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Anthony Bourdain: The bad-boy chef no longer Add to ...

"I took her to Masa," Anthony Bourdain confides over a dinner of charcuterie. A smirk plays over his face. He shrugs. "The most expensive meal in America." There's a pause. "$1,800 for two."

The 54-year-old has a face that has clearly seen its share of late-night sins, but as the tall, rumpled presence leans forward to make his culinary confession, he offers up a look of bemused apology.

He'll never give up food pornography, his expression suggests.

Still, the bad boy of overindulgence wants others to think of him as reformed.

The celebrated former chef and author of the memoir Kitchen Confidential has been trying to explain that he's just a normal middle-aged dude on Lipitor (the cholesterol-lowering drug) who works hard ( Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, on the Discovery Travel + Escape channel, is going into its seventh season) and has a new family.

"I've reached the point where I'm not the bad-boy chef," he shoots over his tumbler of gin (he specified Bombay) and tonic.

"I'm not a chef. I'm not bad. And I'm not a boy."

His new memoir, Medium Raw, A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, is dedicated to Ottavia Busia, his second wife, whom he wed in 2007. She was the one he took to Masa, the New York shrine for sushi supplicants. It was their first date - and a blind one.

Over dinner, he immediately knew she was his type.

"If a woman goes, 'I'm not eating the uni [sea urchin]' that's a real count against," says the man famous for eating sheep testicles and ant eggs.

He made her osso bucco on their second date. On the third, they got matching tattoos of "a French knife with a drop of blood," he says impishly. "It was very romantic."

Mr. Bourdain has the manner of a born raconteur, a bit loose of lip and of clothes, someone who is accustomed to taking long hauls on a cigarette before he exhales another confessional stream of profanity-laced thoughts. But the two-pack-a-day smoker has quit. He's relegated now to deep sighs.

Medium Raw picks up on life post- Kitchen Confidential. He split from his first wife, a childhood sweetheart, after 18 years of marriage and four years after the publication of his first memoir. His new, fabulous life had been the cause of the rift. "I had been taken away by the rest of the world," he says with a wan expression of helplessness.

He fell into a spiral: drugs, booze, brothels, a fantastically dysfunctional girlfriend. And then, Eric Ripert, chef of Le Bernardin in New York, set him up with Ms. Busia, a former general manager of a restaurant, who is 12 years Mr. Bourdain's junior.

The mother of his only child, daughter Ariane, age 3, Ms. Busia is his new drug of happiness. "I don't know exactly when the possibility of changing presented itself. But some time, I guess, after having made every mistake … having realized that I'd had enough cocaine, that no amount was going to make me any happier," he writes about his decision to settle down with her.

He pops a morsel of meat in his mouth and beckons a waitress: another G&T. He "drinks very strategically," he says of his reformed relationship with alcohol. He never drinks at home, he says. They're in bed by 10, daughter sleeping by their side.

Is Mr. Bourdain as calm and content as he so enthusiastically proclaims? The difference between pre- Kitchen Confidential then (when he was chef at Brasserie Les Halles in New York) and now is so great, he suffers from "survivor guilt," he tells me with troubled gravitas.

His new book reads as part apologia for a reputation he feels he no longer deserves and part salvo to remind everyone that he can still use a knife, if only to stab people he dislikes. On the cover, Mr. Bourdain is pictured at a table, in a suit (not a chef's coat), with a look of mild disgust and a knife in hand, a fingertip poised on its sharp blade. He slaughters some of his enemies in the pages. In a chapter titled Alan Richman is a Douchebag, he calls the James Beard Award-winning food writer the c-word.

Neither does he spare himself the knife. "Somebody called me the elder statesman of food the other day," he says, shaking his head mournfully. "I found it deeply terrifying. I don't want to be one of them, because I see them as moribund, corrupt, tragic, angry for the most part.

"I think my time is up! Ten years! Too much foie gras! Too many truffles! How dare I? Why would anyone want to listen to somebody like me?"

He sits back in his chair, pleased with his self-evisceration. If anyone's going to burn him, he'll do it himself. That's Mr. Bourdain for you. There may have been an underbelly of the food world, as documented in his first memoir, but there's also a dark side to the privilege he now enjoys. Which has something to do with him.

If success can take the man out of the kitchen, you can never take the kitchen out of the man. Mr. Bourdain may be all sunny-side up, good and smiley, but he's the one with the underbelly, that misfit persona, typical of chefs, retired or not, which, in his own words, "senses something chaotic and ill at ease with himself.

"If I have leisure time, I start thinking bad thoughts," he worries. "I doubt myself. I get paralyzed."

So he keeps himself manically busy. "One thing I care about is that every show is as different as the previous one as possible," he says about No Reservations. He has an illustrated crime novel, Get Jiro, with co-author Joel Rose and artist Langdon Foss artist, coming out late spring or early summer. He will continue to write.

"Eventually, I would like to become an Italian patriarch," he confesses in reformed-man mode. "I would sit in my garden and make bad wine, growing peppers and tomatoes." He pats his imagined paunch.

Sure. And that will be when he's truly at peace, right?

Follow on Twitter: @Hampsonwrites

 

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