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Anthony Bourdain: a 'psychopath' no longer

Anthony Bourdain doesn't miss the physical punishment of being a chef, but he misses the camaraderie.

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

He takes his daughter to dance lessons.

He stopped smoking.

He doesn't hate Rachael Ray any more, after she sent him a fruit basket.

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The bad boy is all grown up. While the rest of us were falling in love with the crazy lifestyle of the chef he used to be, Anthony Bourdain went ahead and quit. After 28 years in the restaurant world, he now spends his time in front of a television camera or a computer instead of a stove.

In his new book, Medium Raw, released this month, Mr. Bourdain offers a new peek into his life - this time, narrating the journey from burned-out, pissed-off chef to successful author and TV host.

While his writing is still as crackling and whip-smart as ever, the man himself has changed. "I encouraged the psychopath in myself for most of my life. I figure I put in my time," he writes. "I'm through being cool."

The former chef spoke to The Globe and Mail from a suite at the Chateau Marmont.

In this book you talk about the importance of teaching kids how to cook, that it should be taught to every young man and woman as a fundamental skill. You write, "Perhaps omelette skills should be learned at the same time you learn to fuck." Can you explain?

I think it says a lot about a person when they can make an omelette. It's a useful social skill and a thoughtful means of communication. The brutish thrusting of a young novice followed by an omelette would add some humanity to the experience. It certainly would have made me a better young man had I been taught to make an omelette earlier in life.

In a chapter called Lust, you give descriptions of transcendent meals around the world. No mention of any in Canada, though. Have you had any lusty food experiences in the Great White North?

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Martin Picard's Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal is way too much of a good thing in the grand Roman tradition of too much of everything. There aren't many places like that in the world, so when I get to visit, I tend to overindulge. I wish it was in my neighbourhood so I could just nip in and order one dish every now and then. As far as lusty, well any possibility of sex after a meal there is precluded by the sheer amount of food.

You're a father now and you talk about the lengths you and your wife go to in an effort to turn your daughter against McDonald's. Would you consider giving a kid a Happy Meal to be a form of child abuse?

McDonald's is in the business of catering to kids - that's what they do, and they do it well. No, I wouldn't call it abuse at all. I see it as non-optimal parenting. My argument against Alice Waters in the book is that she seems so insensitive to working parents who need convenience. I'm a privileged person so I go to great lengths to avoid that kind of food and keep my kid away from it. But if my wife and I worked full-time jobs and had to come home and cook at the end of the day, well…

You talk about a growing sense of discomfort with the traditional food supply and speak out against factory farming in this book. Your celebrity status is such now that you could cross into the political arena like Bono or Jamie Oliver. Is there any interest in that?

What Jamie Oliver is doing is great, it's sincere, but that is what he does, that's his cause now and better him than me. I'm an observer and I will speak my mind, but that's all. I think people should be distrustful of me if I ever start acting that way. In fact, I would encourage people to distrust me.

What do you miss the most about your old life as a chef?

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I don't miss the physical punishment, but I really miss the camaraderie. I miss the certainty I'd feel at the end of the day that the job I had done was good.

You say "kitchen crews are best when they operate like a long-touring rock band." Do you miss your old rock band?

I miss them, but that's my old band. I've got a new band now - cameras and assistants. People who work in kitchens can't say, "I think I'll jet off to Indonesia next week." I'm an outsider, and that's what this book is about. I am not the same person who wrote Kitchen Confidential any more. When I was that guy, I resented any chef who had an outside life. I hated someone if they had a hobby, or if they got to go fishing on their day off. Ken Kesey said you're either on the bus or your not. It would be dishonest to suggest that that's my life or my world any more. I can't be best friends with my fry cook. What am I going to tell him?

Special to The Globe and Mail

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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