cover image Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography

Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography

Laurie Woolever. Ecco, $28.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-290910-7

Celebrated chef and author Anthony Bourdain (1956–2018) cuts a charismatic yet enigmatic figure in this kaleidoscopic oral history. Woolever (Appetites), Bourdain’s longtime assistant and coauthor, interviewed 91 friends, relatives, chefs, editors, publishers, and producers to chart his rise from hard-living New York chef (Bourdain and co-workers, who did heroin together, would “turn their heads and throw up into garbage cans” while working on the line, a former colleague reports) to bestselling author with his restaurant tell-all, Kitchen Confidential, and host of the culinary travel shows No Reservations and Parts Unknown, and his death by suicide in 2018. Many of the recollections are retrospectively colored by Bourdain’s bleak end, and interviewees’ efforts to locate an inchoate darkness within him—“I saw in him this desire to be somehow swept away into the oblivion” says a former Parts Unknown cinematographer—yield little insight. The book does, however, succeed as a revealing account of the making of a celebrity, following Bourdain as he crafted a mediagenic persona—“he published Kitchen Confidential, and he never came off book tour,” observes an editor—that was brash, profane, articulate, empathetic, and seemingly wide open to new experiences and adoring fans, yet perpetually distanced. This fascinating mosaic doesn’t unearth Bourdain’s inner demons, but it does capture the inimitable legacy he left behind. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (Oct.)