Anthony Bourdain is more than sheepish about how writing Kitchen Confidential opened some doors for him: he flat-out says the book changed his life completely. When asked if he really thinks he’d be a nobody if it weren’t for that book, he responds:“Yeah. I do.”
“That book changed my life completely. I really, really wrote the book thinking a very small number of people in the New York tri-state area would read it. In a way, I think that’s why I was able to write it,” he says. “I didn’t have the pressure of worrying that a lot of people would be reading it. It was liberating to think that no one cared or would care.” Turns out people did care—the book went on to become a bestseller and catapulted Bourdain from a good cook at a good restaurant who no one really knew, to something of a food superstar, complete with a TV show and circle of friends that includes some of the world’s best chefs.
In his new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook, out this week from Ecco, Bourdain skewers Alice Waters, praises Grant Achatz, and files a host of chefs and culinary personalities into either the “hero” or “villain” category. As for where he sees himself? “Hmm. That’s a good question. I would like to very much like to consider myself a hero but I’m not entirely convinced," he says.
One thing Bourdain might be considered a hero for is his insistence on giving immigrants the props they deserve when it comes to their contributions to America’s culinary landscape. He devotes a significant portion of a chapter to the immigrant dishwasher who worked his way up to now run the kitchen at Les Halles. “It is an underestimation to say the backbone of our kitchens are workers from Mexico and other Latin American countries,” Bourdain says. “In 28 years in the business, I don’t think I’ve had a single American-born kid walk into my restaurant and ask for a dishwashing or even a prep cook job.” Bourdain says he sees the kitchen as “the last meritocracy,” a place where people are judged ultimately on how well they do the job, and not on anything else.” Credentials don’t matter. (Just like publishing, right? “Oh, we know that’s not true,” cracks Bourdain.)
Bourdain's currently in the midst of a multi-city tour around the country. The author says things are going “ridiculously well”—this coming from someone who knows “the feeling of sitting in an empty bookstore with people afraid to look at you.” Does superstar status ever get old? “I still feel a little shifty, like I’m getting away with something,” he says. “I’m grateful. It’s nice that people give a shit at all. The small of the deep fryer is still pretty fresh in my memory, you know?”
And here's a tip for any author who runs into Bourdain and thinks they can swap stories about how grueling author tours are: don’t: “Any author who seriously complains about book tours has a serious problem with their priorities.”