A look back at the writings of Anthony Bourdain

SANTA MONICA, CA - JUNE 16: Street Muralist Jonas Never's mural of Anthony Bourdain on the side wall of a new restaurant and bar called Gramercy on June 16, 2018 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - JUNE 16: Street Muralist Jonas Never's mural of Anthony Bourdain on the side wall of a new restaurant and bar called Gramercy on June 16, 2018 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images) /

Every now and again, a writer comes along that changes the game…puts forth a world only he is privy to. For Anthony Bourdain, that world was the realm of the professional kitchen, and then, a tad later in life, he’d turn his attentions to the adventurous realm of world travel—the realm that with the help of TV, would garner him the following that would render him a culinary icon and indeed even legendary.

A former cook, and eventual chef, Anthony Bourdain battled addiction, the ails of the pro kitchen, horrible bosses and poverty, all while cooking the line and writing. He wrote a lot, and anything from articles to fiction…most rejected at first, but eventually published a lot of work.

His book, Kitchen Confidential, absolutely changed his life and as he has said, one minute he was standing next to a fryer and the next he was traveling the world (paraphrased). He went from the pro kitchen to hosting No Reservations, eventually The Layover, and Parts Unknown, which reached his broadest audience up until that point (2013).

Did you know that Anthony Bourdain wrote fiction as well? Read on to find out more…

He traveled the world over multiple times, ate all sorts of food, and wrote about it all in rich detail. He published multiple works over the course of the years; a student of writers like George Orwell, Bourdain wrote with honesty and an unabashed honesty that is indeed rare in these overly sensitive times. In essence, he would have made Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg proud.

He showed us that sometimes, the places we go to eat the food we love can sometimes be the same exact places we want most to avoid. He showed us that human error can be found anywhere, and he showed us that even beauty can be found in those places, and yes an innocent one at that, no matter how odd the place or extraordinarily insane the circumstances of how we got there were.

And like so many out there, artists and civilians alike…Bourdain suffered a war all its own, and one that only he was privy to. He passed on in 2018, succumbing to a terrible depression that had plagued him for many years…and yes, a bon-vivant world traveling writer such as himself.

He made so many people happy…with his food, his good humor in the face of all that adversity, and through his shows and writings. His work will live on, his emption, his passion, and his ambition shining through all of that work.

Myself, I found Anthony perhaps much in the same ways that he found George Orwell. He once wrote that if you wanted to cook, reading Down and Out in Paris and London by Orwell, was one of the most important books to read. I read it and it shows just how exhausting and slave-like the industry of professional cooking can be.

I thought of it when a chef once asked me to clean a copious amount of mayonnaise I had spilled from her shoe. It was of Orwell’s character in that book that I thought of…of Orwell and Anthony, whose many books I had indeed read and re-read by that point.

I was drawn to him because I too wanted to write full time; I too wanted to escape the professional kitchen, no matter how badly I loved food and the industry…I’d rather write about it, as he had done, was how I felt. In essence he inspired me greatly.

Let’s take a look back at his greatest works and perhaps he can inspire you as well to chase whatever dreams you wish to attain, be it climbing that mountain, embarking on that journey to becoming an actor or rock star…or even maybe becoming that MD. Let’s take a look back at the writings of the late, great Anthony Bourdain.

Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical (History)

In this book, Bourdain looked back at a Mary Mallon, a cook who would infect 53 people with Typhoid Fever back in 1907 to 1938.

Yes, the book is a historical review of the events, but full of Bourdain’s witty, entertaining and profound narrative; an exceptional read for anyone who loves history but well-written history.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

This was definitely considered the book that would put him on the map after years of struggling. In this book, he takes a look at his rise amongst the ranks in New York’s culinary scene—a jungle all its own—and he also goes into his writing, his personal life and the passion for food he eventually fell into.

He wasn’t a born eater, he says, but he eventually became one, and for a very odd reason. Want to know why…? Read the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook & Appetites: A Cookbook

And of course a chef after all, Bourdain would write two cookbooks throughout his career. This one featured the menu he had designed at Les Halles, the restaurant in which he served as chef when he made it big so to speak, or rather on his way to making it big.

The brasserie style French cuisine was something he knew very well and it shines through in this book, the recipes easy to follow and delicious. Appetites: A Cookbook, which came out in 2016, was something that Bourdain so wanted to come out way different from any other cookbook out there at the time, and he succeeded big time in that effort.

Bone in the Throat (fiction)

His fiction was often overlooked and that is a massive tragedy because it was genius. And that isn’t at all only the word of a fan. His fiction was well paced, and this story here was entertaining, profound and in the end, had a lesson wrapped quite nicely into the remaining few chapters…everything a good book needs.

This one definitely had everything, and although it’s not for the faint of heart, it miraculously still doesn’t turn you off of eating Italian food in Little Italy, go figure. Only a genius can set a story where this one was set, have the things that go on in certain kitchens right there on the page, and when you’re done, you still get a craving for a perfectly prepared chicken parmesan.

And heck…maybe you’d even walk into hell just to have that dish served to you piping hot…after all, the characters in this book did, as did Anthony himself in a sense.

For me it was hard to look at just the above four in detail; his entire body of work that includes more fiction, article collections, more non-fiction and even a series of comic books for DC is all genius. It’s all great and is worth your time. You can see his full bibliography on his Wikipedia page.

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Have you read his work? Which are some of your favorites? Let us know.