Best-selling author, chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain spoke to a full house in the Rose and Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center on Feb. 22 as the 24th speaker of Life 101…Personally Speaking, a series organized by the Office of Special Events and Projects that brings accomplished people in their fields to campus to share their experiences with students.
Bourdain answered questions posed by Mark Cavanaugh, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences. He also answered the audience’s questions during the Q&A session that followed.
He spoke about his childhood and present experiences. He said his father worked for Columbia Records and his mother was a journalist who, after raising children, went to work for the New York Times. Bourdain said he grew up in a house full of music, films and books. He described his brother as the type of person who followed all the rules and did everything right, the exact opposite of Bourdain.
“I did everything wrong and things have paid off,” Bourdain said.
Bourdain openly admitted to excessive drug use and spending a great deal of his adulthood under the influence of many types of drugs. At one point he said he was addicted to heroin and confessed that his life revolved around drugs.
Julia Lopez, junior communication studies major, said, “He doesn’t hold back. You really want to know a person when he’s real.”
Bourdain attended Vasser College in New York after graduating from high school a year early because he wanted to follow a girl who was older.
“I was a lost soul at Vasser,” he said.
Bourdain left Vasser and went to the Culinary Institute of America where he said he found the structure and discipline that he was lacking in his life. After graduating, he went to work in a restaurant and started a catering company with another chef. But he said his life still revolved around getting high and hanging out with fellow restaurant workers.
“The reason I’m not a great chef but a journeyman is because I worked with friends after CIA [Culinary Institute of America], hung out and got high,” he said. “That was pretty much the business model for the next 26 years.”
Bourdain moved frequently and saw a lot of restaurants fail. However, he said when he got a job at a French restaurant, life began to change. The French food the restaurant prepared reminded him of a childhood trip to France where he ate oysters for the first time. He said he ate the oysters because no one else wanted to.
“What was frightening to others was strangely enticing to me,” he said.
His past experiences also gave him a desire to write. He wrote an exposé-type article about life in the restaurant industry in New York City which he tried to get published in a local periodical. He also began to realize that it was time to make something of his life.
“I was 44 years old and standing next to a deep fryer with no prospects,” he said.
On a whim, he sent the article to The New Yorker and it was published. Forty-eight hours later he had a book deal to write “Kitchen Confidential.”
“I appreciated that I had a good break, and I was determined not to f*** it up,” he said.
He said the book was written just to entertain fellow chefs, and he never expected anyone else to read it. However, the book sold many copies and has been translated into 28 different languages. It also helped him get another book deal to write “A Cook’s Tour” based on a concept he created. He planned to travel around the world to anywhere he wanted to go and have his publisher pay. When producers from the Food Channel asked to come along and film him, a TV star was born.
Now he is the star of the Travel Channel series “No Reservations” in which Bourdain travels the world and tastes food that not everyone wants to try. The show is in its 7th season and has won two Emmys including one for an episode shot in Beirut in 2006 when the Israeli’s started bombing. Bourdain and his crew were trapped there for 10 days until the Marine Corps evacuated them.
He also consulted on the movie “Ratatouille” and writes for the chef character on the HBO drama “Treme.”
Luz Restrepo, graduate student in clinical psychology, stood in line to have her copy of “Kitchen Confidential” autographed.
“I loved his honesty and his humor,” she said.