I’m the next generation of chefs, and this is what Bourdain’s death means to me.

My first day of culinary school, the chef was late. Twenty-five of us sat quietly in our starchy chef whites and checkered pants, and wondered if we were in the right classroom on the right day or if we had understood everything terribly wrong.

A few minutes later we heard an ambulance siren travel outside the school, and the head chef of the school walked in. His name was Chef DJ, which unlike my starchy white apron, wasn’t reversible for extended play. (Chef DJ for the cool mornings, DJ CHEF for the HOT NIGHTS.)

Chef DJ explained to us that our Chef had fallen and couldn’t get up. Our chef had a bum hip, he’d fricked it up again, and yes, that was him being taken away in the ambulance. If all went well, he’d probably be back in a few weeks, but for now, Chef DJ would be taking over our morning class, (and DJ Chef would take over the night class.)

In a few weeks, our original chef returned to teach the class, on crutches. DJ Chef actually had a bum hip of his own, and would often walk around with a cane to help himself out. I remember the beginning of one class, looking to the front and seeing two men in their late 40s, one with a cane, one on crutches, and asking myself “what the fuck am I doing?”

Everyone starts cooking because they love food – but what do you do when you can’t do what restaurants ask of you? What do you when you can, but don’t want to any more? Would I have a future, or is the future only the next 10 years of my life?

Anthony Bourdain showed me how being IN a kitchen can make you valuable OUT of the kitchen. He showed that being curious, smart and communicative could make me important in my field. I thought that I could live my life like he did, and be the glowing, silvered member of the community that everyone respects.

Not only all that, but heck, travel the world, eat food and make friends.

Like nearly any of the chefs & cooks you’ll stumble into tonight, crying into their beer & a shot at the late night happy hour, Kitchen Confidential was one of the most influential books I ever read, and was what informed many of my culinary choices. The series of events that make up Bourdain’s life is the most well-read series of events in my profession. We fucking love this guy.

Many years ago, I remember an ex-boyfriend of mine telling me that he’d been giving it some very serious thought, and realized that maybe his dream career was something like, “y’know, I dunno, maybe Anthony Bourdain’s. I think I could really like making shows where I eat interesting food and travel the world.”

I responded by just laughing at him, because I was a real B minus girlfriend. “Yeah, of course. That’s the dream, isn’t it? That guy MADE it.”

A year or two before I went to culinary school,  I picked up my first copy of Lucky Peach. I was starting to educate myself with the buzzy & ever growing and glowing “Food World” happening around me and wanted to learn who was cooking what and who was writing and who mattered, and THERE HE WAS, Tony Bourdain, writing an article about food in films. It was the coolest article I ever read. He was curious, and drawing connections. He wanted to share and talk about food beyond the capacity of just being a mechanical line-cook. He knew that food really MEANT something. And he was being really crass about it.

Bourdain still sounded like he belonged in a kitchen. He still sounded like he was caught in the Ageless Zone that Kitchen People are caught in. Kitchen life is sort of a Never Never Land where you don’t quite have to be a grown-up, but you’re definitely not a kid. You’re (usually) allowed to swear! You’re wearing pajamas, barely showering, eating cake at weird times of the day,  but you also have to pay taxes and clean up after yourself (can’t have it all, y’all).

In a kitchen, you want to be super flashy with your knives, knowledgeable with your products, and lightning fast at it all – but there’s a lot more going on than just that. You’re spending a lot of time together, and finding out what is the gooey nougat-filled center of the cook next to you. What are they into? What did they eat last night? What are they in love with?

People who work in kitchens often have one or two other skills they’re hoping to use some day, or dreamily, to use in conjunction with their love for food. My pet skill is always “Wellllllll, I’ve always been a wriiiiiterrrr…” and my kitchen idols have always been the literary types (Gabrielle Hamilton! Michael Ruhlman! Peter Meehan!).

Even chefs who stay focused on the daily grind of kitchen labor know they’ll eventually have to find a path out of there. When the only thing you hear yourself saying at the bar after your shift is  “I stood on my feet for 14 hours today in 110 degree heat, didn’t have a meal besides candied almonds and some grapes,  had two hours of sleep, and I’m alive”–professional longevity ISN’T desirable.

Anthony Bourdain was the chef that MADE IT. He was honest, he lived the kitchen life, and people wanted to hear what he had to say about it. Rich people who watch CNN wanted to see him have authentic experiences with people from other countries to which they would never travel. He was living well in a shitty world, and the people still caught in the shit respected him.

He was caught in an extraordinary cultural intersection that is exclusive to this time and to our country’s understanding of kitchen culture. We’re caught in a place where the media’s fascination with kitchens & food is at an all-time high, but chef’s and cook’s quality of life is not at a corresponding all-time high. However, it IS getting better…sorta. And, quite relevantly, it’s better than how Bourdain lived and chronicled in Kitchen Confidential. 

And don’t get me wrong – as the next generation of chefs, Anthony Bourdain’s problems aren’t going to be my problems BECAUSE of Anthony Bourdain. I believe that 100%. He forever altered the world for us.

It’s very, very sad to me that he took his own life. It’s also very troubling to me, as a chef, that the guy who I’ve always said has “made it” was so unhappy he chose to end it all. However, I would much rather emphasize here that I have zero idea what he struggled with, and can’t possibly say why he chose to end his life…nor do I want to. Not only can circulating pure speculation be hurtful to those who were close to him, it makes me spend more time dwelling in the dark than I would like. I don’t want to color his legacy with only a dark palette.

Bourdain is still a hero, and still one of mine. He’s still a hero because his death doesn’t change his life…but his death does change MY life.

My idea of what “making it” is now forever changed. It is still a foggy concept, and probable illusion as it was before, and the Silver Hero who exemplified its essence is now gone. I think I have less of an idea of what “making it” looks like now, and that’s what all of this is meant to say.

For all of us chefs, cooks, kitchen types…these are hard times, but take your blessings where you can, eat real food, sit down sometimes, and let yourself cry in the walk-in.

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17 Signs You MIGHT Be In Culinary School

Unsure whether or not you’re in culinary school?? Check out this handy list to clear that one right up!

Is she in culinary school? What do YOU think?

Is she in culinary school? What do YOU think?

1. You’re forced to iron your pajamas.

2. You’re kind of a twat.

3. You’ve started pronouncing the word “stage” and “place” kinda weird and sometimes it makes you nervous.

4. You call everything “Chef,” just to be safe.

5. You’re kind of a twat.

6. Overnight, you’ve become the authority on a lot of different issues, and nobody can do anything right anymore.

7. You’re kind of a twat.

8. Instead of saying “hello” or “good morning” or “hey hey hey” or “what up doc” or “hey asshole,” you only greet people with “I’m so tired.” You’re starting to wonder if someone else is ever going to care, instead of just telling you how tired they are back. You’re starting to wonder if there is only so much tiredness to go around, and you’re competing for limited resources. You deserve this, dammit! You’re potentially in culinary school after all!

9. You’re currently enrolled in culinary school.

10. You’re kind of a twat.

11. You have a big bag of knives, want more knives, and every morning when you wake up, you scrape your fingernails against the mirror, and ask yourself if you’re too tired to be a twat today. But you’re not. You’re a hero.

12. When you’re at school you talk about work, when you’re at work you talk about school, and when you’re at home you talk to your big, bag of knives and call it “chef,” just to be safe.

13. Good morning, chef. Hey chef. How’s it going chef. Hey chef, I have question. Uh, chef? chef. CHEF. CHEFFFFF!!!! THE KITCHEN IS 44% ON FIRE AND APPEARS AMBITIOUS FOR MORE GROWTH.

14. What’s the French word for twat?

15. You’re reading this list and you’re feeling kind of insulted, but you also have $50 getting itchy in your pocket and you want to fling it at me. Come on.

16. Have you ever heard of Anthony Bourdain? You haven’t? Oh, you have? Oh, you watch his shows? Oh, well I sorta see myself doing something like THAT someday. Like, I think being paid to travel and eat food and be a celebrity and talk about it would be a really good job for me. That’d be sort of a good match for all my skills and it might even be fun.

17. “Ya ever heard of ‘The Industry,’ kid?”

“Only in legend and stories, chef.”

“Of course, of course, you’ve heard what they’re willing to tell you. Let me guess, it’s a magical place of hard work, legitimacy and promise, isn’t it?”

“Why, yes. It sounds like a magical place. I can finally get real deep-fryer burns, go out drinking at night into the morning, get addicted to cocaine and make fun of culinary students for wearing their pants outside of school.”

“I know it’s sounds amazing, and that’s what they tell ya, kid. But let me tell you what they don’t want you to know.” He checks to see that the coast is clear and lowers his voice to a tense whisper. “You can only get there by boat, and the boat only takes passengers to The Industry, but never back. They’ll never admit that. Ya ever wonder what happens to all the potatoes you’ve attempted to tourne? They go with you on the boat to The Industry. They use you to build a city out of all the shitty tourne potatoes you culinary students create, and you can only use risotto as mortar. You build the city, and you never stop building the city. You can never live in the city – the city built from your own failures, blood and arborio mortar. Ever wondered why we need you to practice tournes so much? Huh?! Ever wonder THAT kid?” The chef catches himself, and lowers his voice back down. “The Industry will never be complete, and you will never be free. This is your life now…” The chef takes a step back and straightens out his pajamas. “This life isn’t for everyone kid, but someone needs to do it.”

And with that, the chef walks away.

Your mind is spinning with what he’s just told you, as another chef walks up to you in the hall.

“Good morning!” he says.

“Good morning, chef.” You mumble.

“Been practicing those tournes? You know what I always say: until you’ve done three cases of potatoes, you can’t say you’re bad at them! Now, get to practicing!”

 

You start rummaging in your knife roll for your paring knife, and find yourself stifling a sob. It all makes sense now.

 

 

 

 

As a sidenote: I finally bought a new laptop, after nearly four months without one. I have the problem of being poor, as well as an unbridled cheapskate, so I got the cheapest laptop I could find that held up a review of “generally fine.” And I must say, I am continually shocked by how crappy this laptop is. I’m almost impressed with how bad it is.

The keyboard sticks, it constantly crashes, sometimes it won’t even turn on, and at the risk of DEFINITELY sounding age-ist: when I first fired up this computer, I said to myself, “shit. This looks like an old person’s computer.” There were thousands of pop-ups, free search bars installing themselves, constant reminders of the dangers of spyware, and a little picture of a tech-support guy that I could click on for 24 hour guidance – though doing so would certainly cause the computer to crash. I spent the last four days trying to get Google Chrome or Firefox to install, but McAfee wagged it’s sassy little safety-finger and say “no, no, girlfriend. Internet explorer is for you. Google Chrome is UNSAFE like HERPES or MUMPS.” I’d spend 20 minutes pounding at the keyboard and mouse with caveman fingers, and cursing out “Mr. Assface” – what I named the smarmy tech-support guy who constantly bobbled at the top of every browser window.

Anyway, I had some free time today to uninstall all the bloatware and bundleware that ASUS laptops come with (pronounced “Asses”.) It actually kind of works now! I can at least use Google Chrome now like a person born in the 80s, (or like hip older people – in the hopes of saving myself from previously-made age-ist remarks. My apologies.)

All this goes to say – I’m able to blog now. I hope you enjoy, and thanks for reading.