Anthony Bourdain Biography


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Birth Name: Anthony Bourdain
Born: 06/25/1956
Birth Place: New York, New York, USA


He was born Anthony Michael Bourdain on June 25, 1956, in New York City, to Gladys and French-born Pierre Bourdain, the latter an executive at CBS Records. Bourdain grew up in suburban Leonia, NJ with an unquenchable literary thirst and, by his own later admission, an attitude problem; his early-flowering intellect finding school unchallenging and resulting in troubles often manipulated away by his sharply wielded perspicacity. His family offered an acculturating environment with frequent trips to New York and abroad that exposed him to a bevy of ethnic foods not available in 1960s suburbia, including one 1966 journey to his father's hometown of Arcachon, France, where Bourdain's first fresh-caught oyster yielded a flavor-based epiphany. His younger brother's and friends' musical predilections also catalyzed his development as a connoisseur of and aspirant to rock-n-roll culture. Though he reportedly landed his first job at age 14 as a New York bike messenger and would sometimes roadie for brother Christopher's band, he found his rhythm at a young age when he picked up entry-level restaurant work, gravitating towards the camaraderie of kitchen culture. He also began experimenting with drugs, taking LSD for the first time at age 13. His mother, then a homemaker and avid amateur chef (later a copy editor for The New York Times) confessed post-fame that she feared her son would die or land in prison, but their mutual love of cuisine would bring him home regularly for dinner.

He graduated a year early from Englewood School for Boys in Englewood, NJ in 1973, and attended Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, along with his high school girlfriend Nancy Putkoski. Bourdain found himself uninspired by the curriculum and dropped out, spending time in Provincetown, MA, washing dishes in the seafood restaurants there. He followed his muse and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, graduating in 1978. Bourdain then took on a succession of kitchen jobs, working his way up to celebrated, if not star-rated, restaurants such as the gimmicky Supperclub, One Fifth Avenue, Sullivan's and Le Madri. But the restaurant subculture that had so drawn him intermingled with the elite circles of his swank destination restaurants - he wound up cooking for some of the rock stars he idolized - and led him to a prolonged cycle of drug abuse apropos, he confessed later, of the libertine rock-star life he had long aspired to.

Bourdain married Putkoski in 1985, but struggled with overwork - 17-hour days for decades, by his estimate - and the drug abuse that enabled it. He attempted for a number of years to get clean. In the meantime, he began applying himself to his literary passion, penning his first novel, Bone in the Throat (1995), a humorous crime novel situating Mafia machinations amid the degenerate restaurant culture he knew so well, followed two years later by another, yet worse-reviewed comic crime outing, Gone Bamboo (1997). Finally clean, he found his groove in the restaurant world at Brasserie Les Halles, taking over as its executive chef in 1998. The high-end bistro returned him to the French cuisine pedigree that had first wowed him during his long-ago trip to Arcachon and he found some fulfillment at his job. In the meantime, however, he began working on a literary exorcism of all his frustrations in the restaurant business.

He unleashed a funny but unyielding behind-the-scenes rundown of the goings-on behind the swinging doors in an April 19, 1999, New Yorker article titled "Don't Eat Before You Read This." He expanded it into a book, Kitchen Confidential, which laid bare his own foibles in the restaurant business in a comic and self-analytical way, but also shocked "foodies" by giving them a stark look at the debauchery and sometimes unsanitary foodservice innovations by the denizens of tony restaurant kitchens, whom he famously referred to as "wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths." On the strength of Bourdain's distinctive, frank and often-salty prosaic voice, the book instantly hit the New York Times bestseller list and transformed Bourdain from an otherwise inauspicious culinary notable into a "celebrity chef," replete with the TV offers that came with it amid the cultural wave of foodie reality TV then washing over the U.S.

The Food Network came calling and Bourdain agreed to do a show centered on him exploring culinary traditions the world over, including some unsavory ones. "A Cook's Tour" premiered in 2002, with Bourdain telling his audience the show would document his search for "extremes of emotion and experience. I'll try anything. I'll risk everything.'' It introduced him to a broader audience, not only as an exploratory culinary expert willing to sample even bizarre, ritualistic foods, but as an abrasive, cursing, boozing and smoking would-be renaissance man. His snarky diary of making the show was released as a companion volume of the same name, much of which he devoted to being enraptured by the food and culture of Vietnam. But Bourdain bridled when the Food Network scaled back "A Cook's Tour" to have him merely traveling to U.S. food hotspots, and the show shuttered after one season. He returned to writing, penning another novel and a biography of Typhoid Mary, another notorious cook. His travels, however, took their toll on his marriage, and he and Putkoski separated in 2004, to be divorced in 2007.

In the meantime, Fox greenlit a sitcom based on Kitchen Confidential, a semi-fictionalization of his memoir bearing its title, but it lasted only a few episodes at the beginning of the 2005 season. Meanwhile, Bourdain sold the Travel Channel on a similar concept to "A Cook's Tour," securing nearly total creative control, and "No Reservations" premiered in 2005. The show received an Emmy nomination in 2007 for a 2006 episode in which Bourdain and crew, shooting in troubled Beirut, Lebanon, were caught amid the Israel-Hezbollah war that summer, the resulting episode chronicling less about Lebanese food than their interaction with locals and their odyssey getting to safety via eventual evacuation by U.S. Marines. Bourdain also became an outspoken commentator and blogger, not just on culinary issues, but on the billowing celebrity/foodie culture or often, as he saw it, its dumbing-down. In 2007, he publicly slammed Food Network star Rachael Ray for becoming a spokeswoman for Dunkin' Donuts when it introduced transfat-free donuts, likening it to endorsing crack cocaine to children, and routinely took swipes at pop cultural absurdum, notably celebrities advocating vegetarianism. Bourdain and his girlfriend Ottavia Busia had a daughter, Ariane, in April 2007, and the couple married a few days after the arrival. He vowed to quit smoking for his daughter and mentioned moving his family to live for a year in Vietnam, which he revisited in "No Reservations."

According to a 2008 Forbes salary-survey of celebrity chefs, the newly titled chef-at-large of Les Halles made $1.5 million a year. All of this would seem to have calmed him down, but he continued to offer his uncensored opinions, both as a judge on Bravo's highly popular competitive cooking show "Top Chef" (2006- ) and taking on other chefs in the press. A particular favorite was the butter-loving, deep-fried queen, Southern chef, Paula Deen. Bourdain ripped her in the press on several occasions as joke in the industry and bad for Americans - calling her a hypocrite for selling her high-fat recipes and lifestyle to fans before disclosing not only that she had diabetes, but that she had allegedly inked a lucrative deal for a diabetes medication before disclosing to the world her health issue.

By Matthew Grimm




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