Pop Culture

Anthony Bourdain gives ‘Raw’ look at food world

In “Medium Raw” Anthony Bourdain offers his take on the eating industry, looking back on his experience and offering his opinion on some popular chefs in the food world. In this excerpt, he reflects on his previous book, “Kitchen Confidential,” and breaking into the television business.

Chapter one: Selling out

I was so supremely naive about so many things when I wrote Kitchen Confidential — my hatred for all things Food Network being just one of them. From my vantage point in a busy working kitchen, when I’d see Emeril and Bobby on the tube, they looked like creatures from another planet — bizarrely, artificially cheerful creatures in a candy-colored galaxy in no way familiar to my own. They were as far from my experience or understanding as Barney the purple dinosaur — or the clarinet stylings of Kenny G. The fact that people — strangers — seemed to love them, Emeril’s studio audience for instance — clapping and hooting with every mention of gah-lic — only made me more hostile.

In my life, in my world, I took it as an article of faith that chefs were unlovable. That’s why we were chefs. We were basically … bad people — which is why we lived the way we did, this half-life of work followed by hanging out with others who lived the same life — followed by whatever slivers of emulated normal life we had left to us. Nobody loved us. Not really. How could they, after all? As chefs, we were proudly dysfunctional. We were misfits. We knew we were misfits, we sensed the empty parts of our souls, the missing parts of our personalities and this was what had brought us to our profession, had made us what we were.

I despised their very likability as it was a denial of the quality I’d always seen as our best and most distinguishing: our otherness.

Rachael Ray, predictably, symbolized everything I thought wrong — which is to say, incomprehensible to me — about the Brave New World of celebrity chefs — as she wasn’t even one of “us.” Back then, hearing that title being applied to just anyone in an apron was particularly angering. It burned. (Still does a little.)

What a pitiable fool I was.

But my low opinion of the Food Network actually went back a little further in time. Back to when they were a relatively tiny, Sad Sack start-up with studios on the upper floors of an office building on 6th Avenue — a viewership of about 8 people — and the production values of late night public access porn. Before Emeril and Bobby and Mario helped build them into a powerhouse international brand. (In those days, such luminaries of the dining scene as Donna Hanover (then Giuliani) and Alan Richman, Bill Boggs and Nina Griscom, would sit around in tiny, office-sized rooms, barely enough room for the cameras — showing prerecorded promo reels — the type of crap they show on the hotel channel when you turn on the tube at the Sheraton.) You know the stuff: happy “customers” awkwardly chawing on surf and turf, followed by “Chef Lou’s signature Cheesecake … with a flavor that says ‘Oooh la-la!’ ” After which, Alan or Donna or Nina or Bill would take a few desultory bites from a sample of same — which had been actually FedExed from whatever resort or far-flung dung hole they were flogging that week.

I was invited on to cook salmon. I was working at Sullivans at the time, and flogging my firstborn (and already abandoned by its publisher) book, a crime novel called Bone In The Throat. I arrived to find a large and utterly septic central kitchen/prep area, its sinks heaped with dirty pots and pans, refrigerators jammed with plastic-wrapped mystery packages that no one would ever open. Every surface was covered with neglected food from on-camera demonstrations from who knows how long ago, a panorama of graying, oxidizing and actively decaying food. beset with fruit flies. The “chef” in charge of this facility stood around with one finger jammed up his nose to the knuckle, seemingly oblivious to the carnage around him. Cast and crew from the various productions would wander in from time to time and actually pick at this once-edible landfill and eat from it. Once in the studio, cooking on camera was invariably over a single electric burner which stank of the encrusted spills left by previous victims. For my salmon demonstration, I recall, I had to scrub and wash my own grill pan, after retrieving it from the bottom of a sink as multi-layered as the ruins of ancient Troy.

This unimpressive first encounter in no way made me actively “hate” the Food Network. It would be more accurate to say I was dismissive. I didn’t take them seriously. How could one?

And to be honest with myself, I never really “hated” Emeril, or Bobby, or even Rachael, as much as I found their shows … ludicrous and somehow, personally embarrassing.

My genuine contempt for FN came later — after Kitchen Confidential. After I was making a nice living making fun of Emeril and Bobby and Rachael. When I went to work for the bastards.

I was still cooking every day and night. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list but a healthy distrust, a strong suspicion that I’d better keep my day job was still very much the order of the day. This couldn’t last, I thought. It was surely a fluke. A flash in the pan. What possible appeal could my story have — something I’d written with no larger audience than New York area line cooks, waiters and bartenders in mind — beyond the tri-state area? And if 28 years in the restaurant business had taught me anything at all, it was that if things look good today, they will most assuredly turn to s**t tomorrow.

While I doubted the longevity of my time in the sun, I was, however, aware that I was putting up some nice numbers for my publisher. I may have been a pessimist, but I was not an idiot. So, striking while the iron is hot, as they say, I went in and pitched a second book and a decidedly fatter advance — quickly — before the bloom was off the rose and I faded inevitably back into insolvency and obscurity. I brashly suggested a book about me travelling all over the world, to all the cool places I’d ever dreamed of going, eating and drinking and getting into trouble. I would be willing to do this — and write about it, I suggested. If my publisher would pay for it.

Shockingly, they were willing to pay for it.

Shortly after that, two unimpressive-looking men walked into Les Halles and asked me if I’d be interested in making television. They had Kitchen Confidential in mind, no doubt, a property I had already sold off to Hollywood (to end up as a VERY short-lived sit-com). Undaunted by this news, they expressed interest when I told them I’d be unlikely to find time in any case — as I was about to embark on a worldwide bounce to fulfill my childhood fantasies of the exotic East and elsewhere.

  • Slideshow Photos

    J. Scott Applewhite / AP

    Image: Eric Ripert

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    From Rachael Ray to Rocco DiSpirito, these celebrity chefs know how to turn up the heat in the kitchen.

  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Gordon Ramsay

    CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 02: Celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsay prepares the food for the opening party in his maze Restaurant at the new One&Only Cape Town resort on April 2, 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa. Today is the Grand Opening of Sol Kerzner's first hotel in his home country since 1992. The 130 room property is One&Only's first Urban resort and sits in the fashionable Waterfront district. Celebrities from all over the world including Mariah Carey, Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman, Thandie Newton, Marisa Tomei will attend the event. Gordon Ramsay will be launching his first restaurant in Africa at the resort, Maze and Robert De Niro will be opening Nobu. Nelson Mandela will be attending an intimate luncheon at Maze on Friday to celebrate his long-standing relationship with Mr. Kerzner. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Thomas Keller

    Image: Thomas Keller attends the grand opening of his restaurant, Bouchon, on November 16, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Tom Colicchio Appears With Padma Laskshi At The St. Regis

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Tom Colicchio

    These days, being a celebrity chef requires much more than just impressive culinary skills. Famous foodies like Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray, for example, have branded everything from cookware and magazines to restaurants and spice rubs. Here, check out the personalities who have set the culinary world on fire.

    The chef, who is co-founder of Gramercy Tavern in New York City and the founder of the Craft restaurant chain, became a household name as the no-nonsense head judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • 8th Annual "Dacor Taste Of Tennis" Charity Event

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Marcus Samuelsson

    The Swedish chef, who was born in Ethiopia, had the honor of serving as guest chef for the Obama administration’s first state dinner in 2009. As executive chef of New York City’s Aquavit restaurant, he was also the youngest chef to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times. He has a second restaurant, Riingo, and has appeared on “Iron Chef America” and “Top Chef Masters.”

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Ellie Krieger

    This health-conscious Food Network star finds ways to make even decadent desserts nutritious on her show “Healthy Appetite.” She is the author of two cookbooks and is a registered dietitian and nutritionist.

    Food Network / Food Network
  • David Chang

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    David Chang

    Good luck getting a reservation at this Korean-American chef’s popular New York City restaurant group, Momofuku. Chang catapulted to celebrity status in the past couple of years after receiving rave reviews for his food, and people continue battling to get reservations to his restaurants, which have extremely limited seating. Chang has appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”

    AP / AP
  • Julia Child sits in her kitchen after being moved

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Julia Child

    She was an unlikely candidate for becoming the face of French cooking, but that’s exactly what Julia Child did after writing “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” in 1961, making fancy French cooking accessible to Americans. She had several shows, including “The French Chef,” which premiered in 1961, and “Baking with Julia” and “Julia Child and Jacques Pepin Cooking At Home” in the ’90s. In 2004, she died from kidney failure two days before her 92nd birthday.

    AFP-Getty Images / AFP-Getty Images
  • French chef Daniel Boulud works in the k

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Daniel Boulud

    The French chef and restaurateur was awarded the highest honor from the Michelin dinging guide – garnering three stars for his eponymous restaurant, Daniel, in New York City. He owns 10 restaurants and hosts the show “After Hours with Daniel,” a program by chefs for chefs that showcases late-night dinners with culinary experts.

    AFP-Getty Images / AFP-Getty Images
  • Image: To match Reuters Life! FOOD CHEFS/TSAI

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Ming Tsai

    Known for his fusion dishes, the Chinese-American chef hosts the PBS show “Simply Ming” and has appeared on “Iron Chef America.” In addition, he was also named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People in 2000. His restaurant, Blue Ginger, is located in Wellesley, Mass., and features an “East meets West” menu with dishes like pan roasted veal chop with Dijon-demi, soba-bacon spaetzle, sake braised cabbage and Asian pear chutney.

    Reuters / Reuters
  • BATALI

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Mario Batali

    Chef Mario Batali is shown at Babbo, one of the New York City restaurants he co-owns and operates. Batali, along with sharing his love of good food by way of his television cooking shows, writes cookbooks: His latest is "The Babbo Cookbook.''

    AP / AP
  • Tom Colicchio Appears With Padma Laskshi At The St. Regis

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Padma Lakshmi

    The statuesque “Top Chef” host has written two cookbooks featuring Indian fusion recipes. She modeled for several years and previously hosed a Food Network series called “Padma’s Passport.” She was married to author Salman Rushdie for three years, but the couple divorced in 2007. In February 2010, she gave birth to a daughter, Krishna, confirming a month later that the child’s father is Adam Dell.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Guy Fieri's "Bring It T-ON-G" Grilling Challenge

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Guy Fieri

    The bleach blond blinged-out chef and restaurant owner gained fame after winning the second season of “The Next Food Network Star” and soon got his own show, “Guy’s Big Bite.” He then got a second show, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” and since has appeared on several other cooking and food competition shows. He co-owns five California restaurants, including Johnny Garlic’s and Tex Wasabi’s, and is now the host of the NBC game show, “Minute To Win It.”

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Image: Eric Ripert

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Eric Ripert

    The executive chef and part-owner of the world-famous Le Bernardin in New York City was born in France and learned his culinary skills from his grandmother. The restaurant, dubbed the “Temple of Seafood,” is one of the highest rated restaurants in the world. Ripert has appeared on “Top Chef” and on several episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”

    AP / AP
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    The Swedish Chef

    “Börk, börk, börk!” The Swedish Chef character from “The Muppet Show” was created as a parody of TV chefs.

    The Muppet Studios LLC / The Muppet Studios LLC
  • Celebrities & Fashion At The Melbourne Cup

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Curtis Stone

    The Aussie heartthrob and chef has made several appearances on TODAY as well “The Biggest Loser” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” He started his culinary career at the Savoy Hotel in Australia at 18 years old and soon did television in the UK. He also starred in TLC’s “Take Home Chef” and is the author of several cookbooks. In 2006, he was named one of People magazine’s sexiest men alive.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • ALTON BROWN ON SET WITH BONGO DRUM HOLDERS

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Alton Brown

    After blinding viewers with food science on the Food Network show "Good Eats," quirky chef Alton Brown also worked on a road-tripping series for the network called "Feasting on Asphalt." He has authored three books, including one devoted to baking and one about kitchen gadgets.

    AP / AP
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Anthony Bourdain

    Former Les Halles executive chef, author and intrepid eater Anthony Bourdain wrote a bestselling 2000 memoir, "Kitchen Confidential," which revealed the good, bad and downright dirty bits of the culinary underbelly. He went on to author more books, articles, blogs and essays. His Travel Channel series, "No Reservations," has made him a household name.

    AP / AP
  • CORA *{287840DD-3E50-4A93-B492-E52F42F75A0D}*

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Cat Cora

    In 2005, Cat Cora became the first female Iron Chef on the Food Network program "Iron Chef America." The Mississippi native is the author of two cookbooks, and also the co-founder of Chefs for Humanity, a non-profit that was created in response to the 2004 tsunami disaster.

    AP / AP
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Paula Deen

    Despite her lack of formal culinary training, bubbly Southern chef Paula Deen found success as a TV personality though her Food Network program, "Paula's Home Cooking," and later through "Paula's Party." Her lifestyle magazine, called "Cooking with Paula Deen," launched in 2005.

    AP / AP
  • DISPIRITO

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Rocco DiSpirito

    Queens-born chef, cookbook author and restaurant owner Rocco DiSpirito is known for his Italian-American cooking and fusion cuisine. He started his TV career with the NBC reality show, "The Restaurant,' which followed the opening of his restuarant, Rocco's on 22nd Street, which closed in 2004. He's also made himself a presence on NBC's "Biggest Loser" franchise and ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."

    AP / AP
  • Godiva Platinum Charity Dinner With Ricky Martin And Todd English

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Todd English

    This celebrity chef has starred in cooking shows like "Cooking with Todd English" and "Food Trip with Todd English," and is known for his Massachusetts flagship restaurant, Olives, which now has locations across the country. English made headlines in 2009 when he broke up with fiancee Erica Wang just before their wedding, and Wang decided to still attend the event as a party for herself.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Ina Garten

    Although she has no formal culinary training, Ina Garten managed to make a name for herself as the "Barefoot Contessa," which is also the name of her gourmet food store (now closed) and her Food Network show. She also authors cookbooks and has a branded line of convenience foods.

    AP / AP
  • LAGASSE

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Emeril Lagasse

    BAM! Perhaps one of the best-known celebrity chefs, Emeril Lagasse helms an empire of media, products, books and restaurants. He became a familiar face to fans via his Food Network shows, "Emeril Live" and "Essence of Emeril."

    AP / AP
  • 9th Annual Dinner Benefiting The Lili Claire Foundation - Arrivals

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Tyler Florence

    Tyler Florence's brand of "honest" cooking led him to the Food Network lineup, where he hosted several shows, including "Food 911," "How to Boil Water," and "Tyler's Ultimate." He has also published cookbooks which focus on simple, uncomplicated recipes.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Bobby Flay

    Specializing in American southwestern cuisine, Bobby Flay is the owner and executive chef of restaurants like Mesa Grill, which has multiple locations. He has hosted several Food Network shows, including "Boy Meets Grill" and "Throwdown! with Bobby Flay." The award-winning cookbook author is also currently an Iron Chef on the network's "Iron Chef America."

    AP / AP
  • Today

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Giada De Laurentiis

    Italian-American chef and TODAY guest co-host Giada De Laurentiis hosts a handful of Food Network programs, including "Everyday Italian." Some of her projects are the show, "Giada at Home," five cookbooks including "Giada's Kitchen" and 'Giada At Home," and a baby daughter named Jade.

    Giada De Laurentiis has baby girl!

    NBC / NBC
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Masaharu Morimoto

    Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto is best known for his unique fusion cuisine and his status as an Iron Chef on both the Japanese and American versions of the program. After working as executive chef at New York City's Nobu, he opened his own restaurant, Morimoto, which has multiple locations.

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • NIGELLA LAWSON IN HER KITCHEN HAMMERSMITH LONDON BRITAIN 2000

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Nigella Lawson

    Though not a trained chef, Nigella Lawson became a household name after the success of her popular books, such as "How to Eat." Her widespread acclaim continued with the launch of her cooking/lifestyle TV series "Nigella Feasts," "Nigella Express" and most recently "Nigella Bites."

    Everett Collection / Everett Collection
  • Jamie Oliver - book Signing

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Jamie Oliver

    For Jamie Oliver, cooking is all about stripping food down to the bare essentials, so it makes sense that he's best known as "The Naked Chef." After the success of his books and television series, the English chef decided to give back to the community by launching "Feed Me Better," a national campaign for more nutritious school lunches. This led to his current project, "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution," on ABC.

    Jamie Oliver's perfect pasta

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • PEPIN

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Jacques Pepin

    Jacques Pepin is one of America's best-known chefs, the author of 25 cookbooks and host of nine acclaimed public television cooking series. His next cookbook and TV series, called "More Fast Food My Way" which debuted in 2008.

    AP / AP
  • Sneak Peek At The 2008 GRAMMY Celebration

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Wolfgang Puck

    Credited with reviving California's culinary scene, Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck is best known for cooking and catering to world leaders and Hollywood stars. He has a collection of restaurants, as well as a line of convenience foods, and has authored a number of cookbooks.

    Getty Images / Getty Images
  • Rachael Ray, Selena Sousa

    Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Rachael Ray

    Simple recipes that can be prepared in 30 minutes are the foundation of Rachael Ray's media empire, which includes multiple Food Network series, a syndicated talk show, best-selling cookbooks, a magazine, TV commercials and product endorsements. Ray draws upon her Sicilian/Cajun-French heritage in her cooking style.

    AP / AP
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Alice Waters

    Alice Waters has become the face and voice of the locally grown, fresh food movement. She is credited with developing California Cuisine and promotes organic food, campaigning for and succeeding in bringing healthier food to the Berkeley, Calif. school system. She is the co-owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

    AP / AP
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Martin Yan

    China-born Martin Yan has been a familiar face on public television since 1982, teaching such essentials of Cantonese-style cooking as steaming and stir-frying on the series "Yan Can Cook." Yan incorporates gentle humor into his cooking: His catchphrase is "If Yan can cook, so can you!"

    AP / AP
  • Celebrity chefs: An appetite for perfection

    of

    Remy

    The unlikely hero of the animated family comedy "Ratatouille," Remy is a French rat with an extraordinary sense of smell and the soul of a great chef -- attributes he uses to guide a clumsy kitchen janitor to culinary triumph. Comedian Patton Oswalt supplied Remy's voice in the critically acclaimed hit.

    Pixar Animation Studios / Pixar Animation Studios

I have to tell you that even at this early point, still wearing my kitchen whites, I was already dubious of anyone who claimed to be offering a TV deal. I had very quickly learned that when TV or movie people tell you “we’re all big fans over here” or “we’re very excited about this project,” it usually means nothing more than that they’re planning on paying for lunch. I was even more skeptical when they mentioned Food Network as a prime candidate for acquiring this round the world project. This notion alone suggested these two goofs had no idea what they were talking about and no juice with anybody. I’d been savagely trashing the Food Network’s principle earners for some time — it was already shtick, part of a stand-up bit that would live on long after I stopped performing it. The fact that these two would even suggest Food Network hinted at problems far beyond the usual lack of imagination. The word “delusional” came to mind.

When, a week later, they called to tell me they’d set up a meeting, I was annoyed. Actively pissed off. No good would come of this. This, I was certain, was a waste of f***ing time. I bothered to neither shave nor shower for the meeting.

I ended up with a show, titled, like the book, A Cook’s Tour. Something that necessarily and despite our best efforts, quickly evolved into a sort of gonzo-travelogue of vérité footage and thrown together voice-overs. I had assumed my involvement with television would last no longer than the time it took me to write the book. And yet, amazingly enough, the show was picked up for a second season. Even more incredibly, the network, from the beginning, let me do pretty much whatever the f**k I wanted — allowing me to take the show anywhere I pleased, smoke on camera, curse as I needed — and even more remarkably, along with the camera people/field producers who I became increasingly close to over many miles and many months of traveling together — tell stories any way I cared to — making, as it turned out, pretty good television.

I have to admit, I grew to like this life — roaming the globe in search of nothing more than food and kicks. I also came to enjoy the new-to-me process of telling stories with the help of an all new chest of toys: cameras, editing boards, sound editing — and really creative professionals who knew how to use them. I like making things. And I like telling stories. I like going to Asia. And this TV gig allowed me to do all of those things

I got sucked in — not by fame, or money (of which there was precious little). I’d long ago had all the cocaine I’d ever wanted. No sports car was ever going to cure my ills. I became seduced by the world — and the freedom that television had given me — to travel it as I wished. I was also drunk on a new and exciting power: to manipulate images and sound in order to tell stories — to make audiences feel about places I’d been the way I wanted them to feel. I was increasingly proud of some of the episodes me and my married partners, camera people/producers Chris Collins and Lydia Tenaglia, were making — and how we were making them. I began to appreciate what editors and sound mixers and post production people can do. Making TV was becoming … fun, and in more than a few cases, actually creatively satisfying.

Excerpted from "Medium Raw" by Anthony Bourdain. Copyright (c) 2010, reprinted with permission from HarperCollins.

TOP