For Your Society

Op-Ed Columnist: The Insatiable and Unknowable Anthony Bourdain

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One of my first bits of business after I was chosen to be The Times’s new restaurant critic in 2004 was to reread his best-selling book “Kitchen Confidential,” about his culinary coming of age, including his ribald, randy years as the executive chef of Brasserie Les Halles in Manhattan.

One of my perks after leaving that job in 2009 was to be invited by Bourdain to join him on a show that he was doing for the Travel Channel, “No Reservations.” I met him in downtown Manhattan one afternoon at the chef Daniel Boulud’s former restaurant DBGB, and we drank beer and ate an array of sausages on camera. He sauntered away afterward with a bounce in his step. I poured myself into a taxi and went home to nap for two hours.

We also quipped, or at least he did. He had few rivals when it came to spontaneous verbal dexterity, which I experienced firsthand as well when I interviewed him onstage in late 2009 as part of the TimesTalks series.

He wasn’t just funny; he was fearless, to go by his words. “Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit,” he wrote in “Kitchen Confidential,” and that was gentle in comparison with how, in the same paragraph, he described vegans. He called them vegetarians’ “Hezbollah-like splinter faction.”

His attitude about eating was captured in another of his riffs. “Your body is not a temple,” he said. “It’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” He seemed to.

“He had this fire,” my friend Sarah Rosenberg said when we spoke on Friday morning, trying to make sense of it all. She’s a former producer for ABC News who once showcased Bourdain in a segment, and she now owns a restaurant marketing and publicity firm. “And he was this pied piper,” she added. “You wanted to follow him. You wanted to listen to him.”

I suspect that many people wanted to be him, just as many wanted to be Spade.

Spade’s image, as conveyed through her signature handbags and other designs, wove together threads of whimsy, optimism and merry mischief. She was color. She was brightness.


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