Alan Furst, and the absolutely awesome Nick Tosches -- particularly Dino, his bio of Dean Martin, and Night Train, on Sonny Liston. Good technical mastery, good dialogue, good characters in a realistically portrayed and authentic atmosphere. Dialogue and atmosphere count for a lot with me.
Back to Top
|Anthony Bourdain Home
Good to Know
|In Our Other Stores|
Signed, First Editions by Anthony Bourdain|
|Bone in the Throat, 1995|
|Gone Bamboo, 1997|
|Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, 2000|
|Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical, 2001|
|A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, 2002|
|The Bobby Gold Stories, 2003|
|Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, 2004|
|The Nasty Bits, 2006|
|No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach, 2007|